Like humans, when dogs have diabetes, staying trim is key. If your dog is overweight, losing some pounds can help his cells better use insulin, a hormone that keeps blood sugar levels in check. That makes it easier for his body to turn food into fuel.
The goal for any pooch with diabetes is to keep blood sugar (or glucose) levels as close to normal as possible. This helps your dog feel good and makes it less likely he'll get diabetes-related complications, such as vision-clouding cataracts and urinary tract infections.
Food as Fuel
Your veterinarian will determine how many calories your dog needs every day, based on his weight and activity level. Once you know that number, it's important to keep a close eye on what he eats and how much.
Researchers are still exploring what diet is best for dogs with diabetes. Most vets recommend a high-fiber, low-fat diet. Fiber slows the entrance of glucose into the bloodstream and helps your dog feel full. Low-fat foods have fewer calories. Together, the diet can help your dog eat less and lose weight.
But make sure your pooch drinks plenty of water. Fiber takes water from the body, and that can cause constipation and other problems.
Most dogs do fine with food you can buy at the store. But your vet may recommend prescription dog food or a homemade diet developed by a veterinary nutritionist. Your vet can tell you the best way to go about changing your dog's food.
Even the best diet won’t help if your dog doesn’t eat it, though -- and you can't give insulin to a dog on an empty stomach. It can make him very sick.
If your dog isn't eating as much, it could be because he doesn't like the food. It could also mean he has another problem, or that he's having diabetes-related complications. Talk with your vet.
Make sure your dog eats something -- even if that something isn’t ideal. But steer clear of soft, semi-moist dog foods in packets, which are typically high in sugar.
With your vet’s OK, here’s how you can entice your pup to eat:
- Stir a tablespoon of canned food into his regular food.
- Scatter shredded chicken or scrambled eggs into kibble.
- Add a tablespoon of low-sodium chicken broth to dry food.
Treats between meals are OK, as long as they’re low in sugar and carbohydrates. Avoid snacks that list syrup, molasses, fructose, dextrose, or maltose on the ingredients label. Homemade dehydrated meats, carrots, snap peas, and even canned pumpkin are good options.
Timing Is Everything
Balancing insulin and food is like a relay race. The body constantly processes food and insulin between meals and injections.
Most dogs do best on a regular schedule of 2-3 meals a day. As a general rule, injections should be given every 12 hours. Talk to your vet about getting your dog on the right schedule.
Walk the Dog
Regular exercise will also help your pooch lose weight and lower blood sugar levels. It’s best to have your dog exercise for the same length of time and at the same intensity every day. An unusually long or vigorous workout could cause blood sugar levels to drop too low.
Planning a tough hike? Talk to your vet about adjusting your dog’s insulin first.
It can take a few months to get to “cruise control,” so try not to worry if your pup’s blood sugar levels aren’t under control quickly. Also, losing weight may lessen your dog’s need for insulin, so check his levels often.
Caring for a dog with diabetes can be hard at first. But soon the changes will become part of your daily life. The extra care and attention you'll give him may even strengthen your bond.