Q. My beloved Maltese developed diabetes at age 8. I now need to give her two daily injections of insulin. She was never overweight. What causes a healthy, normal-weight dog to develop diabetes?
Dear Ms. Warner,
A. It’s true, as you intimate, that overweight dogs are more likely to develop diabetes than dogs of a healthy weight. The extra pounds make a dog’s (and person’s) body more resistant to the hormone insulin as it works to remove sugar from the bloodstream. But that doesn’t automatically mean a dog at a healthy weight will remain free of the disease. Sometimes the pancreas simply fails to produce enough insulin to sufficiently process blood sugar. The problem does not have to be brought on by lifestyle.
Insulin shots help keep blood sugar from remaining elevated, which is all to the good because when the blood contains too much sugar and reaches all the body’s tissues, it may cause problems ranging from blindness to neurological complications to organ failure.
Unfortunately, research has not been able to show that once a dog develops diabetes, feeding her fewer carbohydrates will help keep blood sugar in check (the way it does for a person). It’s a moot point, anyway. Dogs eat diets relatively low in simple carbohydrates like sugar to begin with. Their food is a mix of proteins, fats, fiber, and carbohydrates. The only dog foods you’d want to avoid for safe measure are those that are semi-moist; they often contain simple carbs in the form of sugar, corn syrup, or honey. To hedge your bets, avoid feeding your diabetic dog foods with those ingredients on the label.
Note that even with the best care and those twice-daily insulin shots, dogs with diabetes are more prone to infections, slow wound healing, and other problems that could potentially compromise their health along the way.