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Diabetes in Dogs Treatment Plan: Steps and What to Expect

Dog with diabetes at vet
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Once a dog is diagnosed with diabetes, pet parents can feel overwhelmed by how to treat and manage the disease, especially since insulin shots are involved.

Veterinary expenses can also trigger stress about how to pay. On average, the cost of treating diabetes in dogs for the first year is $2,700, according to Pets Best claims data.1 Fortunately, there are solutions like the CareCredit health and pet care credit card that can help you stay focused on your pet’s health. It allows you to pay over time with flexible financing options so you’re ready to get the care your pet needs.*

To help you along this journey, this article will share some treatment plan steps, as well as what you can expect.

Diabetes in Dogs Treatment Plan: What to Expect

Diabetes in dogs can seem overwhelming at first because there is a lot to learn, but it usually gets easier as you gain confidence in your routine. If your dog has been diagnosed with diabetes, then your veterinarian will create a treatment plan that involves:

The plan will also involve the treatment of any other conditions, such as urinary tract infections or obesity. 

First, your veterinarian will prescribe an initial insulin dose, show you how to administer the insulin, and give you detailed instructions for home care, including food recommendations and exercise recommendations. 

Next, they will ask you to drop your pet off at the clinic in one week for a glucose curve. The veterinary staff will check your dog’s blood sugar every 1-2 hours for 6-8 hours to see how well the insulin is controlling your dog’s blood sugar. Your dog may need to go in for several glucose curves until the dose of insulin has been adjusted to best control blood sugar. 

In some cases, your vet may use a different test called fructosamine, which measures how well blood sugar is controlled over a longer period of time. 

On average, the cost of treating diabetes in dogs for the first year is $2,700.”

Source: Pets Best claims data from 2017 – 2021 for average 1st year condition costs.

How to Give a Dog Insulin in 10 Steps

Giving dog insulin shot

Since giving your diabetic dog insulin at home will be necessary in most cases, it’s important to learn how to do it safely and effectively. Here are some steps:

Step 1: Remove the insulin from the fridge and roll it a couple of times to mix the contents. Don’t shake the bottle.

Step 2: Wipe the top of the bottle with alcohol wipe, turn the bottle upside down, and insert the needle into the rubber top.

Step 3: Draw up the correct amount of insulin in your syringe. Flick the syringe to remove any air bubbles, and double check the amount that you are giving is correct.

Step 4: Wipe the area of skin where you will be injecting with an alcohol wipe.

Step 5: Using your non-dominant hand, gently pick up the loose skin in between your dog’s shoulder blades.

Step 6: Insert the needle at a 45 degree angle in the lifted area of skin, gently pull back on the syringe, if there is no blood, inject the insulin, and then withdraw the needle. If there is blood, withdraw the needle and try again. It is best to do this quickly and smoothly, so enlist help if you need it.

Step 7: Check the injection site to make sure there is no insulin on the skin (wetness).

Step 8: Try to slightly vary the site of injection each time to avoid scarring.

Step 9: Do not put the cap back on the needle – place the used syringe in a safe disposal container.

Step 10: It can help to have the veterinary staff shave a patch of fur where you are giving the injections so you can better visualize the skin. 

Diabetic Dog Diet: Food and Feeding Tips

Woman feeding diabetic dog

An important facet of dog diabetes treatment includes diet and nutrition. While the food type is important, the way you feed a diabetic dog is also critical to successful management of their condition. Here are a few best practices to help:

Pay attention to timing. The goal with feeding a diabetic dog is matching the blood sugar lowering effect of insulin with the blood sugar raising effects of a meal. Most insulins are at their highest effect in the body 2-4 hours after injection. Most food is absorbed and blood sugar goes up about 1 hour after eating. Therefore, the best chance at controlling blood sugar is to give insulin first and feed the dog 1 hour later. 

Most diabetic dogs do well with twice daily feedings. However, if your dog is a ‘grazer’, then you can free-feed a measured amount of kibble each day and add in a small meal of canned food morning and night in conjunction with insulin injections. If you can only inject insulin once a day, feed the day’s total calories in 2-3 meals within 6-8 hours of giving insulin. 

Keep things consistent. The type of food, the amount of food, and the time you feed your diabetic dog should be the same every day, as much as possible. Pet owners often fail to achieve control of their dog’s diabetes because they are not disciplined with their dog’s feeding and insulin injections. This can be very frustrating, so set yourself up for success with a consistent routine.

Stick to vet-recommended foods. When it comes to the type of food to feed a diabetic dog, pet parents are best served by following their veterinarian’s recommendations. Diabetic dogs should eat very little carbohydrates because carbs cause elevated blood sugar. Diabetic diets are low in carbohydrates and contain soluble or insoluble fiber to help dogs feel full and promote intestinal health. For dogs with food allergies or if you want to make a home-cooked diet for your dog, it is recommended to consult with a board certified veterinary nutritionist so they can formulate a diet recipe for you that is complete and balanced.

Some dogs may need weight-loss food. Healthy weight loss is an important part of therapy in overweight diabetic dogs, and will lower the amount of insulin required in most dogs. Therefore, your veterinarian will prescribe restricted caloric intake until your dog achieves their ideal weight. This can usually be achieved within 2-4 months using a food that is high in fiber and low in calories. 

Be extra careful with treats. This is the hardest part! Diabetic dogs should not be provided snacks or treats unless the treats have very low calories. Fresh veggies, like cucumber slices or green beans, make a great snack for diabetic dogs. Alternatively, you can hand feed your dog’s kibble as a treat.

Always provide fresh water. Diabetic dogs become dehydrated quickly if their blood sugar levels are too high. Keep fresh water available at all times, and if you notice they suddenly start drinking more, that could indicate that their blood sugar levels are too high. Call your veterinarian for a followup.

Diabetic Dog Exercise Plan

Measuring dog

Having a regular exercise plan is another way to help regulate blood sugar levels and keep your diabetic dog happy and healthy. As with feeding, try to keep the exercise sessions at the same time each day. 

High intensity exercise is not recommended, as it can cause abrupt changes in blood sugar levels. 1-3 walks or hikes of moderate intensity at the same time each day are recommended. 

In the event that your dog does experience low blood sugar on a walk (which will look like weakness or collapse) you will need to raise your dog’s blood sugar quickly. The best way to do this is to rub a small amount of sugar on their gums, so always carry a small container of honey or corn syrup with you. 

It is also a good idea to ask your veterinarian for exercise recommendations for your dog, especially if your dog has any other health challenges. 

Dog Diabetes Cost

The cost of diabetes care includes vet visits, insulin, syringes, and therapeutic food. If your dog has uncomplicated, easy-to-control diabetes, the costs are lower. However, costs go up for complicated conditions that are harder to manage. 

If you have CareCredit, you can use your card again and again for any type of care your dog needs, at any provider in the CareCredit network.*

CareCredit Fast Facts
CareCredit Fast Facts
CareCredit Fast Facts
  • Pay over time with flexible financing options*
  • Use your card again and again for any type of care your pet needs
  • Accepted at most veterinary hospitals**

    In general, here are what pet parents can expect to spend on diabetes diagnosis and care for their dogs:

    • Glucose curves cost $100-$150 and they are run every 3-6 months or more frequently if the diabetes is not well controlled
    • Physical examinations generally cost $50-$100
    • Insulin costs more for larger dogs because they require more than small dogs. A bottle of insulin typically costs $60-$70, you may be able to purchase it for less at big box retailer pharmacies or online. Different types or brands of insulin may have different price ranges.
    • A large bag of diabetic dog food costs around $90-$100

    Diabetes in Dogs Treatment: Other Tips and Advice

    Woman walking dog in park

    Diabetes in dogs is best managed when there is a good relationship between the pet owner and the veterinarian, and the two parties communicate regularly. Here are more tips to help your dog’s treatment go smoothly:

    Track symptoms. Keep a journal of relevant information about your dog, including how much water they drink daily, weekly body weight, current insulin dose, and how much food is eaten each day.

    Watch for warning signs. The early signs that blood sugar is not regulated included increased drinking and urination. If you notice this, call your veterinarian.

    Pay attention to your dog’s urinary health. If your dog shows any signs of urinary tract infections (straining to urinate, increased urge to urinate, accidents in the house, bloody urine) or skin infections (pimples, red, flaky skin), call your veterinarian. If your female dog isn’t spayed, have her spayed.

    Stay away from steroids. Avoiding using steroids, including hydrocortisone, on your dog:  they make diabetes worse. If your dog has skin allergies, ask your vet about alternative treatments that are safe for dogs with diabetes.

    Consider at-home urine testing. Check for sugar in your dog’s urine at home with over-the-counter urine sugar strips. While they can’t tell you how high the sugar is, they can let you know that there is sugar so you can inform your vet.

    The good news is that a consistent routine of twice daily insulin and properly timed feeding creates an excellent prognosis for dogs with diabetes.

    1 Pets Best claims data from 2017 – 2021 for average 1st year condition costs. 

    *Subject to credit approval. See carecredit.com for details.

    **Internal estimates based on publicly available market sizing information, as of Feb 2023

    This information is shared solely for your convenience. Neither Synchrony nor any of its affiliates, including CareCredit, make any representations or warranties regarding the products described, and no endorsement is implied. You are urged to consult with your individual veterinarian with respect to any professional advice presented.