Years ago when my father was losing the battle with kidney disease and diabetes, the nutritionist told him a long list of what he should not eat. My father was a funny man. After the nutritionist finished telling him what he should avoid, he asked, “Well, Doctor, what CAN I eat?”

I’ve dedicated an article or two on cats with diabetes and carbohydrates. Today, I wish to discuss nutrition for diabetic dogs. Just because both species snuggle in our beds and are fuzz-buckets, don’t think that dogs and cats are the same. The nutritional recommendations for diabetic dogs and cats are quite different. Vets like to restrict carbohydrates for diabetic cats, but we find no such benefit for diabetic dogs. Rather, we tend to select complex carbohydrates for diabetic dogs.

When choosing a diet for a diabetic dog, we must look at the big picture. We take into account other disease processes such as kidney disease or prior episodes of pancreatitis. We must also consider whether the pet is chubby (as obesity causes insulin resistance) or lean.

Remember that the pancreas is an organ that has dual functions. Not only does it make enzymes to digest food, it is our source of insulin. Some diabetics become diabetic after an episode of pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas). Pancreatitis is exacerbated by fatty foods. If a pet is overweight or has a history of pancreatic disease you can bet we will choose a low-fat diet. Diets that are low in fat are often high in fiber. High complex fiber tends to blunt the glucose spike after a meal. High fiber diets also help a pet to feel satiated, which matters if your dog is staring at you like you are intentionally starving him… On the other hand, a lean or thin diabetic dog may need a diet with moderate fat content in order to gain weight.

If a pet has kidney disease we will likely choose a diet with less protein. Carbohydrates and fats are the other fractions of the diet, so there will still likely be a fair bit of fiber needed for a diabetic pet with kidney disease. Soluble fiber tends to slow digestive absorption of sugar relative to insoluble fiber. The amount of fat in a diet for a diabetic dog with kidney disease depends on the pet’s body condition. It’s a matter of taking all these factors into account.

What about diabetics with food allergies? As expected, we try to balance the nutritional requirements for all issues of the pet. Such a pet might have a novel protein source, fat content based on the pet’s body condition, and a fiber/carbohydrate component that doesn’t exacerbate the food allergy.

Sometimes pet owners get so caught up in what to feed their diabetic dogs, that they forget about timing of the food. We very much want to give the meal at the time of insulin injection. This way, regardless of what is fed, the insulin has something to act upon. When dogs are given mid-meal snacks, the blood glucose tends to spike accordingly.

There are lots of great pet foods available for diabetic dogs. Speak with your veterinarian to find one just right for your pet.

As always, I enjoy interaction with our readers. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me at Joi.SuttonDVM@adwdiabetes.com.


NOTE: Consult your veterinarian first to make sure my recommendations fit your pets special health needs.

Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr. Joi Sutton is a 1993 graduate from Oregon State University. She has practiced both in emergency medicine and general practice. Dr. Sutton has done extensive international volunteer work and is the President and Founder of Veterinary Ventures, a nonprofit organization that takes teams of veterinarians to undeveloped countries for humane medical care. She also runs a small animal practice in South Florida.
Dr . Joi Sutton