Almost overnight, your dog’s pupils turn white, she walks more carefully around the house and bumps into the furniture. She acts like she’s blind. The vet confirms that she is blind because of cataracts in the lens of her eyes. He asks to perform some blood and urine tests. The tests reveal very high levels of glucose or sugar in both the blood and the urine. The vet kindly breaks the bad news, “Your dog has diabetes.” He assures you that with insulin injections and diet changes, diabetes can be managed. What about the cataracts and blindness?
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus or “sugar diabetes” is a disease that causes increased sugar or glucose in the blood. In dogs, this happens because the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. In order to remove sugar or glucose from the blood, cells need insulin to attach to certain areas (receptors) of their cell walls. This “opens” the cell wall to the glucose so it can be used inside the cell for energy, making other chemicals and supporting important cell functions. Without enough insulin to attach to cell walls, the glucose builds up in the blood stream and spills into the urine.
Increased glucose in the blood causes:
Increased thirst and water intake
Decreased appetite later in the disease
Unable to use sugar for energy, diabetic dogs use protein and fat. The use of protein and fat for energy causes:
Accelerated weight loss
Excessive panting even at rest
Weakness and decreased activity
Diabetes is most common in middle-aged dogs (6-9 years old), especially those that are overweight or obese. Females are at higher risk of becoming diabetic than males. Some breeds of dogs (below) may develop diabetes at much younger ages at healthy weights.
What Causes Canine Diabetes?
Diabetes in dogs is caused by immune destruction of the cells in the pancreas that produce insulin. It isn’t clear why the immune cells of the body turn on its’ own pancreas cells but certain connections have been found:
Breeds that show genetic tendencies for diabetes (juvenile diabetes)
Pancreatitis, single or persistent episodes can destroy insulin producing cells
Drugs (corticosteroids, progesterone-like sex hormone drugs)
Obesity is thought to increase cell resistance to insulin and contribute to pancreas “insulin burnout”
How is Diabetes Treated in Dogs?
All diabetic dogs need daily injections of insulin, generally twice daily. Patients are started on a standard dose with dose adjustments every 2-4 weeks until blood sugar levels are normal. Blood sugar levels are then monitored every 6-12 months. Once blood sugars and the insulin doses are stable in overweight dogs, they are generally put on weight loss programs. Because fat loss will reverse insulin resistance these dogs may require more frequent blood sugar monitoring and insulin dose reductions.
What Homemade Dog Food is Best for Diabetic Dogs?
Diets for dogs with diabetes are:
Many dogs do not like the taste and texture of veterinary diabetic diets. Homemade dog food gives you much more flexibility to choose meats, fats, fiber and carbs your dog likes.
Unfortunately overweight dogs need to avoid diets high fat diets, especially if they are on a weight loss program. Fat has more than twice the amount calories than protein and carbohydrates so dieting dogs get less food. Less food means they beg more. Begging is the leading cause for dog owners to discontinue weight loss programs for their dogs. Homemade dog food recipes that include carbs with a low glycemic index (sugar is slowly absorbed) can be used to increase the amount of food and reduce begging.
Low fat cottage cheese or yogurt
Legumes (beans, garbanzos, kidney, soy, lentils)
Vegetables (peas, carrots)
This many possibilities also make it easier to make homemade recipes that are appealing to your diabetic dog. Fruit, beans and vegetables also add fiber that causes a feeling of “fullness” and reduces begging and helps owners “stay the course” toward a normal weight for their dog. Extra fiber also helps slow absorption of sugar from the intestines.
Dogs on homemade diets that help regulate blood sugar levels require less insulin which decreases the cost of treatment. Smaller doses may also reduce the risk of developing allergies or resistance to the injected insulin.
Hearthstone Homemade can create specialized diabetic diets to meet your needs and control your dog’s blood sugar.
What about the Cataracts? Sadly, diabetic cataracts and blindness are permanent. Dogs that are diagnosed before they have cataracts will develop them within a year of treatment, even with good insulin control. Dogs quickly adjust to blindness and lead normal lives. Surgical removal of cataracts is also possible and can return full vision to diabetic dogs.
Dr. Ken Tudor,
THE DOG DIETITIAN