By Helen Anne Travis
Canine diabetes is on the rise. According to Banfield Pet Hospital’s 2016 State of Pet Health report, cases of diabetes in dogs have increased by almost 80 percent since 2006.
Unfortunately with dogs, diabetes isn’t always preventable, says Dr. Anthony Ishak, a veterinarian at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Tampa, FL.
“Some dogs are going to get diabetes no matter what you do,” he says. But you may be able to make it easier to manage or reduce the severity of your pup’s symptoms by following these six tips.
Some diseases, including Cushing's disease and pancreatitis, can increase a dog’s chances of developing diabetes, says Ishak. Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for routine checkups and blood tests. Call your vet if you notice a change in your dog’s behavior, appetite, thirst, or urination to ensure it’s not a sign of a bigger problem.
Intact female dogs are more likely to develop diabetes. After dogs give birth or complete a heat cycle, their progesterone levels surge, says Ishak. These hormone fluctuations can increase a dog’s risk of developing the disease, he says.
Having your female dog spayed will also decrease her risk of developing other conditions that can be associated with high progesterone levels, including pyometra, a uterine infection sometimes accompanied by high blood sugar levels, says Dr. Judy Morgan, a holistic veterinarian and author of natural pet-care books.
Exercise can play a role in diabetes prevention and management as it helps regulate blood sugar levels and reduce weight gain. “Dogs need enough exercise to work off the calories they consume, just like people,” says Morgan.
Ishak recommends taking your dog for at least one walk every day. How far you go depends on the dog’s age and health, as well as the weather. As long as it’s not too hot out, a healthy dog should be able to take long walks, he says.
“An owner will get tired long before a dog will,” he says. “Think of wolves in the wild, they run their prey down to ground.”
Speaking of prey, you’ll want to ensure your dog is eating a high protein diet, says Morgan. This will help keep his blood sugar levels more stable than will a diet high in simple carbohydrates.
You don’t have to spend a fortune on dog food, says Ishak. Most mainstream brands offer quality nutrition.
“As long as you’re not buying the cheapest grocery store brand you’re probably doing okay,” he says.
While current research does not reveal a link between obesity and the development of diabetes in dogs, weight control is an important part of disease management should your dog become diabetic. Of course, obesity is associated with a wide range of other health problems, so feeding dogs just the right amount is still incredibly important.
Dogs should generally eat 20 to 30 calories per pound of bodyweight per day, depending on their size and activity levels, says Morgan.
Go easy on dog treats and avoid giving them too much “people food,” says Ishak. “If you can’t feel their ribs you’re probably overfeeding them.”
Fresh fruits and vegetables make great snacks or meal toppers without packing on calories, says Morgan. “The natural sugars in fruits and vegetables do not cause blood sugar spikes,” she says. “If dry kibble is a large part of a dog’s diet, add a topper of ground, gently cooked green vegetables like broccoli, kale, dandelion greens, or collards.”
These ingredients will help boost the food’s fiber content, which can help regulate blood sugar fluctuations, Morgan says.
Make sure to consult your veterinarian before adding any fruits or vegetables or making any significant changes to your dog’s diet.