Cornell Margaret and Richard Riney Canine Health Center

Longer. Healthier. Happier.

Diets for diabetic dogs

When and how you feed is crucial to canine health

If your dog is diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, your veterinarian will help you with insulin dosages. It’s not all about insulin though. Blood glucose levels affect what your dog eats, as well as how much they eat too.

Diabetes relates to excess blood glucose (or sugar). Your dog needs just the right amount of glucose in their bloodstream. Too much, and they will drink and pee far more than usual. Too little, and they will collapse from hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). In this article, we’ve outlined some things to keep in mind when feeding a diabetic dog.

Timing

A diabetic dog needs correctly timed meals, instead of free will feeding. Meals 10-12 hours apart work best for most dogs.

Insulin injection

If you can give your dog a treat after receiving an insulin injection, it provides a more positive association with the injection.

Remember: If your dog skips a meal, do not give them an insulin dose because it could trigger hypoglycemia. Call your veterinarian if your dog is not eating.

Palatability

Your diabetic dog must eat regularly. If they don’t eat, they don’t get medicine. So, you must find a food your dog consistently consumes. Be careful with treats. If you need treats for training, discuss your choices with your veterinarian. Excessive treats or treats with a lot of carbohydrates, which affect blood sugar, could throw off insulin regulation.

Avoid highly digestible diets

Highly digestible diets are often yummy, but they are high in sugars. These foods often lead to glucose spikes right after eating and corresponding big drops in blood sugar soon thereafter.

Go prescription

Prescription diets, available through your veterinarian, use ingredients to even out blood glucose levels, making it easier to keep your dog on a steady dose of insulin. They also must limit fat intake to prevent complications, such as pancreatitis.

Fiber choices

Much of the fiber in your diabetic dog’s diet should be insoluble, as this will help your dog feel full but not provide excess calories. Insoluble fiber promotes the movement of food through the digestive tract. Soluble fiber attracts water, turns to gel and slows digestion, resulting in more calories released in the colon. For diabetic dogs, moving the food through the digestive tract quickly is advantageous.

For an overweight dog, a diet with 10-20% of the dry food as fiber is a good plan. For a dog who is in good weight or slightly underweight, look for a diet with 5-15% fiber on a dry basis.

Most guaranteed analyses will not tell you if the fiber in the diet is insoluble or soluble. You will need to look at the ingredient list and consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist. Beet pulp, guar gum and psyllium are common sources of soluble fiber. Cellulose is an example of insoluble fiber.

Weigh-ins

Many diabetic dogs are overweight. If your diet plan includes some weight loss, do frequent weigh-ins at your veterinary clinic so that your dog’s insulin dosage can be adjusted as needed. Underweight dogs will need different dietary considerations than overweight dogs. Track your dog’s weight as well as glucose levels.

Low fat

Low fat is important for diabetic dogs, since as many as 30% of them become diabetic secondary to pancreatitis. Of course, this is more critical for overweight diabetic dogs.

Supplementing with L-carnitine may help with fat metabolism for these dogs. L-carnitine is a natural derivative from the amino acid lysine, and it is often included in weight-loss supplements. Look for a dry-matter carbohydrate level of 25%. Read the ingredient list for carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index, like soybeans. In contrast, potatoes have a high glycemic index.

Knowing your dog's specific needs

Finally, if your dog is a well-managed diabetic, do not change their diet. Even changing protein sources — like switching from a chicken-based recipe to a lamb-based one — can influence blood glucose levels.

Changes in your dog’s diet may require corresponding changes in insulin. The ideal diet and feeding regimen for your diabetic dog is the one that keeps their glucose at a steady level.

This article has been reprinted with permission from Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s DOGWatch Newsletter, published by Belvoir Media Group. Subscribe online to DOGWatch Newsletter here.