Does Your Dog have Diabetes? How to Manage it with a Healthy Diet

empty metal dog dish

empty metal dog dish

Diabetes In Dogs: Why They Get It, How To Manage It

Diabetes in dogs is a fairly common occurrence but it is a very different disease than what occurs in cats. I turned for assistance in understanding canine diabetes to my co-host on THE EXPERT VET on the Radio Pet Lady Network — Dr Donna Spector from Chicago who is also Halo’s official veterinary consultant. Dr. Donna is a board certified veterinary Internist, a member of the veterinary holistic doctors organization (AVHMA) and has a broad range of knowledge and talents. If you have any nutritional concerns about your dog or cat and would like to schedule a consultation with her, you can reach her at her website.

Diabetes In Dogs: Why They Get It, How To Manage It

Diabetes in dogs is based on a genetic tendency towards developing it — dogs are almost exclusively Type 1 diabetics and would become diabetic regardless of their diets (unlike cats who become type 2 diabetics from a diet laden with carbohydrates, or people who can develop type 2 diabetes from obesity). Dogs are omnivores, which means that metabolically they are able to handle a larger carbohydrate load than cats, which are obligate carnivores (or hyper-carnivores, as Dr. Elizabeth Hodgkins has dubbed them — which makes Halo Spot’s Stew pate recipes with their remarkably low carbohydrates one of the healthiest choices you can make for your kitty). Some experts are concerned that with the overfeeding of high carbohydrate dog foods and the obesity epidemic in dogs we may start to see more Type 2 diabetes like is seen in people and cats.

In Type 1 diabetes, there is a true lack of pancreatic insulin production. Dogs who have a genetic susceptibility to immune destruction of the cells within the pancreas that secrete insulin (or some breeds are just born without the correct number of cells) will progress to a complete lack of insulin. The cells do not just temporarily shut-down — they are just gone. Because of this, dogs who develop diabetes are almost always dependent on insulin and no matter what you do to them, they will always require insulin.
If you feed your dog a high protein/low carb diet, it may help slow the onset of diabetes in a dog destined to get the disease but if you have a dog with the genetic profile to be a Type 1 diabetic it will happen, regardless. It may happen more slowly in a dog on that type of diet, but it will happen.

Every diabetic dog is a bit different and diet will have a lot more impact in some than others. Also the need for weight gain or weight loss factor into this dietary equation for each individual. You want to make sure your vet has checked your dog’s thyroid levels since an imbalance there can also affect the metabolism and cause weight changes.

If you already have a dog who is significantly overweight, then your best bet to achieve weight loss is the same as in any dog: cut back on total calories, reduce the amount of highly processed carbs, and increase the protein to kick start the metabolism into burning that fat. This is the theory behind the Atkins diet and others for people, and the same holds true for dogs.

Once a dog gets diabetes you might mistakenly think that lowering the carbohydrates would be a solution (as it is in people) but in dogs, research has proven that a higher fiber diet is the best management tool because it helps to slow glucose absorption from the intestine. So, while fiber is technically a carbohydrate, it is a complex carbohydrate and is not digested by the body the same way as simple carbohydrates are. To most successfully manage a dog’s diabetes, you want to keep them on a high quality diet and then add a supplemental source of fiber to help best control the blood sugar after eating (technically called the post-prandial glucose level).

Most commercially available high fiber diets contain high levels of a fiber that is called insoluble fiber (e.g. lignins and cellulose) while a tastier diet with better blood sugar control comes from adding more soluble fiber sources (e.g. gums and pectins) as the main source of fiber in the food.

High quality kibble generally contains 2-3% fiber (or less) and it is recommended that diabetic dogs get closer to 8% to 12% fiber — especially the soluble form of fiber — to maximize the glucose lowering effects. A super premium kibble like Halo tends to have very low soluble and insoluble fiber — great news for healthy dogs, but if your dog is diabetic you will want to consider augmenting the fiber levels. Ask your vet about adding good natural sources of soluble fiber like psyllium husk (aka Metamucil), canned pumpkin and veggies such as carrots and broccoli to your dog’s food to help with their diabetic regulation.

The fiber solution is different for each and every dog, which is why a consultation with Dr. Donna or a veterinary nutritionist is the best way to formulate an appropriate diet for a dog who has developed diabetes — or even one of the breeds that is genetically predisposed to developing it.

–Tracie Hotchner

photo credit: Janet Hudson via photopin cc

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