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Why Your Diabetic Dog Won’t Eat & What to Do

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If your diabetic dog won’t eat, it can be experiencing fluctuations in blood sugar, stress, lack of appetite, or other diabetes complications. Insulin should not be administered to dogs that won’t eat, as its role is to lower blood sugar. For diabetic dogs with a lack of appetite, you can heat their food or combine it with wet food.

Insulin administered to dogs is long-acting insulin. It releases slowly into the body for 12 hours.

Veterinarians choose this type of insulin because it is the easiest and most effective way to manage diabetes in dogs. This is because they have predetermined meal times and a calculated amount of food.

But what if your dog refuses food at a meal?

In this article, you will learn what causes a diabetic dog to stop eating, what happens if you give your pet insulin on an empty stomach, and how to get your diabetic dog to eat.

Reasons Why Your Diabetic Dog Won’t Eat

The possible causes for why your diabetic dog has stopped eating can be insignificant, such as stress, or severe, such as complications that can occur in diabetes. Contact your veterinarian if your dog with diabetes refuses food, as it can endanger its life if your pet misses a meal and an insulin shot.

Never ignore a diabetic dog that does not want to eat. Identify the reason why, and tackle the issue before it worsens.

Possible reasons why your diabetic dog won’t eat are:

  • Your Dog Doesn’t Like the Food
  • Stress
  • Blood Glucose Fluctuations
  • Diabetes Complications
  • Final stage of diabetes

Your Dog Doesn’t Like the Food

Dog Hunger and Thirst

While some dogs are picky, a healthy, hungry dog should not stop eating because it has been eating the same food for a while.

The problem could be with the food itself. Old, expired, outdated, or spoiled food appalls dogs. While some dogs, such as Labrador Retrievers, eat anything, others, such as Yorkshire Terriers, are fussier.

If your diabetic dog has eaten the same food for a while and has always eaten it, take a look at the expiration date.

Dogs also refuse food if it’s not tasty enough.

In these cases, consult your veterinarian to recommend another diet or for advice.

Stress

Stressed dog

Anxiety, stress, or fear can lead to decreased appetite in dogs. Remember that what you think is stressful is different from what your dog perceives as stressful. Even small things can cause anxiety and lead to appetite loss.

Changes in your dog’s routine or environment can trigger anxiety and stress. Common stressors for dogs include the following:

  • New people.
  • Pets – bullying from another pet can cause your dog to avoid its food bowl.
  • Car trips.
  • Loud noises – construction, storms, or fireworks.
  • Changing the time or place where you feed your dog.
  • The disease itself puts pressure on the dog’s body.

Vets recommend separating your dogs when feeding them to reduce stress.

If the problem is related to stress or anxiety, your dog will start eating again after a day or two. It has to adapt to change first. In the case of diabetic dogs, it is not recommended to skip any meals.

Blood Glucose Fluctuations

Your dog’s blood sugar can become too high or too low when it skips meals. This is life-threatening. Very high blood sugar fluctuations also lead to a general malaise that causes your dog to stop eating.

Diabetes Complications

Diabetes Complications

Diabetes complications occur when the disease progresses or if the diagnosis is made too late.

Complications leading to loss of appetite:

  • Gastroparesis.
  • Kidney failure.
  • Ketoacidosis.

They usually occur in the last stage of the disease when your dog feels very sick. Complications can lead to death.

Related: Symptoms of Diabetes in Dogs

Gastroparesis

Gastroparesis (stomach paralysis) is damage to the nerves in the stomach. This is caused by prolonged and elevated glucose levels.

In gastroparesis, the nerves of the stomach (especially the vagus nerve) do not work properly. The movement of food in the stomach and intestines is slowed or stopped.

This condition can improve if you bring your dog’s blood sugar levels back to normal.[1]

The most common symptoms in gastroparesis are:[2]

  • Lack of appetite.
  • Vomiting.
  • Vomiting undigested food.
  • Nausea.
  • Abdominal bloating and pain.
  • Changes in blood sugar levels.

Ketoacidosis

Ketoacidosis

Ketoacidosis occurs in the final stages of diabetes. It is associated with extreme levels of hyperglycemia and deficient levels of insulin.

Without enough insulin, the body is unable to use glucose and begins to break down fats as an alternative source of energy. This process causes an accumulation of toxic acids in the blood, called ketone bodies. These toxins reach the whole body and trigger diabetic ketoacidosis.[3]

Ketoacidosis symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Accelerated breathing
  • Acetone or fruity breath
  • General malaise

Kidney Failure

If your dog stays with high blood sugar for a long time, it can develop diabetic nephropathy[4]. High blood sugar acts as a poison to the whole body and can lead to kidney failure.

Symptoms of kidney failure in diabetic dogs:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bad breath – ammonia breath or the smell of urine
  • Depression
  • Dull fur

Can You Give a Dog Insulin Without Food?

No, do not administer insulin to your dog on an empty stomach. Its role is to lower blood glucose levels. You endanger your dog’s life by injecting insulin if it has not eaten.

If your diabetic dog has not eaten for hours, its blood sugar is probably low. Administering insulin can cause it to drop more, leading to a hypoglycemic coma.

You can give your dog insulin after you have force-fed it if refuses to eat. Go to the vet immediately if you cannot force-feed your pet.

Can You Give a Dog Insulin Without Food

What Happens if I Miss a Dose of Insulin?

Your dog’s glycemia can rise if you miss an insulin dose and your pet has eaten. If your dog hasn’t consumed food, it is recommended not to administer insulin anyway.

It is best to contact your veterinarian if you have forgotten to give your dog an insulin dose. They will tell you what to do and when to administer the next dose. [5]

Skip the missed dose and administer the next one per usual if your dog is acting normally and you can’t contact the vet. Never administer your dog two doses or a larger dose of insulin to make up for the missed one.

What Happens if You Give Insulin to a Dog That Won’t Eat?

Administering insulin to dogs with an empty stomach can make them very sick. Their blood sugar can drop drastically and lead to a hypoglycemic coma. This can be fatal for your dog. Take emergency action if needed.

If your diabetic dog misses a meal, it can have a negative effect on its health. It can lead to more acute problems as it stays without food for longer. The most common problem is low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), which is dangerous in diabetic dogs.

In hypoglycemia, blood glucose levels are below 70 milligrams per deciliter of blood. It can set in if your dog has not eaten for hours or if you have administered insulin to dogs with an empty stomach.

Hypoglycemia can lead to coma or death. 

Signs of low blood sugar in dogs include the following:

  • Strange behavior
  • Lack of appetite
  • Loss of energy
  • Lethargy
  • Tremors
  • Muscle convulsions and extreme weakness
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Hypoglycemia can be a medical emergency in diabetic dogs. Prompt treatment is required.

Hypoglycemia

What to Feed a Diabetic Dog That Won’t Eat

There is no universal diet for dogs with diabetes, but there are several diets recommended for dogs with this condition. Your veterinarian can recommend the best one for your diabetic pet.

The key elements in feeding a diabetic dog are:

  • Should not contain simple carbohydrates (sugar, bread, potatoes, rice, etc.).
  • Feed a balanced and nutritionally complete diet.
  • Serve your dog food at regular intervals in predetermined quantities.
  • Use a tasty diet to maintain your dog’s appetite.

The most important factor in your diabetic dog’s diet remains the assurance of regular consumption of the predetermined food portion. Feed your pet the same amount of food at the same time each day. 

This way, you can control its hyperglycemia and adjust the insulin dose accordingly.

Foods to avoid in diabetic dogs

Dogs need to avoid two important food groups:

  • Foods high in sugar
  • Fats

Common brands of dog food contain sweeteners and fats, usually to keep their hair shiny and healthy. If your pet has diabetes, it’s best to avoid these foods and use other hair care products, such as special shampoos.

Tips for Getting a Diabetic Dog to Eat

There are several ways you can make your dog eat. The most popular are mixing dry food with wet food or warming up food. Other methods include adding treats or broth to your dog’s regular food. It is important to get your diabetic dog to eat no matter what method you choose.

If your dog ignores its food or seems uninterested in it, you should try your best to make your pet eat. Administer your dog its insulin shot only after it has eaten something.

You can try the following to make your diabetic dog eat:

  • Homemade food with chicken and rice.
  • Baby food.
  • Wet food (as such or added over your dog’s dry food).
  • Treats.
  • Warming up its food.
  • Adding broth to its regular food.
  • Force-feeding with a syringe.

Always contact your veterinarian if your diabetic dog refuses to eat.

About Iulia Mihai (DVM)

Dr. Iulia is a certified veterinarian with more than 10 years of experience in the field. With extensive knowledge of diet, care, and medication, she helps Misfit Animals provide readers with accurate knowledge on technical topics.

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