​Diabetic Dogs: Nutrition Edition

Posted by Michelle for PetTest, AAHA Certified Diabetes Educator on Jul 14th 2021

​Diabetic Dogs: Nutrition Edition

Diabetic Dogs: Nutrition Edition

I knew little about canine nutrition when I started this journey, but I knew that with human diabetics watching carb intake was important, and it’s just as important to watch carbs with our dogs since they are type 1 (T1) diabetics.  There is so much to learn with diabetes, and nutrition is an important puzzle piece when managing diabetes successfully.

Grab a cup of your favorite caffeinated beverage and let’s dive into nutrition for diabetic dogs!

Nutrients in foods are broken down into macronutrients and micronutrients.


  • Protein – animal and plant. Proteins are broken down into amino acids and polypeptides.
  • Carbohydrates – simple (sugars) and complex (starches). Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose.
  • Fat – animal and plant. Fats are broken down into fatty acids.
  • Water
  • Fiber – soluble and insoluble. Soluble fiber is water soluble and aids in slowing digestion. Insoluble fiber adds bulk to stool to aid in passing waste.


  • Vitamins – water soluble and fat soluble.

Water-soluble vitamins are:

  • Vitamin C
  • Vitamin B6
  • Vitamin B12
  • Riboflavin
  • Thiamin
  • Folate

Fat-soluble vitamins are:

  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin D
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin K
  • Minerals – this includes microminerals (also called trace minerals)

Some minerals are:

  • Calcium
  • Phosphorus
  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Iron
  • Iodine
  • Zinc
  • Copper

Protein, carbohydrates and fats are macronutrients that feed cells for energy (food for the body).

Fiber, both soluble and insoluble are important because they both have important jobs. If food is low in soluble fiber, nutrients are digested and absorbed at a faster rate. Without insoluble fiber waste does not empty efficiently.

Now that we know a little more about nutrients, I want to concentrate on two particularly important macronutrients, carbohydrates and fats. Both can affect our diabetic dogs adversely so let’s look further into these.

Carbohydrates can be simple or complex. Let’s look at the differences between the two.

Simple carbohydrates are either one sugar molecule (monosaccharides) or two sugar molecules (disaccharides). Monosaccharides do not need to be broken down so they are rapidly absorbed. Disaccharides take a bit of work to be broken down and are not absorbed as fast as monosaccharides, but they are still absorbed quickly.

Complex carbohydrates or starches are made up of complex molecule chains that take longer to break down into glucose. Since it takes the liver much longer to break down complex carbs, glucose is released over a longer period.

Knowing the difference between simple carbs and complex carbs is important when feeding our diabetic dogs.

Anything that tastes sweet (natural sweetener) is higher in sugars and should be avoided, this includes all fruits, carrots, beets and peas. Refined grains like white rice flours and regular pasta are all considered simple carbs due to nutrients and fibers being removed from during processing.

Simple carbohydrates should be omitted from a diabetic dog’s diet because they spike blood glucose levels quickly. The only time it’s suggested to give a simple carb is when a dog is hypoglycemic and under 70 mg/dL (3.88 mmol/L).

Complex carbs - whole grains like brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, starchy vegetables such as corn, sweet potatoes, potatoes, beans and legumes. Some vegetables are considered complex carbs as well due to their high fiber content. Broccoli, green beans, squash, zucchini, cucumbers and asparagus are all complex carbs.

While dogs can digest and use carbs as energy they technically do not require carbohydrates as a source of nutrition. Dog food companies add them to their food to reduce costs, protein amount, fat content and for dry food complex carbs help bind the kibble. A simple rule for dry dog food is the lower the protein and/or fat content the higher the carb content.

For most of us our dog’s food was never a thought but now that we are managing diabetes, we know that carbs increase blood glucose levels. By keeping carb intake lower blood glucose levels may be lowered and insulin dose does not need to be as high. I suggest trying to keep carbohydrate percentages at around 30% on a dry matter basis. This may be very hard to do because low carb food equals higher fat or protein most of the time. The other consideration that makes low carb diet hard is the cost of the dog food, most low carbohydrate dog food is more expensive. I always suggest feeding your dog what you can afford, if this means that food is higher in carbohydrates insulin can always be adjusted.

Fats are necessary for dogs’ bodies, but as many of us know pancreatitis goes hand in hand with diabetes. The pancreas is faulty so pancreatitis is a constant concern with our dogs. By reducing fat intake we take the strain off the pancreas. 12% max fat on a dry matter basis (DMB) for an adult dog and 10% max fat on a DMB on a dry matter basis is recommended for a dog with pancreatitis or chronic pancreatitis. This does not apply to puppies! They require a higher fat content for the body to grow.

When Lucy was first diagnosed with pancreatitis and diabetes she ate a very low-fat diet (good thing!), it was high fiber and high carbs. Some prescription dog foods for diabetics are high in fiber because fiber slows down absorption of carbohydrates. She lost a lot of weight and went from 22 pounds at diagnosis down to 16.7 pounds in six months. I was extremely concerned about her weight. Besides changing insulin type for better blood glucose control I started honing in on her food. I realized three important things:

  1. Lucy was on a high fiber diet
  2. I was underfeeding Lucy
  3. I was not weighing food

High fiber diets are great for weight loss but not good for a dog that is already lean and the prescription food she was on was very high in insoluble and soluble fiber.

I went by prescription can and bag food information for feeding guidelines. These are general recommendations and we need to take specific things into consideration when we are feeding a diabetic dog: metabolism and activity level are very important! When I realized that I was underfeeding Lucy I felt terrible!

I was not weighing food. Lucy was eating a combination of wet and dry food; I was eyeballing wet and using a measuring cup for dry food. This may not seem like a big deal but it is. By measuring and not weighing food quantities she was never getting the same number of calories. This affects blood glucose levels! Human T1 diabetics use a short or regular acting insulin to help with carb intake and they can then adjust their insulin accordingly. We don't have that option with our dogs, doing so would mean injecting several times per day and testing blood glucose levels continuously. By weighing food we know that they are getting the exact same amount each meal so blood glucose levels shouldn't vary much.

I even experimented with measuring dry food. I measured out one cup of dry food five times and then weighed each one. I got different weights each time; a five to 10-gram difference in wet food is not bad but it is in dry food. Average calorie count in wet dog food is about 0.9 calories per gram. The average for dry food is 3 calories per gram. That can be a huge difference when it comes to carb intake and blood glucose levels.

Ok, even I agree that was a lot to read and learn! I hope that you have a better understanding of basic nutrition for your diabetic dog now. Carbohydrates, fat and weighing food are all very important when it comes to successfully managing canine diabetes!

While you are here, in case you’ve missed it, PetTest now has the Advocate Universal Digital Food Scale available for purchase. Be sure to buy one now so you can weigh your dog’s food! Bonus steal: when you purchase an Advocate Universal Digital Food Scale you will have access to dog food calculators, one for dog food and a second for combination wet and dry dog foods!

Here is the link to the scale!

Until next week, stay cool and caffeinated!

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please start a conversation below.

If you are looking for a Facebook community to join for support, I have been an admin in  Diabetic Dog Owners four and a half years. You can also join Canine Diabetes Support and Information on Facebook as well.

Be sure to join the PetTest family on Facebook and Instagram. PetTest has fun, interactive posts AND they have fabulous giveaways every week!

Click here for a PDF version of this blog.