How to Prevent Diabetes in Your Dog

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Diabetes is on the rise amongst human populations, especially in North America. Did you know it is on the rise in our dog population too?

Diabetes is the result of a lack of insulin production or utilization. Insulin is required to process sugars, amino acids, electrolytes, and fatty acids, allowing them to absorb into your dog’s tissues. If enough insulin is not produced this process breaks down, causing cells to “starve” and die. This results in all kinds of problems, including tissues breaking down and organ failure.

There are two types of diabetes found in both humans and dogs. Type 1 or juvenile diabetes that manifests at a young age is an inherited condition, and is not common in dogs. Type 2 diabetes generally manifests around 7 to 10 years of age in dogs and is the result of the body producing less insulin, or developing an inability to use insulin appropriately. This is usually a result of the dog having chronic inactivity and/or being chronically overweight. Symptoms of diabetes in your dog may manifest as increased thirst, increased urination, increased or decreased appetite, weight loss, lethargy, vision problems, urinary tract infections, and eventually, if undiagnosed, kidney failure. If pet owners observe these symptoms in their dog they are encouraged to seek veterinary attention to rule out other causes, or establish the presence of diabetes.

Sometimes diabetes is discovered during a routine veterinary examination in abnormal blood glucose results. Much like in humans, daily glucose monitoring and insulin can be used to regulate your dog's diabetes, but there is no cure. So if possible, avoiding the condition is recommended.

Causes and Prevention of Diabetes in Dogs

Genetics

In some dogs, type 1 diabetes, or in some cases type 2 diabetes, is acquired through genetic predisposition. Certain breeds can be more affected by the disease. If a dog acquires diabetes through an inheritable trait, removal of that dog, and possible his parents, from a breeding program is recommended to prevent future incidence in offspring.


Obesity

Obesity is the most common contributing factor to the development of diabetes in dogs. Maintaining a healthy weight in your dog is important in avoiding the development of diabetes. There are two methods of controlling weight, and both play additional roles in controlling diabetes development. Exercise and diet.

Diet
Dogs do not require carbohydrates in their diet, though many commercial dog foods contain a large percentage of grains, starches and other carbohydrates that are not necessary for your dog's health. Because carbohydrates turn into sugar your dog's body is not designed to process, the excess sugar can lead to development of insulin problems and diabetes. Limiting the amount of carbohydrates in your dog's diet and replacing with a high protein diet will help prevent problems with insulin production and obesity. A high fat diet has also been linked to pancreatic stress, which can contribute to diabetes. Regulating fat in your dog's diet is also an important part of diabetes prevention.

Portion control is another leading contributor to obesity in dogs and other companion animals. Because many pet owners work outside the home, there is a tendency to provide dry kibble, which is high in carbohydrates, on an ongoing basis so the dog does not get hungry when the pet owner is not in the home. Providing a moisture-rich alternative, many small meals as opposed to one large one, a diet high in protein and with low carbohydrate veggies, in a portion controlled manner will reduce the likelihood of developing diabetes. Making use of pet sitter, dog daycare, or stay at home neighbor may be necessary if you are not available for much of the day.


Exercise

Exercise is critical to your dog. Not only does is decrease weight in your dog, but it regulates hormones, produces muscle, and improves cardiovascular functioning. If you exercise alongside your dog you will reap the benefits too! Dogs are nomadic predators by nature and were designed to do lots of aerobic exercise daily. Their bodies thrive when provided with the opportunity to exercise often. Consistent exercise reduces blood glucose levels and regulates hormone fluctuations. A sedentary lifestyle leads to dogs being overweight and the development of impaired immune and endocrine functions, which can lead to type 2 diabetes.


Immune System Support

Immune system disorders, especially those that attack the pancreas, can lead to diabetes in dogs. Carefully monitoring your dog for signs of ill health, supporting their immune system through adequate diet, and addressing illness when it presents, will decrease the likelihood of an autoimmune disease leading to a diabetes condition. There also may be a link to over vaccinating our pets. Annual vaccinations for all diseases may not be necessary. Although vaccines are an important preventative for disease in your dog, finding the appropriate vaccination schedule, so that your dog's immune system is not impaired from being over-vaccinated, is important and should be discussed with your veterinarian.


Disease and Hormone Function

Diseases that require steroid usage, viral infections, Cushing's disease, or inflammation of the bowel may all contribute to the development of diabetes. Regular monitoring and treatment of such disorders is critical so that they do not progress and impair insulin producing functions.

Female dogs are more prone to diabetes due to hormonal cycles. Spaying your female dog will help prevent the development of diabetes related to hormonal fluctuations.

Importance of Prevention

Diabetes is a resource consuming disease, requiring time and money from pet owners to provide medication, monitoring, and care. Prevention of the disease to avoid diabetes in your dog is well worth the investment. In addition, in spite of treatment, diabetes in your dog is a serious disorder and will ultimately impair his quality of life and decrease his lifespan.

A healthy weight dog, with a good species-appropriate diet, and lots of exercise is a much healthier pet. Exercising your pet is good for you too, and can prevent pet owners from developing diabetes and other diseases and conditions associated with a sedentary lifestyle.

Common Sense Care

Maintaining the overall health of your dog, including weight control, exercise, immune system support, reproductive health, and responsible breeding not only reduce the incidence of diabetes, a serious disorder that affects your dog's quality of life, but reduces incidence of other medical conditions and health problems as well. It is important to remember that our dogs are hunters and that high activity, low carb, high protein, low fat diets are natural to them. By ensuring our dogs have species-appropriate activity and diet we decrease their risk of them developing diabetes and other diseases, and increase their overall health and happiness.