You have probably seen the television commercial talking about the dangers of diabetes for humans, but did you know that dogs can get diabetes too? For many dogs, diabetes is a lifelong condition that requires daily treatment with insulin injections or other medications. Although diabetes is a serious and often chronic disease, it can be managed and, with proper treatment, your dog can live a long and happy life. Keep reading to learn more about how diabetes affects dogs, what kind of dietary changes might be beneficial, and recommended brands of diabetic dog food.
Understanding Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs
Diabetes mellitus is a very common condition in humans, especially considering the obesity epidemic that is running rampant through the Western world. Canine diabetes, as it is often called, may not be quite so common but it is still a major concern. Diabetes is a condition that occurs when a dog’s body is unable to produce or adequately utilize the hormone insulin. Here’s what happens with diabetes:
- When your dog eats food, his digestive system begins to digest it, breaking it down into various components such as glucose for energy.
- As the food is broken down, the glucose enters your dog’s bloodstream which will transport it throughout the body for storage or to be used for energy.
- When glucose enters your dog’s bloodstream, it triggers the pancreas to start producing insulin – the purpose of insulin is to help regulate the dog’s blood sugar level, keeping it from skyrocketing too high or dropping too low.
- If the dog’s body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or if his cells become resistant to its effects, it can lead to dangerously high blood sugar levels.
While high blood sugar levels may not sound like a big deal, they can actually be very dangerous – even fatal. When your dog’s body doesn’t properly produce or utilize insulin, it prevents his cells from getting the glucose (energy) they need which can result in the starvation of vital cells and organs. In fact, there are a number of serious complications that can result from canine diabetes – one of them is called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This condition results from the cell starvation caused by inadequate insulin production or utilization. When the body cannot properly utilize glucose for energy (due to inadequate insulin use or production), it starts to break down stored fat for fuel in a process that produces ketone bodies which can accumulate in the body and cause some serious health problems.
In addition to diabetic ketoacidosis, there are some other complications which can result from uncontrolled diabetes in dogs. Some of these complications include the following:
- Hypoglycemia – This condition is the result of abnormally low blood sugar levels which can deprive the brain of vital energy. Hypoglycemia results in symptoms such as weakness, lethargy, drooling, loss of coordination, and even seizures, coma, or death.
- Diabetic Neuropathy – This condition is the result of peripheral nerve damage caused by high blood sugar levels. Diabetic neuropathy can result in weakness (particularly in the hind limbs) and it typically affects older dogs.
- Cataracts – High blood sugar levels can eventually result in the formation of cataracts, an opacity in the lens of the eye which can obstruct vision. Cataracts are generally not painful and most dogs adapt well to a loss of vision.
- Uveitis and Glaucoma – These conditions are often secondary to cataracts. When cataracts develop, they sometimes leak protein into the eye which can cause inflammation called uveitis. If left untreated, the uveitis can progress into glaucoma which may result in permanent loss of vision.
- Impaired Immunity – When your dog experiences chronic high blood sugar levels it can create an internal environment which is optimal for the growth of bacteria. This, paired with inadequate energy production and utilization, can lead to impaired immunity.
Now that you understand the basics of how diabetes works and you’ve received some vital information regarding the severity of this condition, you may be wondering how to identify this condition and whether or not it can be managed. The first thing you need to know is that there are two different types of diabetes that commonly affect dogs. Type 1 Diabetes results from a total lack of insulin production while Type II Diabetes results from impaired insulin production and/or inadequate response to the hormone. In most cases, Type 1 Diabetes is a condition that the dog is born with and it cannot be cured, just managed with insulin therapy. Type II Diabetes is something a dog can develop at any point in his life and it is frequently related to obesity and unhealthy dietary habits.
Though Type I and Type II Diabetes are caused by different underlying factors, they present with a similar set of symptoms. Some of the most common symptoms of canine diabetes include the following:
- Changes in appetite
- Excessive thirst, increased water consumption
- Unexplained weight loss
- Increased frequency of urination
- Sweet-smelling breath, often fruity smell
- Lethargy or general lack of energy
- Dehydration, and related symptoms
- Recurrent urinary tract infections
- Chronic skin infections
- Cataract formations, loss of vision
The exact cause of diabetes in dogs remains unknown, but it is thought that genetics, autoimmune disease, chronic pancreatitis, and obesity can all play a role in its development. All dogs can develop diabetes, though it seems to be more common in female dogs and obese dogs. Certain breeds like the schnauzer, dachshund, poodle, Samoyed, keeshond, and Australian terrier also seem to have a higher risk for the disease. Diabetes is generally treated with insulin therapy to help regulate blood sugar levels. There are also certain dietary changes which can help to stabilize your dog’s blood sugar.
Recommended Dietary Modifications for Diabetic Dogs
Before getting into the details of what makes diabetic dog food different from traditional dog food, you need to learn the basics about the nutritional needs of dogs. Contrary to popular belief, dogs are not strictly carnivores in the way that cats are. It is true that wild dogs receive most of their nutrition from animal sources, but they will occasionally eat plant foods if meat is not available – they also consume some plant foods in the stomach contents of their prey. So, while a dog’s body is optimized to digest and absorb nutrition from animal sources, they do have a limited ability to process carbohydrates as long as they are cooked and easily digestible.
The three main nutrients a dog needs (called macronutrients) are protein, fat, and carbohydrate. In addition to these macronutrients, your dog also needs plenty of fresh water and some specific micronutrients – vitamins and minerals. Protein is the most important nutritional consideration for dogs because it helps them to develop and maintain lean muscle mass, plus it fuels their growth and development. Fats are a highly concentrated source of energy for dogs. Even though you have been lead to believe that all fats are bad, they are actually an important building block in the healthy diet for dogs. Carbohydrates provide dietary fiber as well as certain micronutrients, though your dog should only receive a limited amount of carbohydrates in his diet compared to the recommended protein and fat content of a healthy diet for dogs.
Now that you understand the basics of dog nutrition, you can start to learn about diabetic dog food. As you have already learned, diabetes is a condition that affects a dog’s ability to produce and utilize insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas. A diabetic diet, then, is designed to help stabilize your dog’s blood sugar levels – preventing them from getting either too high or too low. In many cases, treatment for canine diabetes involves pairing insulin injections with meals to counteract the potentially negative effects of high blood sugar levels by using insulin as a stabilizer. In addition to timing your dog’s insulin injects to coincide with his meals, many veterinarians recommend a low-fat, high-fiber diet for diabetic dogs. Low-fat foods contain fewer calories which can help your dog achieve and maintain a healthy bodyweight while high fiber content helps to slow the entrance of glucose into the bloodstream, preventing dangerous spikes.
In addition to watching what you feed your diabetic dog, you should also be intentional about how much you feed him and when. To prevent your dog’s blood sugar levels from getting too high or too low, you should plan to feed him several small meals throughout the day, keeping to a regular schedule as much as you are able. Try to time your dog’s insulin injections to coincide with his meals as well, following your veterinarian’s recommendations for dosage. Not only should you be mindful of your dog’s dietary habits, but you should also make sure that he gets some regular exercise. This will help your dog achieve and maintain a healthy bodyweight while also stabilizing his blood sugar levels. Just don’t make your dog exercise too hard or too long because it could result in a significant drop in blood sugar levels – about 30 minutes a day is just right.
Tips for Choosing a Quality Diabetic Dog Food
Choosing a diabetic dog food for your dog can be a challenge. Not only are there hundreds of different dog food brands and thousands of recipes out there, but all dog foods are not created equal. If you make a direct comparison between two dog food products (say one expensive recipe and one inexpensive recipe) you will notice a stark difference in the type and quality of the ingredients used. Cheap dog foods are rarely quality but a high price tag doesn’t necessarily indicate quality, either. In order to make sure that the diabetic dog food you choose for your dog is of high quality you need to learn the basics about reading a dog food label.
When it comes to evaluating the quality of a dog food product, there are three things you should look for on the label:
- Statement of Nutritional Adequacy – The American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) is responsible for monitoring the quality and safety of pet foods and animal feed produced in the United States. AAFCO has determined the basic nutritional requirements for adult dogs (this is called the maintenance stage) and for pregnant or lactating dogs and puppies (the growth and reproduction stage). Before they can be sold, dog foods are compared to these nutritional profiles and, if the product meets the basic nutritional requirements, it will carry an AAFCO statement of nutritional adequacy that looks something like this, “[Product Name] is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food Nutrient Profiles”. If the diabetic dog food product you are looking at doesn’t have a statement like this on the package, it is not a quality product and it will not meet your dog’s nutritional needs so you should move on to the next option.
- Guaranteed Analysis – The guaranteed analysis on a pet food label provides you with the minimum or maximum levels of four key nutrients: crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber, and moisture. You can look at this analysis to make sure that the product meets the basic requirements of dogs for protein and fat – you may also want to make sure that the fiber content is high enough, but not too high. The minimum protein requirement for adult dogs is 18% and the minimum fat requirement is 8% for puppies and 5% for adult dogs. In addition to making sure that the product meets the minimum requirements for dogs, you can also use the guaranteed analysis to make a direct comparison between two diabetic dog food products.
- Ingredients List – Just like the packages of foods you eat yourself, dog food also has a complete list of ingredients on them. The most important thing you need to know is that these lists are compiled in descending order by volume – the ingredients present in the largest quantities are at the top of the list. This being the case, you want to look for high-quality ingredients such as quality animal proteins, digestible carbohydrates, and animal fats near the beginning of the list. You also want to make sure that certain things are NOT on the list such as allergens, low-quality fillers, artificial preservatives, etc.
Now that you know a little more about how to read a dog food label, you should learn the basics about what to look for in a diabetic dog food in particular. As you have already learned, most veterinarians recommend low-fat, high-fiber dog foods for diabetic dogs. What you want to watch out for, however, is diabetic dog foods that also have low protein content. Protein is the most important nutritional consideration for all dogs, even for diabetic dogs. Protein is essential to help your dog maintain lean muscle mass and it needs to come from quality, animal-based sources. Your dog also needs some fat in his diet but moderating the amount of fat in a diabetic dog food is the most effective way to reduce calorie content. Just make sure that, as a means of reducing calorie content, the diabetic dog food you choose doesn’t also reduce protein content.
When it comes to high fiber content in diabetic dog food, you need to be careful about what sources of fiber the product uses. Corn, wheat, and soy ingredients may provide plenty of dietary fiber, but these ingredients are of low nutritional value for dogs and they also come with a high risk for triggering food allergies or sensitivities. Whole grains (as long as they are fully cooked) are one of the most beneficial sources of dietary fiber for dogs because they are often low on the glycemic index (this means that they will not cause your dog’s blood sugar level to spike). Some good options include whole grain oatmeal, brown rice, cracked pearled barley, and the likes. You can also look for gluten-free, grain-free carbohydrates like sweet potato, tapioca, and green peas. Many quality diabetic dog foods also include fresh fruits and vegetables as supplementary fiber sources and as natural sources for vital nutrients. When shopping for diabetic dog food, just make sure that the fiber content is high enough but not too high – excess fiber content could have the opposite of the desired effect, causing problems with digestion instead of fixing them.
Top Recommended Diabetic Dog Food Brands
If your dog has diabetes mellitus, your veterinarian may recommend that you make specific changes to his diet in order to help manage his condition. Unfortunately, some of the dietary changes recommended for diabetic dogs are not as easy to accomplish as they sound – in most cases you will be better off finding a commercial diabetic dog food than you would be trying to make a homemade diet for your dog. To help you get started in shopping for a quality diabetic dog food, consider some of the top rated diabetic dog food brands reviewed below:
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Nutro Adult Lite Weight Loss Dog Food Chicken, Whole Brown Rice & Oatmeal Recipe
The Nutro Company was founded in 1926 and they have a long history of making quality pet food products that are beloved both by pets and their owners. The Nutro Natural Choice Company follows the strictest standards for safety and quality with their products, plus they use only the freshest, natural ingredients. Not only does Nutro dog food guarantee significant health benefits, but it also tastes great. Nutro products are designed to provide your dog with complete and balanced nutrition in addition to improving digestion and supporting skin and coat health. When it comes to their dog food products, Nutro offers several product lines. The Original line offers several size and breed-specific formulas made with premium, natural ingredients and the High-Protein Grain-Free line lives up to both of these promises.
For diabetic dogs, one of the best Nutro products is the Nutro Adult Lite Weight Loss Dog Food Chicken, Whole Brown Rice & Oatmeal Recipe. This recipe belongs to the Lite & Weight Management line of products and it is a great option for dogs that need to watch their weight. This diabetic dog food formula features fresh chicken and chicken meal as the top two ingreidnets which speaks to the high protein content of this formula. For carbohydrates, this recipe features rice bran, split peas, whole brown rice, and whole grain oatmeal – all of these carbohydrates offer healthy fiber in a highly digestible form to help manage your dog’s blood sugar level. In addition to plenty of protein and fiber, this Nutro Adult Lite Weight Loss Dog Food Chicken, Whole Brown Rice & Oatmeal Recipe also features chelated minerals which have been chemically bound to protein molecules, making them easier for your dog’s body to digest and absorb. Overall, this is a great option for diabetic dogs.
Purina Beyond Grain-Free White Meat Chicken & Egg Recipe
The Purina pet food company offers a variety of different product lines. Unfortunately, many Purina brands are made with low-quality ingredients and non-nutritive fillers. The Purina Beyond brand is an exception, however, and it features fresh, natural ingredients in recipes that are formulated by experienced animal nutritionists and veterinarians. Purina Beyond pet foods are held to the highest standards for quality, sourcing their ingredients from local farms and producing all of their formulas in US-based facilities. Purina Beyond products are designed to provide pets with complete and balanced nutrition in flavors they will love. Any of Purina Beyond’s dog foods would be a good choice for your pet, though their grain-free options are particularly recommended for diabetic dogs.
This Purina Beyond Grain-Free White Meat Chicken & Egg Recipe dog food is a great option for diabetic dog food because it is naturally grain-free and rich in protein. This recipe features real chicken as the number-1 ingredient and it is completely free from corn, wheat, and soy ingredients as well as artificial additives. This diabetic dog food offers a minimum of 27% protein, 16% fat, and 5% fiber – these values are ideal to help your dog maintain a healthy bodyweight. This formula is made with both fresh chicken and chicken meal to ensure a high protein content and is made with gluten-free, grain-free carbohydrates such as pea starch, cassava root flour, and dried beet pulp. This recipe also contains plenty of vitamin and mineral supplements to ensure complete and balanced nutrition.
Acana Heritage Free-Run Poultry Formula Adult
The Acana pet food company is known for producing “biologically appropriate diets” for dogs and cats – that simply means diets that are designed to mimic the natural diet of wild felines and canines. Acana makes it their mission to set a new standard for quality in pet nutrition which is why they use only the freshest natural ingredients. Their ingredients are all locally sourced and prepared in their own award-winning DogStar kitchens in Alberta, Canada. Not only does Acana source their ingredients locally, but they follow the strictest standards for safety and quality in the development and production of their recipes. All of Acana’s formulas are rich in meat and protein, low in carbohydrates and packed with nutrition – your dog would be lucky to receive any of Acana’s formulas. One of the best options for dogs with diabetes, however, is the Acana Heritage Free-Run Poultry Formula Adult Dog Food.
This Acana Heritage Free-Run Poultry Formula Adult Dog Food formula is a great choice for diabetic dog food because it is rich in protein with no high-glycemic grains. In accordance with Acana’s biologically appropriate philosophy, this recipe features 60% free-run poultry ingredients such as free-run chicken, free-run turkey, and nest-laid eggs. It also contains 40% fruits, vegetables, and botanicals to provide dietary fiber and vital nutrients without making the product difficult for your dog to digest. The carbohydrates found in this recipe are all low-glycemic which means that they won’t cause your dog’s blood sugar level to spike. In terms of nutrients, this Acana Heritage Free-Run Poultry Formula Adult Dog Food offers a whopping 29% protein, 17% fat, and 6% fiber with a total of 396 calories per cup.
Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Recipe with Chicken & Turkey
Whole Earth Farms may not be one of the biggest names in the pet food industry but it is certainly a brand worth considering. Manufactured and produced by the Merrick Pet Care Company, Whole Earth Farms products are made with fresh, natural ingredients that offer “all the goodness from the earth at a great value”. Simply put, this recipe offers fresh, quality nutrition for your dog at a price that won’t break the bank. Whole Earth Farms dog food products are produced in the USA with high-quality, natural ingredients in formulas that are guaranteed to offer complete and balanced nutrition. All of this brand’s products are designed to support healthy digestion and to improve skin and coat quality – they are also full of natural flavor! All of Whole Earth Farms’ products are free from corn, wheat, soy, by-products, and artificial additives.
If you are looking for a high-quality diet for your diabetic dog, consider this Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Recipe with Chicken & Turkey. This recipe is naturally grain-free, made with chicken meal as the primary ingredient which supports the high-protein claims made about this product. In terms of carbohydrates, this formula features grain-free, low-glycemic options like dried potatoes, peas, and dried sweet potatoes. This recipe offers 26% protein, 13% fat, and just 4.5% fiber – that is enough to support your dog’s healthy digestion without going overboard. There are also some healthy additives included in this recipe such as chelated minerals and dried fermentation products which act as probiotics to support healthy digestion. Overall, this Whole Earth Farms Grain-Free Recipe with Chicken & Turkey recipe seems to provide complete and balanced nutrition with plenty of natural flavor.
Orijen Six Fish Grain-Free Adult
The Orijen pet food brand is known for producing biologically appropriate diets which mimic the nutritional composition of the diet for wild cats and dogs. The Orijen brand ascribes to a whole prey philosophy, focusing all of their formulas on fresh animal proteins while avoiding all gluten and grains. The Orijen dog food brand understands that cats and dogs have a limited ability to digest plant products so they keep their fiber content and their glycemic load low. Orijen offers a variety of different dog food products for puppies and adult dogs as well as senior dogs. Orijen uses locally sourced ingredients and they produce their recipes in small batches in their own award-winning kitchens to ensure the highest standards for safety and quality. Overall, the Orijen name is synonymous with quality and your dog would be lucky to enjoy any of their products.
If you are looking for a high-quality diet for your diabetic dog, consider the Orijen Six Fish Grain-Free Adult Dog Food formula. Though this formula is not specifically designed for diabetic dogs, it does offer plenty of high-quality protein and a low glycemic load. This recipe features 85% wild-caught fish ingredients with 15% fruits, vegetables, and botanicals with 0% grains or plant protein concentrates. This formula contains a whopping 38% protein and 20% low-glycemic carbohydrates to support your dog’s lean muscle mass while also supporting healthy digestion. To make up that 38% protein, this recipe features a variety of fish ingredients like whole wild mackerel, wild Atlantic flounder, whole wild redfish, wild monkfish, whole wild silver hake, and whole wild herring. All of this protein is supplemented with whole green peas, whole navy beans, whole red lentils, and other low-glycemic carbohydrates. This recipe also contains chelated minerals and dried fermentation products.
Choosing a high-quality commercial dog food for your canine companion can be quite the challenge, largely because there are so many options to consider. If your dog has specific dietary restrictions, however, it becomes even more difficult. If you are looking for a quality diabetic dog food, consider one of the top rated brands reviewed above.