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Canine Diabetes     

Dr. Al Townshend

Diabetes mellitus is a disease of the pancreas. The pancreas is a vital organ that has two primary functions. Some of the cells of the pancreas produce the enzymes essential for the digestion of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. The other cells of the pancreas, beta cells, are responsible for making insulin that controls blood sugar levels. Insulin is a hormone that regulates the glucose level in the bloodstream and is responsible for the delivery of glucose to the cells of the body. Glucose (sugar) is the primary energy source for all of the body’s cells. Without insulin, the cells cannot function properly.

Canine Diabetes mellitus is caused by the failure of the pancreas to regulate blood sugar and its flow into the cells of the body. There are three technical types of diabetes mellitus; Type 1 is the most common in dogs, which is caused by an inability of the pancreas to produce insulin.

Signs of Diabetes

Diabetes most frequently occurs in pets over 5 years of age, although it can occur earlier. Breeds most commonly affects are Samoyed, Miniature Poodle, Toy Poodle, Pug, Tibetan Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier, Fox Terrier, Bichon Frise, Dachshund, and Siberian Husky.

There are four primary signs common to diabetes;

  • Increased thirst
  • An increase in urination
  • Increased appetite
  • Decreased weight

The signs can be very subtle in the beginning but as they progress, other problems develop.

  • Frequent, reoccurring infections, especially urinary tract infections
  • Weakness due to the cells (muscles cells) starving for energy
  • Poor hair coat
  • Cataracts
  • Seizures

Diagnosis and Treatment of Canine Diabetes

Diabetes must be diagnosed by a veterinarian. Blood tests reveal an increase in blood sugar, and urine tests expose high sugar levels in the urine.

The treatment of canine diabetes requires insulin injections at home and regular monitoring to assure the correct insulin levels are given. A close working relationship with a trusted veterinarian is essential for the safe and long-term care of a diabetic pet. Proper instruction on giving the injection and determining the level provided is critical.

Support for the Diabetic Canine

Diet is an essential part of the control of diabetes. Food must be broken down through digestion and it must enter the bloodstream at the same time the insulin injection reaches the bloodstream. Insulin allows the glucose to enter the cells and maintains a safe level in the blood.

The pet’s diet must be consistent; the same food, in the same amount at the same time every day, in relation to the type of insulin and when the insulin is given. There are two accepted strategies for feeding a diabetic canine; high fiber recipes, and high protein/low carbohydrate recipes.

High Fiber Recipes

Fiber slows the absorption of glucose into the bloodstream and helps to control blood sugar levels. Many of the therapeutic foods for diabetic dogs are this type.

High Protein Low Carbohydrate Recipes

  • Carbohydrates that are more easily digested and converted to glucose cause large spikes in blood sugar levels, making it challenging to regulate throughout the day consistently.
  • Low Glycemic Index carbohydrates like oats, barley, and rye, are best because they do not cause large spikes in blood sugar levels.
  • Dogs have evolved as carnivores; their natural diet is primarily animal protein and fat. The domestic dog, like their ancestors, the wolf has no requirement for carbohydrates in their diet. They can convert protein and fat to glucose which is a slower and more consistent process, helping to maintain a steadier blood sugar level.
  • Here’s more on high protein low carbohydrate recipes.


Probiotics are the good bacteria essential for optimum digestion and immune support. Altered gut bacteria levels are common in diabetic dogs. Human studies have shown probiotics can lower fasting glucose and insulin levels in a diabetic. Their ability to support the immune system can reduce the risk of reoccurring infections in the diabetic.

Preventing Diabetes

Prevention is always the best medicine. Diabetes can lower the quality of life and life expectancy for the pet. It can be costly in both time and expense for the Guardian family. 

Obesity has never been proven to be a direct cause of canine diabetes; however, factors that play a role in encouraging obesity, overfeeding, especially high carbohydrate recipes, and lack of exercise can contribute to insulin resistance.

Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the other half of the pancreas involved in digestive enzymes’ production. Dogs that have had pancreatitis have an increased risk of diabetes. Digestive enzyme supplements can improve digestion and reduce stress on the pancreas.

Antioxidant and balanced vitamin and mineral supplements reduce inflammation and fight tissue damage.

Diabetes Requires a Commitment

Canine diabetes is a disease that can be controlled, and the pet can live a long and happy life with diabetes. The care of a diabetic canine requires a commitment from the pet Guardian family. The older pets that more commonly develop diabetes have an established bond with the family. They have shown their commitment to the family and warrant the same devotion from their Guardians.

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