Dog Diabetes: The Unknown Link To Diet

Dog in front on food that may cause diabetes

Dog diabetes is a serious and sometimes life-threatening illness …

And just like humans, it isn’t just what your dog eats that causes diabetes. Sure, diet plays a significant role in susceptibility to diabetes and in managing the disease if it occurs, but there are several other nutrition-related factors that can play a role too.

Nutrition-related factors in the development of diabetes include:

  • food allergies
  • inflammatory ingredients
  • contaminants (drugs, toxins, BPA and other endocrine-disruptors)
  • weight (fat cells actively secrete pro-inflammatory messenger molecules and hormones)
  • diet-related pancreatitis

Here’s how each of these nutrition-related factors impacts your dog’s system.

Dog Diabetes And Food Allergies

Food allergies are not as common as flea and airborne particle allergies, but they do occur in dogs. Symptoms may include digestive issues such as vomiting and diarrhea, or skin symptoms, like pruritus (itching), redness and rash. Some experts suggest that 20 to 35 percent of dogs with non-seasonal pruritus have food allergies.

Food allergies cause inflammation in the gut, regardless of where symptoms appear. Since inflammation can damage insulin producing cells in the pancreas, this is a problem.

Inflammation causes leaky gut syndrome, which allows undigested food particles and toxins to leak through the damaged intestinal lining and into the bloodstream, where they stress the liver and may cause irritation, inflammation and other havoc throughout the body.

Dog Diabetes And Inflammatory Dog Food Ingredients

1. Carbohydrates. Wheat, barley and rye contain gluten, and nearly all corn is genetically engineered. Grain allergies are rare, but gluten – all by itself – causes inflammation.

2. Starches. Starches, like grains and potatoes, quickly break down to sugar in the small intestine. Sugar consumption creates excess free radicals in the body, which causes inflammation. Heat processing makes many starches more bioavailable, which means they are even more apt to degrade into sugar soon after ingestion.

3. GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms). Most people are aware of Monsanto’s glyphosate herbicide, RoundUp®, but very few know about the “Bt” (Bacillus thuringiensis) on their corn and potatoes. Bt is a naturally-derived pesticide used by many organic gardeners and farmers. It’s safe and easily washed off. But when Monsanto engineered Bt to live inside the plant cells, they really created a monster. The Bt gene is easily passed from the plant to the dog’s microbiome. Subsequently, as that gene is spread around, the dog’s gut becomes a Bt factory, pumping out the pesticide 24/7.

In addition to directly eating the genetically engineered corn and soy found in many dog foods, the meat ingredients used in dog food come from animals fed GMO corn, soy, alfalfa, and cottonseed oil. GMOs can directly damage the intestines. GMOs in pet food are especially dangerous, because crops rejected for human consumption due to excessive herbicide and pesticide residues can legally be used without limit in pet food.

[Related] Want to know more about GMOs? Find it here.

4. Vegetable oils (corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean). These oils contain mostly Omega-6 fatty acids, which lead to pro-inflammatory metabolic pathways. Unsaturated fats (usually of vegetable origin) are more likely to be associated with pancreatitis than saturated (usually animal-source) fats.

5. Conventionally-raised meat (grain-fed and grain-finished beef). During their time at the feedlot before slaughter, almost all of the Omega-3s that cattle derive from grass and forage are converted to Omega-6s. Poultry are typically fed GMO corn.

6. Heat-processed proteins. Moderate to high heat denatures (damages) proteins, creating distorted molecules that can trigger an inflammatory immune response.

7. Conventional dairy products. Dairy cows are commonly treated with hormones and antibiotics; residues in the meat can irritate the gut. They may also be fed grocery waste such as bread and bakery items. Casein, a milk protein, is a common allergen in pets.

8. Common additives (artificial and natural flavorings, coloring agents, and preservatives). MSG (monosodium glutamate) is derived from sugars fermented with yeast, so it is “natural” and can be hiding under that label. Texturizers include carrageenan (a seaweed derivative that causes intestinal inflammation) and compounds made from wheat and corn.

9. Human food wastes. The cheapest dog foods may also be using ingredients like grocery store and restaurant wastes, including spoiled meat and dairy products, plate waste, and used fryer grease. Rancid grease is packed with inflammation-causing free radicals.

Link between dog diabetes and harmful dog ingredients

Dog Food Contaminants


Antibiotics and hormones are frequently used in domestic livestock. It’s illegal to use hormones in poultry, but antibiotics are legal. These can directly affect dogs when they accumulate in the body over time. While some antibiotics have anti-inflammatory properties, others actually cause inflammation by disrupting the normal microbiome (bacterial population) in the gut.


1. BPA and other endocrine disruptors. Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used in plastic manufacturing. It has a nasty habit of leaching from plastic containers, as well as the lining epoxies in metal cans, into the food. Analysis has found just as much BPA in pet foods that claim to be BPA free as in other products. Unfortunately, the chemicals used as a substitution may be as bad or worse than BPA. BPA is also found at fairly high levels in fish. BPA causes metabolic alterations, widespread inflammation, and obesity. It specifically damages the pancreatic cells that produce insulin, which can directly cause diabetes.

2. Other phenols. Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are present in many pet foods. As bad as these original toxins are, dogs’ digestive systems break them down into even more toxic metabolites. These compounds can cause inflammation of blood vessels throughout the body. Animal fat, a common pet food ingredient, is a major source of PCBs in food.

One very important consideration regarding the dog food you use is the source of ingredients. For example, dioxin has been banned in the US for decades, but is still used in other countries. American pet food makers have been importing feed-grade chicken products for years, including chicken meal and chicken by-product meal. While dioxin and many other toxins are banned in the U.S., they’re still used in other countries, especially China. Chicken raised overseas is also apt to contain many other chemicals as well as heavy metals.

[Related] Want to know more about the toxins in your dog’s environment? Check out 6 common ones here.

Excess Body Weight

Overweight and obese pets are victims of body-wide, chronic, low-grade inflammation. That’s because fat cells secrete a variety of hormones, enzymes and pro-inflammatory messenger molecules.

Obesity also predisposes dogs to pancreatitis, and overweight dogs get sicker with it than thinner dogs.

Raw Feeding Videos

Inflammation of the pancreas, called pancreatitis, is an extremely dangerous and painful condition. The pancreas produces the sugar-controlling hormones insulin and glucagon, as well as two other less well-known hormones, somatostatin and gastrin. About five percent of pancreatic tissue is devoted to hormone production. But the main products of the pancreas are digestive enzymes: proteases that digest protein, amylases that digest starch and lipases that digest fat.

Swelling is one hallmark of inflammation. When cells swell, their walls stretch and start to leak. When those digestive enzymes leak out, they go right to work digesting everything in sight – disrupting more cells and causing even more inflammation. It’s a self-perpetuating cycle that can lead to death.

Pancreatitis can be acute (sudden) or chronic. Both are painful, dangerous and hard to definitively diagnose. Chronic pancreatitis may wax and wane. If enough pancreatic tissue is destroyed, the dog may become diabetic, develop exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (lack of sufficient digestive enzymes), or both.

Traumatic injury, toxins and other factors can cause pancreatitis, but for most dogs, dietary fat is the issue. A single ingestion of too much fat can trigger life-threatening pancreatitis. Many dogs develop pancreatitis after Thanksgiving or Christmas, when they are given (or they steal) a “treat” of fat-laden turkey skin or drippings. However, a regular diet containing a bit too much fat can also be problematic, especially in dogs who are already overweight. This can be a serious problem when switching from, say, a grocery or discount store brand to a better-quality food. Many natural, low-carb, and organic brands are much higher in fat than cheaper brands, and the changeover can stress the pancreas beyond its limits.

Preventing And Managing Dog Diabetes

Not all causes of diabetes can be eliminated, but diet related factors certainly can be. Here are the most important ways to prevent (and manage) do diabetes:

  • Eliminate heat-processed food (kibble, canned foods)
  • Eliminate sugar and starch (kibble, starch-containing canned foods)
  • Avoid foods that come in containers with BPA and similar chemicals
  • Feed a moderate protein, moderate fat, high fiber, low carb diet
  • Reduce weight (and increase exercise)
  • Supplement with digestive enzymes, probiotics, Omega-3s and antioxidants such as turmeric
6 tips to prevent Dog Diabetes

The Bottom Line

Recognizing the hidden link between diabetes and nutrition is really important. The food you feed your dog is crucial to his health. By making a few changes to your dog’s diet, you can significantly reduce the risk of dog diabetes or manage it if he already has it.

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