DIET FOR THE DIABETIC DOG
By now you know that diabetes mellitus is about a lack of insulin and a need to balance insulin given by injection with dietary nutrients, especially sugars, fats and proteins. Regardless of the patient's species, there are some basic principles that hold true for the dietary management of diabetes mellitus. First, the obvious: the pet must like the food and reliably eat it. For most diabetic dogs, the excessive appetite typical of the disease ensures this but after regulation is achieved and appetite is more "normal," it is important that the dog eats on a dependable schedule. Insulin is typically given only after the pet has eaten so the food should taste good and the pet should want to eat it. Second, the food must be of quality and quantity to maintain a good body condition so that the dog is able to build muscle and a healthy amount of body fat. Some diabetic dogs are very thin while others are too fat. It is important to tailor the diet to the individual rather than to adhere to rigid dietary rules.
The ultimate goal is to feed the dog two similar meals a day, approximately 12 hours apart, with less than 10% of the total nutrients for the day coming from treats. Insulin is given within an hour of eating each meal and this schedule should be maintained with as much regularity as possible.
Fiber comes in two types: soluble and insoluble. Soluble fibers, such as beet pulp, guar gum, psyllium and fructooligosaccharides, form a gel that holds water inside the bowel contents potentially softening stool. They also serve as "probiotics" which means they resist digestion higher in the tract and are presented to the bacteria of the large bowel. These large bowel bacteria break down the fiber-containing nutrients to feed not only themselves but also to feed the animal's colon cells, improve bowel circulation, and generally contribute to bowel health. The problem is that viscous stool leads to a higher post-meal sugar surge in the bloodstream, which is exactly what we do not want. Insoluble fibers, such as cellulose, bulk up the stool which can be stimulating to the colon. Insoluble fiber is not digested by the colon bacteria and does not offer calories to the pet that has consumed them.
After a meal, the starches and sugars taken in with the food lead to a postprandial surge in blood sugar level. Since the diabetic pet is dealing with runaway blood glucose levels 24 hours a day, meals, as necessary as they are, raise blood sugar even further. Our goal with dietary therapy is to blunt this effect. Insoluble fiber in the diet helps accomplish this by slowing the digestion and transit of the food in the gut. Too much insoluble fiber, however, will give the pet a false sense of being full and reduce appetite which may not be what we want if the pet is underweight. So what are we looking for in a food? If the dog is overweight, we probably want a higher fiber diet (say greater than 15% of the dry matter as fiber) but for a more average dog we want a moderate amount of fiber (5-15% of the dry matter). The fiber content noted in the guaranteed analysis will likely not specify if the fiber is soluble or insoluble; you will need to check the ingredient list to be sure.
HIGH DIGESTIBILITY DIETS: PROBABLY NOT THE BEST THING
There are numerous diets on the market designed for dogs with “sensitive stomachs.” These foods typically are designed for easy digestion and absorption into the body. While this is helpful to the dog with digestive issues, easy digestion and absorption amounts to higher blood glucose levels after eating. This is probably not the best thing for a diabetic dog.
Similarly, soft moist foods are preserved and flavored with sugars. These, as you might guess, raise postprandial blood sugar readily and are poor choices. These diets are not as common as they once were and should not be confused with canned foods.
A common issue that accompanies diabetes mellitus is elevated triglycerides (fats) in the bloodstream. In humans, this is the doorway to vascular disease, cholesterol deposits, heart disease and stroke. Dogs do not generally have to contend with these issues but dietary fat becomes more relevant if the dog in question is one of the 30% for whom pancreatitis is believed to have damaged the pancreas and led to the diabetes in the first place. If pancreatitis is in play or if the patients circulating triglyeride level is very high, then fat restriction is going to be a must. Further, L-carnitine supplementation may also be of benefit as this nutrient is helpful in fat transport and metabolism. Fat-restricted diets may not be a good idea for very thin diabetic dogs, however.
As long as the diet is consistent, it is generally possible to work with it in achieving diabetic regulation. Here are some additional tips:
Your veterinarian can help you choose the most appropriate food for your diabetic dog. There are several commercial diets made just for this purpose or you may elect to find one on your own. You can also contact a commercial pet nutrition service for further help. Ask your veterinarian if you need assistance.
Page posted: 12/25/2009