Managing Your Diabetic Dog: What You Need to Know

Updated on April 18, 2018
Darlene Norris profile image

Darlene Norris is a long-time pet lover. She has worked as a vet assistant and draws on this experience when she writes her articles.

Does Your Dog Have Canine Diabetes?

Setting up a consistent daily routine makes caring for your diabetic dog easier.
Setting up a consistent daily routine makes caring for your diabetic dog easier. | Source

Your Dog With Diabetes Needs a Daily Routine

Your goal when managing your canine diabetic is to keep your dog's blood glucose at normal levels, while avoiding emergencies like hypoglycemia and ketoacidosis. In order to meet this goal, you'll need to do several things on a daily basis:

  • Check blood sugar levels several times a day
  • Give insulin shots
  • Check for ketones in the urine
  • Feed your dog two or three times a day, at the same time every day
  • Set up an exercise routine for your pet

Establishing and keeping a routine will go a long way towards preventing veterinary emergencies. It will also make life easier for you and your dog.

Learn How to Check Blood Sugar Levels

The first thing you'll need is a glucometer. This is used to check your dog's blood sugar levels. The easiest type of glucometer to use is one that has a test strip that sucks up a drop of your dog's blood, using capillary action. This is much easier than using a meter that requires you to collect enough blood to drip onto the test strip.

The glucometer may have a lancet on it that you will use to prick your dog's ear to collect a small drop of blood. There are several other sites where you can collect blood as well:

  • The base of the tail
  • Inside the lip
  • Outside the lip
  • On the callous on the dog's leg

Try different locations to find the place your dog tolerates best.

The numbers on the glucometer tell you what your dog's blood sugar level is. Ideally, the levels should be between 80-120 mg/dL (millegrams glucose per deciliter of blood).

Dog Diabetes - How to Monitor Blood Glucose Levels

What Is a Glucose Curve?

Blood sugar levels change all the time, depending on what your dog is eating, when he's eating, how much exercise he's getting, and other factors. In order to determine how much insulin your canine diabetic needs, your vet will run a glucose curve.

This test shows when your dog's blood sugar levels are the highest during the day, and when they're at the lowest point. It also shows how long insulin stays in your dog's blood, when it's working the best, and how much your dog's blood sugar levels change over the course of the day. If the blood sugar levels are consistently too high or too low, your vet will need to change the insulin dosage.

Running a glucose curve involves checking your pet's blood sugar levels every two hours over a 12-hour period. This can be done at the vet's office, but it's usually less stressful for your pet if you can do it at home.

To run a glucose curve at home, you need to:

  • Check blood sugar levels before you feed your pet and before giving him insulin. This reading is very important, so be sure you test him then.
  • Write down the time every time you check your dog's blood glucose levels, and write down the results
  • Write down when you feed him, and when you give him insulin.
  • Check the dog's blood glucose levels every two hours, until it's time for the next insulin dose.

You'll need to give these results to your vet. He or she will use this information to determine how much insulin your pet needs.

A dog newly diagnosed with canine diabetes may need to have glucose curves run every week or two until his blood sugar is regulated properly. It takes a couple of weeks for your dog's body to adapt to the insulin dosage, so you'll need to be patient and work with your vet until your pet is regulated.

If blood sugar levels are too low, you may need to skip a dose of insulin. Check with your vet to find out how low is too low.

Diabetic Dogs Usually Need Insulin

Your vet will need to run a glucose curve to determine your dog's insulin dose.
Your vet will need to run a glucose curve to determine your dog's insulin dose. | Source

How to Give an Insulin Injection

Always feed your dog before giving him an insulin injection. Your dog may not feel like eating. If you've already given him a dose of insulin, and then he doesn't eat, he's in danger of developing hypoglycemia, or dangerously low blood sugar levels. If your dog isn't eating well, check with his vet.

Roll the bottle back and forth in your hands to mix it up. Avoid shaking it up, as shaking it can damage the insulin molecules. Hold the bottle vertically to draw the insulin into the syringe to avoid bubbles. If you do get a bubble, flick the syringe with your finger until the bubble rises to the top. Then you can push the syringe
to get the bubble out.

Bubbles aren't a huge problem since insulin is given under the skin, but you still don't want them if you can avoid them.

Some dogs don't mind shots at all, but others need to be held, so if you need help, get it now. Lift up a fold of skin on the dog's side, or between his shoulder blades. This will make a space for the needle. Slide the needle in, under the skin, and push the syringe to inject the insulin. Take out the needle, and you're done.

Important Tips for Administering Insulin and Caring for Your Diabetic Dog by Dr. Aubrey Lavizzo

Checking for Ketones

If you dog's blood glucose levels are too low, your pet's body may start burning stored fat for energy instead.

Burning fat leads to the production of ketones. Too many ketones in the blood cause dangerous electrolyte imbalances and acidic blood, a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis.

Ketoacidosis is a life-threatening condition, so it's a good idea to check your dog's urine every day with a dipstick. It only takes a drop of urine to check for ketones. If your dog is showing ketones in his urine three days running, or if he's losing weight, vomiting, or is weak and lethargic, you need to take him to the vet right away.

Canine Diabetes - How to Feed a Diabetic Dog

Sometimes it can feel like you're walking a tightrope, trying to balance what and how much your dog eats while keeping his blood sugar levels regulated with insulin shots. It can take a while to figure out how to keep everything balanced, so be sure to work with your vet on this.

Most vets recommend feeding a diabetic dog two or three evenly spaced meals throughout the day to minimize blood sugar spikes and crashes. If your dog is on the tubby side, losing a few pounds will help insulin to work better.

An underweight dog, on the other hand, needs to gain some weight, which helps to stabilize his metabolism, allowing the insulin to do its job.

What type of diet is best for a diabetic dog? A high-fiber, low-fat diet is the diet of choice for most vets. Fiber helps your dog feel full, while keeping glucose levels from spiking. Low-fat means fewer calories, which is good for a dog who needs to shed some weight.

Your vet may recommend a certain type of food. Dry or canned food is usually recommended, but stay away from the semi-moist foods in pouches. These tend to be very high in sugar, which is the last thing a diabetic dog needs.

Try to avoid treats, as they usually add empty calories.

Remember that no matter how great the diet may be, if your dog won't eat it, it can't help him. If your dog isn't eating, check with your vet. Keep in mind that you should never give a dog that won't eat an insulin injection. This can lead to hypoglycemia, a life-threatening condition.

Make sure your dog is drinking lots of water, especially if he's on a high-fiber diet. Fiber absorbs water from his body. If he's not drinking enough, he could develop a urinary tract infection or become constipated.

Exercise Keeps a Diabetic Dog in Shape

Exercise helps a dog with diabetes to lose extra weight.
Exercise helps a dog with diabetes to lose extra weight. | Source

Exercise Tips for a Diabetic Dog

Regular exercise is great for your diabetic dog, especially for one who needs to lose weight. But you do need to be careful, as too much vigorous exercise can make blood glucose drop to dangerously low levels.

Being consistent will help avoid large daily fluctuations in blood sugar levels. You don't want your dog running at top speed one day, while barely moving the next. Establish a routine of walking 10-15 minutes a day to start. If he does well, then increase the length of the walk as time passes.

It's a good idea to take some Karo syrup with you when you're out walking. If your pet starts showing signs of hypoglycemia (shakiness, uncoordination, becoming nervous or agitated, weakness), rub some syrup on his gums to increase his blood sugar levels.

Talk to your vet about setting up an exercise schedule for your pet.

To sum it up, the best way to prevent emergencies like hypoglycemia and ketoacidosis is to set up a daily routine and to stick with it.

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    • Darlene Norris profile image
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      Darlene Norris 4 weeks ago from MI

      Thank you! I appreciate your comment!

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      Sharlee 4 weeks ago

      I enjoyed your hub, very well written and informative.

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