What to Feed
Table scraps, treats, or any other foods not approved by your veterinarian should not be allowed. Do not allow access to the food of other pets in the house if your diabetic pet requires a special diet. It is important that the food your pet eats is constant with respect to ingredient content and nutrient source. Diabetic control is difficult to obtain if the composition of the food varies. Many commercial pet foods, especially grocery store brands, are produced from "open" formulas and ingredients can vary from batch to batch depending on the ingredients' cost and availability. Semi-moist diets and treats should not be fed at any time. These foods have a sugar coating to preserve their freshness and greatly complicate diabetic control.
Studies have indicated that dogs fed low fat fixed formula diets with moderately fermentable fiber, soluble non-digestible fiber (carboxymethylcellulose), and complex carbohydrates have lower insulin requirements and slower absorption of sugars following each meal. These types of foods delay the emptying of food from the stomach and slow the release of the glucose from food within the digestive tract into the blood stream. This results in a less abrupt rise in blood sugar following a meal. High protein diets are recommended in feline patients with diabetes mellitus.
The amount of food to be fed daily will be determined by your pet's caloric requirements. This amount should NOT be varied, as it will have a direct impact on insulin needs.
If your pet is overweight, weight reduction is essential. Obesity decreases the body's tissue responsiveness to insulin (both natural and injected) and can cause dangerous increases in blood sugar levels. Follow the diet program laid out by your veterinarian or veterinary technician. Changes in weight will affect the insulin dose that is required.
There are no restrictions on your pet's normal activity. However, it is important that your pet's exercise be moderately regulated and consistent in order to keep the insulin needs as consistent as possible. Dogs undergoing periods of extreme activity (i.e., hunting dogs, herding dogs) will require a slightly lower dose of insulin during periods of extreme activity.
Home Glucose Monitoring
It is not ordinarily essential to monitor your pet's blood or urine glucose levels at home. Any changes in insulin dosage will be done by your veterinarian after blood work has been done in the hospital. Insulin dosage does not need to be adjusted with each injection, and, in fact, should remain unchanged.
The most effective way to monitor diabetic control is through the use of two blood tests. These are serum fructosamine and serum glucose tests. Both tests should be done together and be sent out to a laboratory for evaluation. They do require that your pet be brought into the clinic to have its blood drawn, but do not require that your pet be fasted or have its insulin withdrawn.
The doctor will use these tests to monitor your pet's response to the insulin that you are giving at home. An elevated serum fructosamine shows that your pet has elevated blood glucose over a longer period than desired throughout the day, and suggests that the dose or type of insulin may need to be changed. A low serum fructosamine indicates that too much insulin is being given and a dose adjustment is needed. If the serum fructosamine and serum glucose do not "agree" (i.e. one is low and one is high) your pet's home care will be discussed and the doctor will look for any other problems that could affect diabetic control.
Things to Watch for at Home
- Seizures, or small areas of twitching (focal seizures)
- Lack of appetite
- Changes in normal behavior (i.e. hiding, aggression, lethargy)
- Changes of normal urine glucose patterns
- Drunken state, stumbling, cataracts in the eyes
Although diabetes can be controlled with insulin and diet, diabetic animals are more susceptible to other health problems. Diabetes can cause an increased incidence of infections (especially bladder infections), slow wound healing, cataracts, gastrointestinal problems, pancreatitis, and nervous system disorders.
The cost for caring for a diabetic pet is an important consideration. Of course, the cost will vary somewhat depending on the size of your pet and any additional health problems that may occur. The cost of insulin, syringes, and periodic blood work will need to be carefully planned.
Beyond the monetary cost, there is the time commitment required of owners of a diabetic pet. Such a commitment may not seem easy, but can be very rewarding for both the pet and the owner. Your commitment adds to the quality of your pet's life and is paid back in years of companionship.