Diabetes is a well-known illness in humans, but it is also found in dogs. One out of every two hundred dogs will be diagnosed with canine diabetes at some point. But don’t treat your dog like you would a human because they have a different version of the illness that shares some similarities with human diabetes, but works differently.
Dogs that have diabetes have problems producing the right amount of insulin for their body. A dog’s body burns sugar for energy. When it does not have the right amount of sugar, it might start burning fat so that it can maintain the energy level. This can cause the release of too many ketones (by-products of metabolized fats). These ketones can lead to serious incidents of hypoglycemia and even death.
Causes of Diabetes in Dogs
There are numerous things that can cause diabetes in dogs. Factors such as age, gender, breed and diet may increase the risk of diabetes. However, even if a dog does not fall into any of the categories that are well-known for putting a dog at risk for diabetes, please keep in mind that there may be unknown factors at play. So, dogs that don’t fall into the category that would generally be considered to be to be at risk for diabetes should not be assumed to be impossible to end up with the disease.
Though mixed breed dogs commonly have canine diabetes more frequently than pure bred dogs, there are some specific pure bred breeds that are known for having diabetes. These breeds include, but are not limited to golden retrievers, German shepherds, miniature schnauzers, Keeshonds and poodles.
Though it is unclear when dogs specifically develop diabetes, they are most likely to start to show the symptoms of dog diabetes between the ages of 6 and 9.
Either gender can develop diabetes, but there does seem to be an increased risk factor for female dogs and dogs that have been neutered. In other words, all other factors aside, a male dog that has all of his natural parts is at low risk for developing diabetes.
A diet that is high in fat could put your dog at risk for diabetes. Dog food that consists of mostly carbohydrates (such as the dog foods that use carbohydrates as fillers to help form kibbles) can also be a contributing factor to the development of dog diabetes.
While obesity does not cause diabetes, it can make it more difficult for the dog to resist insulin.
Signs of Diabetes in Dogs
To put it simply, diabetes causes the dog not to metabolize enough sugar to burn. Because of this, in the early stages of diabetes, the dog’s body develops a need to seek out other resources. Hence, the dog will develop a larger appetite than normal. He will also urinate more frequently and will drink more in order to avoid becoming dehydrated. Your dog may also experience rapid weight loss.
The advanced stages of diabetes in dogs are more alarming. Your dog will start to lose his or her appetite and may become lethargic. He or she may also become dehydrated and feel weak. The dog may eventually slip into a coma.
Dogs in advanced stages of diabetes are at risk for other health issues, as well. An enlarged liver is one way the body can respond. The dog will also be prone to more infections and can possibly experience neurological problems.
During diabetic ketoacidosis, the dog is experiencing a buildup of ketones. The body does not have enough sugar to metabolize, so it begins to metabolize fat instead. When fat is metabolized, the process causes the production of by-products called ketones. The buildup of these ketones can potentially lead to a coma and/or death. The dog will experience rapid breathing, weakness and vomiting. His or her breath may also begin to smell like acetone. (Note that acetone is the active ingredient in fingernail polish remover, so if your dog’s breath smells like fingernail polish remover, he is experiencing diabetic ketoacidosis.)
If your dog is experiencing any of the advanced stages of diabetes, please seek emergency care immediately.
What Kind of Dog Food is Best for a Dog with Diabetes?
Now that you know about the causes and symptoms of diabetes in dogs, you can better prepare to prevent or treat it. You now have information that allows you to see the signs of diabetes in your dog, but you need to know what to feed your dog to avoid diabetes or improve your dog’s diabetic condition.
Prescription Dog Food
Your vet may insist that you feed your dog a prescription diet. He or she may also offer you other options. Always follow your vet’s advice because they know your dog’s specific information. Most dogs that have diabetes do not require prescription dog food, but they do require a low-fat, moderate fiber dog food.
Natural Dog Food
Natural dog food is always going to be better for your dog because it is void of the chemicals that other dog foods are processed with. When your dog’s body has to process chemicals that act as toxins to him or her, this is one more step that takes away from other things the body could be doing. However, you still need to make sure that your natural dog food has a low carbohydrate content so that you are buying food that will assist in managing diabetes.
Check out our comparison of Taste of the Wild and Blue Buffalo, two of the leading natural dog food providers.
Many people choose to use the raw food diet because it places a high focus on protein. This is one option for those who have diabetic pets. Just be sure that you are still offering a low-fat intake to your dog when you offer him or her the raw food diet.
Canned or Dry?
In general, canned dog food is better for dogs that have diabetes. That’s because they don’t require the same fillers as dry dog food does. Dry dog food is high in carbohydrates because these are what they tend to use to form the chunks that make up dry dog food.
Low Glycemic Index
The bottom line is that a dog with diabetes requires a dog food with a low glycemic index. The glycemic index is the number that tells you how fast food is converted to blood glucose or sugar. The lower the number, the longer it takes the body to convert the food.
Common Dog Diabetes Questions
Below are some common questions asked about dog diabetes.
Ask a Vet
If you are still unsure of what kind of food your diabetic dog needs, please ask your vet, or you are welcome to visit our Ask a Vet page where you will be able to ask a certified veterinarian about what foods they might recommend for your diabetic dog.
What do you feed your diabetic dog?