Managing Blood Sugars in Dogs

Picture of a black and white dog

Diabetes and obesity have become two of the most common health problems that dogs are now predisposed to, thanks to the unhealthy lifestyles they lead alongside their owners.

Some of the causes of diabetes and high blood sugar levels, in general, are lack of exercise and a too-high caloric intake, as well as access to table scraps that might be rich in sugar and that are not appropriate for this species.

In today’s article, we’re looking at some ways you can lower your dog’s blood sugar levels, especially if your vet has recently told you that your pup has a high risk of developing diabetes.

What Is a Low or High Blood Sugar Level?

It’s easy to assume that your dog’s blood sugar is too high or too low depending on their behavior or the way they recover from trauma, but figures are always clear and you should always rely on them.

Your vet can test your dog’s blood sugar at the animal hospital (most vets have a very basic automatic testing kit) and can tell you what your dog’s blood sugar should be. You will get the result within 10 to 15 minutes depending on how busy the vet clinic is that day.

The thresholds (lowest and maximum) for healthy dogs are 75 mg and 120 mg. If your dog’s blood sugar is any higher or lower than that, they are either hypoglycemic or hyperglycemic.

Signs of High Blood Sugar in Dogs

Not all animals are the same, which is why the symptoms can vary a lot from one pet to the next. They also differ depending on the staging of diabetes, meaning that in its later stages, the dog might develop cataracts or nerve damage, as well as severe depression.

For the first stages, some signs that pet owners can notice are listed below:

  • Increased urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Weight loss (even though the dog gets plenty of food)
  • Obesity (in other animals)
  • Dehydration
  • Health complications (wounds take unusually long to heal)

Some dogs are diabetic, and that’s the primary cause of the high blood sugar per se, so that is why they will lose weight as they eat more and more. On the contrary, dogs that are overweight or obese have a high risk of acquiring diabetes because of their lifestyle, and that is the cause of the diabetes.

When Does a Dog Need Insulin?

We mentioned before that the normal limits for blood sugar in dogs should be 75 mg to 120 mg. But when do dogs become diabetic, and what is the blood sugar level they have to reach to be considered that?

The limit at which dogs can be considered insulin-dependent is 400 mg/dl, which is somewhat comparable to the same in humans. Some diabetic dogs can have extremely high blood sugar levels, sometimes reaching 800 mg/dl, but most will be within the limits of 400 to 600 mg/dl.

If your dog is diagnosed with diabetes and their blood sugar level is so high, you will most likely have to give them two shots per day (12 hours apart).

Can an insulin-dependent dog become free of insulin? Yes, but it is very rare. Most dogs are prediabetic or develop type II diabetes anyway, so they might need very low amounts of insulin or none at all – so long as you change their lifestyle, make them lose weight, cut the snacks, and so on.

But once the dog’s pancreatic function is somewhat compromised, it can be very difficult for them to recover fully. You might, however, need to give them only one shot per day or one shot every couple of days in time.

Can a Dog’s Blood Sugar Be Too Low?

Yes. Although we’ve mostly focused on diabetes and a high blood sugar level, in general, dogs can be hypoglycemic, too. But not all dogs begin to suffer from hypoglycemia when their blood sugar level drops under 75 mg/dl.

In most cases, this happens at 60 mg/dl, which means that they still have a bit of fuel to run on so that they can find food and naturally increase their blood sugar level (if they’re starving).

These cases are more or less rare in veterinary practice these days, especially for pets. Stray dogs and others living in improper conditions could develop hypoglycemia, but those that have owners rarely develop it – it’s the other way around; they’re more likely to get diabetes.

A hypoglycemic dog can show a number of symptoms, such as the following:

  • Weight loss
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Changes in appetite for food or water
  • Shaking and muscle spasms
  • Incoordination

Dogs can suffer from hypoglycemia because of other factors, such as drinking antifreeze, taking a too high dose of insulin, or having a type of cancer affecting their pancreas or liver. Malabsorption can also lead to this health issue as can Addison’s disease.

Your vet can discover the cause and initiate treatment depending on it, so make sure you take your pooch to the animal hospital regularly.

Managing Your Dog’s Blood Sugar Levels

If you are the owner of an adult dog that’s fairly healthy, here are some tips to keep their blood sugar levels in check.

First of all, ask your vet to perform a biochemistry test whenever you take your pup for a check-up, whether that’s once a year or twice a year. Tests like a complete blood count and a biochemistry one can often reveal health issues whose symptoms your dog might not even be showing yet – and early diagnosis often leads to a quick and successful therapy.

Secondly, stick to the feeding recommendations advised by your vet and the brand you’re giving your dog. What we mean by this is that if the label tells you that the recommended amount of kibble is 100 grams per day (depending on your dog’s size, of course), you should try your best to give them only that. It can be heartbreaking to have to say no to your dog, but you’ll have a much harder time getting them to lose weight in the future, once things have gotten out of control. Dogs love food, and we all know that, but that doesn’t mean that they’re supposed to have it all the time.

Moderate-protein and low-carb diets are better for managing diabetes, although high-protein diets might not be recommended in this case depending on your dog’s kidney health. Switch to a low-calorie diet under the guidance of your veterinarian.

Dogs are made to exercise! They love to spend time outdoors, and while for overweight dogs, it might be more difficult to engage in a lot of strenuous exercise at first, they will try to make an effort if they see you asking them to. If your dog is very obese, take them for long walks in the beginning, and once they begin losing some weight, you can organize daily (and lengthy) play sessions at the park.

Do keep in mind that everything needs to be done in moderation. If your dog is suffering from obesity but they are also a senior, they might find it hard to adjust to all of these changes, especially suddenly.

Trust your veterinarian and make sure you give your pup their insulin shots according to the right schedule.

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