Diabetes in dogs
Diabetes is a long-term disease in which blood sugar (glucose) isn’t handled properly. When your dog eats, their digestive system breaks the food down into simple components that can be easily used by the body. One of these simple components is glucose, a sugar that provides energy.
What is diabetes in dogs?
Just like in humans, healthy dogs have something produced by their pancreas called insulin, which carries glucose around the body to where it’s needed and keeps the levels of blood glucose in check. Diabetes comes in two types: type 1 (the most common in dogs) where the dog can’t make insulin and type 2, where although some insulin is produced, it’s not enough or the body doesn’t respond properly to it. Either way, a diabetic dog can’t deliver the glucose in their blood to the cells that need it for energy. The net result is uncontrolled levels of glucose in their blood and this brings a number of side effects with it.
Firstly, glucose is basically the number one energy source for every cell and because the glucose can’t be delivered to the cells where it’s needed, the body is starved of fuel. Secondly, the high levels of glucose in the blood start to cause damage to important organs. Sadly, there’s not yet a cure for diabetes but the good news is that with careful management, a diabetic dog can live a long and happy life. We’ll take you through the signs of diabetes and give you tips on how you can support this condition through diet.
What causes diabetes in dogs?
Damage to the pancreas can reduce or even stop insulin production and this is ultimately how diabetes starts. So how and why does this happen? Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas) can lead to damage to the pancreas, which can then bring on diabetes. The most common cause of pancreatitis is too much fat in the diet. Also, obese dogs are more prone to pancreatitis, so obesity can also increase the chance of becoming diabetic.
So you’re probably wondering, what are the chances of my dog getting diabetes? We know that:
- Diabetes tends to affect older dogs
- Genetics play a part: particular breeds including Dachshunds, Miniature Schnauzers, Cairn Terriers and Springer Spaniels are at higher risk of diabetes
- Around 70% of dogs with diabetes are female
- Neutered dogs seem more likely to become diabetic
Signs and symptoms of diabetes in dogs
The onset of symptoms is slow and may not be noticeable for a while. A dog with diabetes may seem to have a monstrous appetite because their body is crying out for the fuel it can’t get. Although they’re eating more, you may also start to see weight loss. This is because they start using up other fuel stores in their body and effectively start to break down fat and muscle to get energy. Their body also attempts to dilute out and get rid of that excess sugar in the blood by driving an increased thirst.
So, a diabetic dog will be really thirsty, and you may notice them drinking at every opportunity and weeing more frequently. If you notice unexplained weight loss and excessive thirst, it’s time to check in with your dog’s vet who will measure the glucose in their urine and blood.
Advanced diabetes can cause a dog to become lethargic and generally out-of-sorts. They might lose their appetite and may even vomit. If left unmanaged, diabetes in dogs can also lead to cataracts-these are seen as a clouding over of the eye and can cause blindness if left untreated. Glucose in the wee of diabetic dogs creates a nice breeding ground for bacteria so urinary tract infections (UTIs) are commonly set off by diabetes. Signs of a UTI include frequent urination, which often produces only a small amount of wee. Your dog may show pain on urinating and may appear to strain.
How to treat diabetes in dogs
Once diagnosed by your vet, your diabetic dog will need to be injected with insulin (probably twice a day) to control their blood glucose. Although injecting your dog sounds like a worry, your vet will help you learn how to do this confidently and it will soon become part of you and your dog’s daily routine. Keeping your diabetic dog’s weight in check and making sure they have a good exercise routine are also great ways you can help your diabetic dog be as healthy as possible.
Paying careful attention to your dog’s diet will go a long way towards helping keep symptoms to a minimum. Your vet might recommend a specially designed diabetic dog food-these are usually high in protein and contain complex carbohydrates to avoid those post-meal sugar rushes. Whatever you choose, your aim is to keep your dog away from anything that will set off a blood sugar spike. Look for a high fibre diet containing complex carbohydrates, which will help to keep blood sugar under control and avoid diets containing simple carbohydrates.
Steer clear of diets containing unnecessary fillers and artificial additives. Natural sources of fibre like apple and parsnip help give a slow and steady glucose release whilst plenty of fresh, human-grade meat makes our recipes high in good quality protein. And of course, you won’t find any artificial additives-it’s all perfectly pure and superbly simple. We’ve also been told that our diets are actually very tasty. Because you’re in control of adjusting the consistency (just add warm water to prepare anything from a soothing soup to a moist mash), you can panda to the most discerning pooch palate.
How you feed your diabetic dog is also important: stick to a consistent routine for mealtimes, feeding the same food at the same time of day. It’s also time to get out of the habit of feeding snacks and being extra aware of what your dog might be scavenging off the floor when they think you’re not looking!
What is the best dog food for diabetic dogs?
As diabetes can often be triggered by pancreatitis, a good diet is crucial to prevent your pup developing the condition. The pancreas is responsible for creating insulin, so it’s im-paw-tent to keep it healthy to prevent diabetes. The best way to prevent pancreatitis or any unnecessary strain on the pancreas is to feed your pooch low-fat food.
Your diabetic pooch will also need to eat foods low in glucose, which will cause spikes in their blood sugar. Kibble is a problem for diabetic dogs as it contains high amounts of sugar and simple carbohydrates, which are turned to glucose, and causes spikes in blood sugar after meals. Additionally, their food should also avoid artificial additives and ingredients that can have an adverse effect on your dog’s health.
Instead, the best dog food for diabetic dogs should contain complex carbohydrates for slow-releasing energy and plenty of fibre that slows the absorption of sugar. This should help prevent spikes in their blood sugar. A vet might recommend your dog switch to a specially-designed diabetes management dog food, or recommend a healthy, personalised diet like Pure.
As vet Dr Andrew Miller MRCVS recommends, “Paying careful attention to your dog’s diet and making sure it’s high-quality will go a long way towards helping keep symptoms to a minimum. Feeding a high fibre, personalised diet like Pure is a great way to do this."
By sticking to food like Pure with a limited list of simple, natural ingredients you can ensure your pup is getting all the nourishment they need to stay happy and healthy. Our recipes are high in fibre, helping to slow sugar absorption, and contains plenty of protein and complex carbohydrates that keep their energy and blood sugar levels steady.
- Heeley, A.M., O’Neill, D.G., Davison, L.J. et al. Diabetes mellitus in dogs attending UK primary-care practices: frequency, risk factors and survival. Canine Genet Epidemiol 7, 6 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40575-020-00087-7
- Davison LJ, Herrtage ME, Catchpole B. Study of 253 dogs in the United Kingdom with diabetes mellitus. Vet Rec. 2005 Apr 9;156(15):467-71. doi: 10.1136/vr.156.15.467. PMID: 15828742.
- Mattin, M., O'Neill, D., Church, D., McGreevy, PD., Thomson, PC., Brodbelt, D.(2014) An epidemiological study of diabetes mellitus in dogs attending first opinion practice in the UKVeterinary Record 174, 349.
- Delicano Rachel Ann, Hammar Ulf, Egenvall Agneta, Westgarth Carri, Mubanga Mwenya, Byberg Liisa et al. The shared risk of diabetes between dog and cat owners and their pets: register based cohort study BMJ 2020; 371 :m4337