Healthy Foods for Diabetic Dogs
When your dog is diagnosed with diabetes, you should be prepared for a few big lifestyle changes--daily insulin shots, a new exercise routine, and a more balanced diet. Though scientists are still divided on whether or not weight contributes to diabetes in dogs, it's best to make sure your dog is exercising as regularly as possible and eating food that won't disrupt their blood glucose levels. And it's always a good idea to make sure your dog is at a healthy weight! Below we have compiled a guide to help you decide which foods are safe for your diabetic dog.
Understanding the Glycemic Index is important to figuring out which types of foods and treats are safe for your diabetic dog to consume. The Glycemic Index, or GI, indicates how quickly a type of food will be processed and release sugar into the blood stream. For example, pure table sugar (sucrose), has a GI of 100 since it can be absorbed directly and doesn't require further breakdown by enzymes. Other foods, like whole wheat kernels, have a GI of ~41, and thus will take longer to digest and for sugar to be absorbed.
In addition to GI, many veterinarians recommend looking at Glycemic Load, which takes into account both GI but also portion size and raw amount of carbohydrates. For diabetic dogs, you'll want to stick with foods that have a low GI (0-55) and a low GL (0-10). Occasionally, and in moderation, you can feed your dog foods in the Medium GI and GL range, but please confirm with your veterinarian first.
Here is the breakdown of Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load:
Good Carbs vs. Bad Carbs
So, why are some foods easier to break down and absorb into the blood stream than others? Well, it all depends on whether or not the carbohydrates are "Simple" or "Complex." All carbohydrates contain some type of sugar: either one-unit sugars (like glucose, fructose, and galactose) or two-unit sugars (like lactose, sucrose, and maltose).
Simple Carbohydrates (Sugar)
Simple carbs are made up of one-unit sugars (monosaccharides) and are therefore able to be directly absorbed into the blood stream without further breakdown by enzymes. This means that if your dog eats food or treats that contain lots of simple carbohydrates, you can expect to see quick increases in their insulin levels. Unless instructed otherwise by your veterinarian, simple carbs should be largely avoided.
Some example of simple carbs are:
Complex Carbohydrates (Fibers & Starches)
Complex carbs, also called fibers and starches, are polysaccharides, which means they are made up of many units of sugar in "strings." Given their construction, complex carbs take much longer to break down and thus do not result in dramatic increases in blood sugar.
During digestion, starches are broken down into simple sugars and are then absorbed in the blood stream. Fibers are actually never fully broken down in the digestive track since dogs lack enzymes to break them down (just like humans). This is actually very beneficial for diabetic dogs since they still get the feeling of "being full" while not fully absorbing all of the sugar that they are eating.
Some examples of complex carbs are:
Oatmeal, Brown Rice, Quinoa
Potatoes & Sweet Potatoes (Starch)
Sweet Potatoes (Starch)
Beans, Lentils, Peas
Low GI & GL Foods
So, now that you know the difference between Simple and Complex sugars, you can see why some foods have a lower Glycemic Index and Glycemic Load than others. To help you get started, we've compiled a list of food along with their associated GI and GL:
For a larger list, visit:
No matter how much you research, you won't be able to find a definitive diet that works for all diabetic dogs. The most important thing is to first work with your veterinarian. If your veterinarian doesn't seem knowledgable about how to treat diabetic dogs (which can happen!), then ask for a recommendation for a specialist.
More than likely, your veterinarian will recommend a high protein diet where 30-40% of your dog's calories will be from meat and less than 30% of calories will come from carbs. However, it's important to note that carbs should not be cut entirely from a diabetic dog's diet. They are essential to many functions of the body and should instead be ingested in moderation.
Have you found a low GI food that your dog loves? We've love to hear about! Send us a note or let us know on our Social Media pages.
If you want to do your own research on the glycemic index of various foods, check out these two sites:
Dogabetix is a community for diabetic dog owners--we are not licensed professionals. Before making any important decisions for treating your diabetic dog, please consult a veterinarian.