Diabetes can be as debilitating for dogs as it can be for humans—fortunately, it can also be managed just as well. Although diabetes is a serious, even fatal condition if left untreated, with the right treatments and dietary restrictions your diabetic dog can live a life as long and happy as a perfectly healthy dog. Tailoring your dog's diet to the requirements of the disease is crucial, and will require paying close attention to what you're actually feeding your dog.
Choosing an everyday dog food
Take a close look at the ingredients in the food you feed your dog every day. If it's a cheaper food, chances are it contains a lot of filler in the form of simple starches, which will break down into glucose during digestion and raise your dog's blood sugar levels. Instead, choose a dog food containing the following nutritional staples:
- Protein: Ideally your dog food should contain a lot of lean meat, although some fat content is important. More meat also generally means less filler.
- Complex carbohydrates: The carbohydrate content of your dog's food should be in the form of complex carbohydrates, such as oats and barley, as these will not cause the dangerous blood sugar spikes caused by simple carbohydrates such as rice and potato starch.
- Dietary fibre: Traditionally, foods high in dietary fibre have been recommended for diabetic dogs, but there is now some contention on the issue. High-fibre foods may be unsuitable for underweight dogs, and may cause unwanted weight loss in other dogs. High-fibre foods may also have some unpleasant side effects, such as flatulence and constipation. Consult with your vet on the best way to proceed.
Dog foods specially formulated for diabetic dogs are also available. They can be expensive and hard to find, but they may be beneficial for severely diabetic dogs.
Timing your diabetic dog's meals
Most diabetic dogs will require daily insulin injections to replace the insulin that is not produced by their own bodies. Timing feeding times around these injections is important, as it helps keep your dog's blood sugar levels stable. How you do this will largely depend on whether your dog needs one or two insulin injections a day - your vet will give you a detailed feeding structure tailored to your individual dog, but in most cases one of the following feeding schedules will be used:
- One insulin shot a day: One small meal in the morning, followed by the daily insulin shot. The main meal of the day is then served in the mid-afternoon.
- Two insulin shots a day: The first insulin shot is given after a moderately sized breakfast, with the second given after an evening meal of the same size.
To treat or not to treat
Withholding all treats from a diabetic dog is hardly necessary, but you should avoid giving your dog treats at random. Instead, treat your dog when his or her insulin shots are at their most effective (this is generally around 4-6 hours after injection, but will vary depending on the size, age and breed of your dog). You also need to closely monitor how much you treat your dog, as diabetic dogs are prone to obesity. No more than 10% of your dog's daily calories should be in treat form.
As for what kind of treats are suitable for diabetic dogs, the same rules apply as they do for normal food - high protein and complex carbs. If your vet has recommended increased fibre intake, high-fibre treats may be a good choice instead of unpalatable, high-fibre dog foods. You can also cook your own, diabetes-friendly dog treats for your dog - beef and chicken livers are excellent, nutritious choices, and the promise of a treat at injection time will make your dog much more amenable to treatment. Try checking out a company like Geelong Farm Supplies to see their inventory of dog food.