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My dog Shelly, a 5 year old female Schnauzer was recently diagnosed with diabetes and is getting twice daily insulin injections.  She is doing better but I am confused about her mealtimes, specifically what and when she should be eating.  I heard that high protein food was the way to go.   Do you have some suggestions?

A lot of information has been published about the use of high protein diets in managing diabetes mellitus in cats, not dogs. The feeding of diabetic dogs is quite different. Canine diabetes mellitus is more like Type I or insulin-dependent diabetes, where there is no insulin being produced within the body.  Feline diabetes is more like Type II diabetes, in which the pancreas is producing some insulin, but not enough. Type II diabetes is the most common type of diabetes in people, and is often complicated by obesity.  The dietary approaches of Type 1 and Type II diabetes in dogs and cats are very different.

For dogs, high fiber diets may be ideal to keep blood sugars more stable throughout the day.   Fiber blunts the increase in blood sugar levels that occur after eating, delays the emptying of food from the stomach, and slows the digestion of carbohydrates (glucose sources).  If the diabetic dog is overweight – and many are – fiber also helps the patient feel full after eating, thus encouraging weight loss.  

A common issue that accompanies diabetes mellitus is elevated triglycerides (fats) in the bloodstream.  Schnauzers have a genetic predisposition for elevations in serum triglycerides. In humans, high triglycerides may lead to heart disease and strokes. Dogs do not usually have these issues, thank goodness, but the elevated fat levels in the blood may result in pancreatitis, which can be quite serious. This is another reason we may want to use a low fat diet that is higher in fiber.

Although the low fat high fiber foods may be ideal, some patients do well on a balanced maintenance diet.  Canned and dry forms of whatever diet is chosen are equally acceptable; however, soft-moist foods should be avoided as they include sugary preservatives.   Feeding times should center on the lifestyle of the family, but must be consistent on a day to day basis.  Ideally Shelly should eat twice daily at approximately 10 to12 hour intervals, and most pet owners feed at the time of the insulin administration. 

Remember to speak to your veterinarian about the best type of food to feed, and especially if she has any additional medical problems.  Best of luck with Shelly!

Mary Ann Crawford, DVM, Diplomate, ACVIM (Internal Medicine)

Dr. Crawford received her DVM degree from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1978. After additional training at The Animal Medical Center and Michigan State University, she achieved board certification in the specialty of Internal Medicine. She was Professor and Head of the Medicine Department at Louisiana State University College of Veterinary Medicine before coming to Oradell Animal Hospital in 1986. Dr. Crawford is a past president of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and a past president of the Northern New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association. She was awarded "Distinguished Alumnus" from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1995 and in 2004 "Outstanding Alumnus" from the Animal Medical Center in New York City. She is also the recipient of the 1997 Friskies Pet Care Award for Feline Medicine and Nutrition given for outstanding clinical research in the area of feline hepatic lipidosis. Dr. Crawford has been involved in a number of clinical research projects and continues to volunteer for the state, currently acting as chair of the Education Committee of the New Jersey Veterinary Foundation. In her free time she spends time with her family and enjoys swimming and participating in community activities.