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Diagnosis of diabetes in dogs is more common today than ever before (1). It's been estimated that about 1 in 100 dogs will develop diabetes mellitus by the time they're 12 years old.

Female dogs and some breeds are more susceptible to diabetes than others (2).

Caring for a dog with diabetes can be stressful, expensive, and time-consuming for pet owners, but with the right dog diabetes diet, it's possible to manage the condition.

So how and what to feed a diabetic dog, and what not to feed a diabetic dog?

Based on a meta-review of most recent studies, the three most effective solutions for dealing with diabetes in dogs and structuring a diabetic dog diet are: (a) high fiber, (b) medium-carb, high/medium-protein, and (c) caloric restriction (3, 4, 5, 6). This, paired with a daily exercise regime, will bring about positive results.

Note: It's beyond the scope of this article to delve deep into diabetes in dogs.

Instead, the article will focus on feeding a diabetic dog and how to reverse the symptoms with the proper diabetic dog diet.

For more general information on diabetes mellitus in dogs, please refer to Merck Vet Manual.

What is Diabetes in Dogs?

Diabetes mellitus, or simply diabetes in dogs, is a chronic metabolic disorder that occurs when the dog's body cannot utilize glucose the way it's supposed to (7).

The dog's pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to turn food into energy, or the cells in a body are failing to use insulin properly.

The first stage is known as type 1 diabetes in humans, and that is the only type of diabetes that affects dogs (8).

The timely diagnosis of diabetes in dogs is crucial for successful management. If you notice that your dog displays excessive thirst or increased urination, which are just some of the symptoms of diabetes, take him to the vet.

Your vet will help you develop a diabetic dog diet plan and explain what to feed a diabetic dog to alleviate the symptoms.

Even though the exact cause of dog diabetes is unknown, some factors that might lead to diabetes in dogs include genetics, autoimmune disease, obesity, and chronic pancreatitis (9, 10).

Female dogs are at greater risk at later stages in life. Some breeds are more at risk of diabetes, like Australian Terriers, Schnauzers, Poodles, and Dachshunds (11).

So what to feed a diabetic dog to reverse the condition? Unfortunately, you cannot cure diabetes in dogs.

However, studies found that pets can still have a normal and healthy life with proper management and a well-designed diabetic dog diet (12, 13, 14).

RELATED: 25 Ways to Manage Diabetes in Dogs [Infographic]

The Basics of Dog Diabetes Diet

Your vet should always be the first point of contact because dogs with diabetes will require a daily shot of insulin to help them regulate their blood glucose levels.

Your vet will also explain how not to feed a diabetic dog and structure a diabetic dog diet as part of the management plan. Here's everything you must know about this diet.

Dietary Guidelines

Dogs with diabetes must stay in shape. Make sure that your pet doesn’t get overweight, and if he already is, he must lose those extra pounds because that will improve his condition and help his cells to use insulin better.

You should achieve this through a combination of daily exercise and caloric restriction (15, 16).

Either you or your vet can determine the exact number of calories your dog will require daily based on his activity level, age, and current weight. The timing of meals is also significant.

In most cases, feeding your dog 2-3 times a day, at the same time, is optimal (17). Your dog’s diet must be consistent in the number of carbs and the ratio of protein/fat/carbs; otherwise, it may cause dramatic changes in glucose levels.

Commercial dog foods for diabetes will be fine in most cases (18, 19, 20).

Prescription dog foods purchased at veterinary clinics can be very costly. Still, fortunately, many over-the-counter brands have similar or even identical caloric and macronutrient composition and are much cheaper.

Too, you can prepare homemade diabetic dog foods at home.

Your dog must regularly eat because of his insulin shots. If he isn’t eating much, he might not like the food, or there could be a health-related reason.

It can even be a sign of complications related to diabetes. You can always try to entice your dog to eat: try mixing a tablespoon of canned dog food with his regular meals, using low-carb, low-calorie dog food mixers, or adding some bone broth to your dog's dry foods.

Studies are still unclear on the exact best nutrient profile and what to feed a diabetic dog. However, based on current evidence, veterinarians recommend a low-fat, low/medium-carbohydrate, high/medium-protein, high-fiber diabetic diet for dogs (21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26).

This diet helps your dog stay fit and slows the glucose from entering the bloodstream.

Finally, ensure that your dog drinks a lot of water when on a high-fiber diet.

Important Nutrients

Since there is no one recommended dog diabetes diet that suits all pets with diabetes mellitus, the amount of fiber or carbs will depend on many factors, particularly on the weight and exercise regime of your dog.

Here's what to feed a diabetic dog in terms of macronutrients that will help manage the condition.

Protein

As with most other conditions, high-quality protein sources are crucial factors for making homemade diabetic dog food meals or picking commercial dog food for diabetes.

Things like beef, chicken, turkey, and fish are great protein sources. Go for low-fat recipes, including lean meats: red meats or chicken breasts, for example.

L-Carnitine, which is an essential amino acid found in meat sources like beef and lamb, can be of great help in controlling diabetes in dogs.

It can improve fat metabolism, protect muscles and help in maintaining lean body mass. Dogs should receive it through a wholesome diet rather than a supplement for effective absorption.

Carbohydrates

Carbs are responsible for the biggest changes in blood sugar levels after eating because they are digested faster than fats and proteins, and they cause blood sugar spikes.

Consuming carbs is directly related to the timing of your dog's meals and his insulin dosage.

The source and type of carbs are not as important (because most of them will cause blood glucose spikes anyway) as the timing and amount of carbs in the diabetic dog diet.

That said, you should avoid simple carbs with a high glycemic index (GI) because they cause rapid glucose spikes; stick to wholesome foods and carbs with low GI.

When structuring a diabetic diet for dogs, it's essential to pay attention to the glycemic index of foods – it can help you determine the effects of carbs on blood sugar levels and estimate how much every gram of carbs (minus fiber) in certain food raises your dog's blood sugar levels after consumption.

There are comprehensive glycemic index charts you can consult at any time.

Low-glycemic foods will cause glucose release in the dog's body in a steady and slow flow. High-glycemic foods will cause a more rapid increase in blood glucose levels.

Some of the low-glycemic foods you can include in homemade diabetic dog food meals are whole grains, legumes, most vegetables, and fruits.

Foods with an average glycemic index are brown rice, potatoes, sweet potatoes, and honey. High-glycemic foods include white bread, white rice, and most unhealthy high-carb foods you shouldn't feed a dog anyway.

Fiber

Currently, scientific evidence shows that fiber may be the most important factor in a diabetic dog diet. Fiber can be found in many fruits and most vegetables; it will also help digest foods.

Fiber slows down gastric emptying and the digestion of carbs, which in turn slows down the release of glucose and prevents rapid spikes of blood sugar levels.

In most cases, moderate amounts of fiber are enough for dogs with diabetes.

Fats

When it comes to fats, the safest bet is to feed your diabetic dog a low-fat diet, based on the most recent research.

Choose foods high in omega-3 fatty acids or add some fish oil supplements into your homemade diabetic dog food meals because they can help decrease blood lipid levels and inflammation. They can also help in the regulation of the immune system.

Fish and fish oils are the best sources of these acids.

What to Feed a Diabetic Dog

Structuring a Diet for Diabetic Dogs

Structuring a dog diabetes diet is not easy at first, but there are some general rules you can adhere to.

Once you get used to using the same foods, know what to feed a diabetic dog and what not to feed a diabetic dog, and are used to the timing, it becomes a routine and shouldn't feel like a hassle as it does at the very beginning.

What to Feed a Diabetic Dog

Include high-quality protein from lean meats and fish in your dog’s diet. Lamb, beef, chicken, turkey, and many types of fish are all good protein sources.

You can also add eggs to your pet's diet and some dairy products, like low-fat cottage cheese.

Some fruits and berries are good in tiny amounts because they contain many antioxidants and some fiber.

However, they are high in natural sugars (and high GI) and will spike glucose levels, so use moderation.

To keep your dog's gut flora in good shape, adding some plain yogurt as part of your diabetic dog's regular diet can help digestion and nutrient absorption.

Alternatively to yogurt or other probiotic foods, you can also use probiotic supplements which have a higher concentration of good bacteria and are likely to provide better results than yogurt.

Green leafy vegetables are ideal for dogs with diabetes because they are high in fiber and low in fat and calories.

You can include vegetables like broccoli, celery, kale, asparagus in a diabetic dog diet. Carrots and sweet potatoes are also good for your dog’s digestion, but only in moderation since they contain higher sugars (high GI).

Some recommend adding grapefruit juice to a diabetic dog diet because it may help with weight control, but there's little evidence of that.

You can add a little bit of it to your dog’s water or mix it with a meal. Same with cinnamon which may or may not serve as a substitute for insulin in the blood.

Sprinkle a minimal amount on your dog’s meal.

Treats between meals are fine if they are deficient in sugar and carbs. It would help to avoid commercial snacks with syrup, fructose, maltose, or dextrose on the ingredients label.

Good healthy dog treats for diabetic dogs are homemade dehydrated meats (recipe). Canned pumpkin can also be a good option. Just keep it at moderate to low levels.

What Not to Feed a Diabetic Dog

Most human foods and table scraps, like junk food and baked goods, should be completely avoided because they are high in sugar and have high GI carbs.

If you want to give your dog some baked products, do it yourself. Homemade diabetic dog treats can be fine if not made of foods with a high glycemic index.

If you normally allow your dog to snack on human foods, remember that you must avoid things like cereal, white bread, crackers, and so forth because they will cause spikes in blood sugar levels.

Avoid corn and anything made of corn as well. White rice should also be avoided or at least limited. Brown rice might be a little better because it's lower on the GI scale, but it's still relatively high.

Most canned foods can be either bad or average, depending on the type. That's because canned dog food usually contains a higher amount of carbs than dry kibble. Thus it's best to avoid it altogether on a dog diabetes diet.

Especially avoid canned products that are full of things like corn gluten, corn, wheat gluten.

Homemade Diabetic Dog Food Meals

Commercial dog foods for diabetes may be more convenient, but choosing prescription diets can also be very costly.

As long as you discuss this with your vet, understand what to feed a diabetic dog and what not to feed a diabetic dog, you may be able to structure a good diabetic diet for dogs by cooking yourself.

Homemade diabetic dog food recipes (like this one, this one, or this) should follow the above-mentioned guidelines on macronutrients and specific foods.

There are more recipes for dogs with diabetes out there (including our 25 Vet Recommended Recipes book), but here's one example of a good diabetic homemade dog food recipe you can start with.

Basic Diabetic Homemade Dog Food Recipe

This recipe is good because it's low in fat and has many green, leafy vegetables.

Ingredients

  • 6 pounds of lean beef
  • 1 broccoli, fresh
  • 1 package of fresh spinach (10 oz.)
  • 2 cups of chopped celery
  • 3 cups of rye
  • 4 cups of brown rice
  • 165 oz. of liquid (1/2 broth and 1/2 water)

Preparation

Simmer the lean beef in the liquid for 20-30 minutes and then remove it. Mix all other ingredients in a pot and put it on a stove until liquid is absorbed.

Mix the beef and vegetables, put the hot rice and rye over the mix, and then mix it all.

You can keep all leftovers in your fridge in an airtight container.

You can also use any other protein source instead of beef, like chicken or turkey, and you can also use any other green vegetables.

The Best Dog Food for Diabetic Dogs

Other than homemade dog food for diabetic dogs and prescription food brands, there are a few often vet recommended diabetic dog food brands available over the counter.

These foods contain a similar protein/fat/carbs/fiber ratio to those more expensive brands sold in veterinary clinics. Below are a few brands you can discuss with your vet.

Common Questions about Feeding Diabetic Dogs

Still, have questions about the right dog food for diabetic dogs? The following information should clear up any confusion about your dog's diet and help him maintain the ideal blood sugar levels.

Remember that if you have any other questions about diabetic dogs or foods for diabetic canines, your vet is also a great resource.

What Human Food Can I Feed My Diabetic Dog?

Opt for human foods that make up a healthy diet in dogs. Your pup will love fresh vegetables, and these are also great for weight management.

Try giving your pup veggies as treats. Delicious and nutritious options include cucumber, string beans, cauliflower, and broccoli.

Best of all, you can give your dog fresh veggies or cook them. You can even give your canine frozen vegetables.

What Is the Best Dog Food for a Diabetic Dog?

If you plan to buy foods for diabetic pups, you should consult your vet first. They will likely recommend grain-free food and/or low-fat foods.

There are several brands available, but the ideal one will depend on your canine. It will depend on his weight, blood sugar, and whether he is getting insulin injections.

That being said, any of the grain-free foods we listed above will be a great choice for most diabetic canines.

Is Chicken OK for Diabetic Dogs?

Yes, chicken is fine for most dogs with diabetes. Just remember that you should not season the chicken or use butter or oil when making it for your dog.

Instead, boil it without seasoning. Follow that same advice when adding chicken to any dog's food, even if they do not have diabetes.

Is Tuna Good for Diabetic Dogs?

No, it would help if you did not give your dog tuna. This is true whether or not he has diabetes. That is because tuna could lead to various health problems in dogs.

Is Peanut Butter Good for Diabetic Dogs?

Yes, you can add a bit of peanut butter to pet foods or give it to your dog as a treat. There are two important caveats.

First, make sure it doesn't have xylitol, as dogs can't have this. If your dog is diabetic, you should also try to opt for peanut butter without added sugar, as that could lead to a blood sugar spike.

Finally, always give your dog peanut butter in moderation.

Are Apples Good for Diabetic Dogs?

Apples aren't necessarily good for diabetic dogs, but you can include them in a diet to keep your dog healthy.

The important thing is to always do so in small quantities. That is because apples contain sugar, which can be problematic for diabetic dogs.

On top of that, even a healthy dog can develop diarrhea from eating too many apples.

Can You Treat a Diabetic Dog without Insulin?

Very few owners will be able to treat their diabetic dogs without insulin. For most dogs, insulin and a healthy diet are necessary.

Most diabetic dogs will need to eat healthy food and have twice daily insulin injections.

While he can miss one or two insulin injections, this is bad for your dog's health, so you should never intentionally skip doses.

How Do I Know If My Diabetic Dog Is Dying?

Even if your dog is on a prescription diet and takes insulin, keep an eye on his health after developing diabetes. You want to look for signs your dog's diabetes is getting worse.

Specifically, be on the lookout for diabetes-related complications like diabetic ketoacidosis. This can cause a decrease in appetite, vomiting, lethargy, and diarrhea.

If your dog has those symptoms along with abnormal breathing, seizures, or tremors, he may be dying. Take your dog to the vet immediately if you notice these symptoms.

What Should a Diabetic Dog Not Eat?

Which dog foods not to give your diabetic companion are just as important as the ones to give him. You want to avoid canned food or any semi-moist food.

That is because they tend to include simple carbs like fructose and sucrose. This is problematic as those ingredients increase blood sugar levels.

When checking if a food is safe for adult dogs with diabetes, look for ingredients like sugar, honey, or corn syrup. Dog owners should avoid any food with these ingredients.

How Do I Feed My Dog with Diabetes?

Diabetic dogs must stick to a feeding schedule. Your dog needs to eat the same type of food consistently and do so at the same time.

This is true whether you opt for homemade diets or buy dog food. Your vet can help you develop dog feeding habits that will give him a long and healthy life.

My Diabetic Dog Is Overweight. Will Weight Loss Help?

Many dog owners wonder if weight loss can help treat diabetes. The short answer is yes.

You may be surprised to learn that being overweight is not a diabetic risk factor for dogs. However, once your pup has diabetes, it can pose problems.

This is because too much body fat can lead to insulin resistance. In other words, your dog's insulin dose would have to increase to deliver the same results.

As such, your vet will likely suggest your diabetic dog lose weight. However, you should do this slowly. Additionally, your vet won't suggest weight loss until your dog's diabetes is stable.

Your dog will also need more frequent vet visits during the diet changes, as this will affect his insulin doses.

READ NEXT: 15 Tips on Diabetic Dog Food and How to Feed Dogs with Diabetes

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Tips on Diabetic Dog Diet and What to Feed a Diabetic Dog