Exercise and Canine Diabetes

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fitDogFriday_180x150We have been asked by some of our readers about the special considerations that apply when exercising a diabetic dog.  The fact is, diabetes is a serious, but often manageable disease and it is not an excuse to let your dog become a couch potato.  More than anything, canine diabetes is a disease that requires consistency in daily routines, including feeding and exercise.  Today we will briefly describe the disease and then discuss exercise and diet considerations for diabetic dogs.


What is Canine Diabetes?

Canine diabetes is a complicated, multi-symptom disease that is caused by either a deficiency in the insulin hormone or an adequate physiological response to insulin.   A dog who does not produce sufficient insulin or who cannot utilize insulin properly runs the risk of elevated blood sugar (glucose) levels, which is called hyperglycaemia, which can lead to a plethora of health problems.


Types of Diabetes

Diabetes is classified as either Type I, caused by an inability for the body to produce insulin, or Type II, impaired insulin production along with an inadequate response to the hormone.  Dogs are at risk for Type I; Type II, which is common in cats, is rarely seen in dogs.


Symptoms of Canine Diabetes

Below is a list of common symptoms.dogwater1

  • Excessive thirst/increase in water consumption
  • Weight loss
  • Increased urination
  • Change in appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Dehydration
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Greater risk of developing slow healing wounds and infection


diabetes1Treatment Overview

Dogs diagnosed with diabetes can often live long and active lives with proper treatment.  That said, treating canine diabetes is challenging, according to Dr. Katy Nelson, a veterinarian, and host and executive producer of “The Pet Show with Dr. Katy” on Washington DC’s ABC News Channel 8.  “Unlike many diseases that veterinarians treat which have specific medicine and dosage protocols, there is really no standard treatment recipe for canine diabetes.  It is often a trial and error process to determine proper insulin dosage and dietary management.”


Dogs with diabetes will require insulin injections for the rest of their life.  Yet, keeping a dog on a consistent schedule is a very important aspect of treatment as well.  According to Dr. Nelson, “managing diabetes is a routine based approach, where insulin injections, feedings, and exercise are all scheduled to occur at regular times and intervals.  Such routines help keep the dog’s blood sugar levels as stable as possible.”


How Exercise Can Help

Exercise can have a dramatic effect on blood sugar levels. In humans with type II diabetes, exercise can lower blood sugar so effectively that patients who exercise regularly can reduce their need for added insulin.


For dogs with diabetes, exercise can have a similar effect. Exercise utilizes energy and helps to avoid elevated blood sugar level. In addition, the increased blood flow produced by exercise may improve insulin absorption helping to further lower the blood glucose concentration.  That said, the wrong kind of, or too much exercise can cause blood sugar levels to drop precipitously (hypoglycaemia).  Very low glucose levels can deprive the brain of energy and your dog could lose consciousness.


Exercise Guidelines for Diabetic Dogs

If your dog has been diagnosed with diabetes, it doesn’t mean that they are fated to live an inactive, lazy lifestyle.  Proper exercise can help manage the disease while keeping your dog fit and as healthy as possible.  Below are five guidelines to consider when planning an exercise routine for a diabetic dog.

  1. Talk with your vet about exercise limitations for your dog.  Make sure to ask them for clearance on the types of exercises that your dog prefers.
  2. Keep a regular, consistent exercise routine including the type and duration of activity and the time-of-day that the activity occurs.
  3. Strive for steady state, moderate intensity activities.  Walks and slow jogs are preferred.  Avoid sprinting and other high intensity activities that can dramatically change blood sugar levels.
  4. Avoid unplanned changes in the dog’s activity intensity and duration.  As Dr Nelson says, “no weekend warriors allowed”.  In other words, do not suddenly introduce new activities into the routine.
  5. Avoid exercises that increase the risk of wounds.  Because diabetic dogs are at risk for non-healing wounds and infections, avoid activities that place them at risk for cuts and scrapes.


Dietary Considerations

Diet can also be an important aspect of managing canine diabetes.  Here are a few tips to consider on diet.

  1. Feed your dog multiple times per day to keep consistent blood sugar levels.  Just like many athletes choose to eat smaller, more frequent meals to keep their blood sugar levels more steady, you can break your dog’s daily calorie intake into 2 or more feedings per day.
  2. Avoid sugars, which can cause spikes in blood sugar levels.  We wrote about sweeteners in dog food recently.  If your dog is diabetic, avoid sugars, canes, corn syrups, etc.  Your dog doesn’t need the extra sweetness and their ‘empty calories’ anyway!
  3. Choose foods with complex carbohydrates that have low glycemic indexes, like barley or sorghum, over simple carbohydrates with high glycemic indexes (GI), like rice and corn.  Foods with carbohydrates that break down quickly during digestion and release glucose rapidly into the bloodstream tend to have a high GI; foods with carbohydrates that break down more slowly, releasing glucose more gradually into the bloodstream, tend to have a low GI.  Obviously, a diabetic dog does not need to be ingesting high GI foods!


In summary, with proper treatment, a diabetic dog can live a long and full life.  Keeping them on a consistent schedule of low-to-moderate intensity exercise and avoiding high glycemic index foods will reduce the risk of complications.


Further reading:




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  1. What a great, informative article! I learned some new things today! Thanks!
    Champ’s Mom recently posted…Muscle ManMy Profile

  2. Hi Y’all,

    Many, many years ago we had a Basenji who became diabetic. She lived to be almost 13 years old. She was always a very active dog and our farm vet referred her to a small animal vet who helped us with her treatment. Later I learned that diabetes is one of the diseases to which Basenjis are prone.

    BrownDog’s Human
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Follow Up, Keeping Fit and Your QuestionsMy Profile

  3. Never thought about that, great topic. We are fortunate to not have any humans or pets in the family with diabetes but I know it is prevalent!
    emma recently posted…Buckle Up | GBGV | Follow Up FridayMy Profile

  4. Very good article – very informative!
    DogTread K9FITvest recently posted…DogTread Workout: High Five for Canine FitnessMy Profile

  5. What a great write up on exercise and diabetes. We have a couple of diabetic dogs that come to the clinic, we have even more dogs that are overweight. So exercise would benefit both of them. The ones that are overweight it would help them lose weight to decrease the chance of getting diabetes. One disease you don’t want to get as it tends to be a life long couple times a day shot with monitoring.
    joann stancer recently posted…Follow-up Friday/Co-HostedMy Profile

    • Thanks – please share this with your patients…whatever we can do to get the word out.
      mkob recently posted…Exercise and Canine DiabetesMy Profile

  6. Thanks for sharing these tips!

  7. Always informative & always choose interesting subjects. Good Blog.
    Paws and Pedals (Kate & Scooter) recently posted…Good Vibes – How a Workout with Dog can help your SanityMy Profile

  8. WOW!! What a great post! Thank you for all the information!
    Francesca Villa recently posted…Wordless Wednesday: Quick UpdateMy Profile

    • Thank you Francesca. We try to provide useful info and are glad that you think we succeed now and then 🙂
      steve recently posted…Black & White Sunday 8-25-13My Profile

  9. Good information to know!
    2 brown dawgs recently posted…Follow-up Friday 8-23-13My Profile

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