I am not a veterinarian. All information presented is from my experience as a dog mom to Mylah. This information is not meant to treat, diagnose or cure your pet.
Pictured above: Mylah in 2017 on the left, and on the right Mylah today 2/21/19
As dog mom to Mylah who was diagnosed with diabetes at 10 months old, I’ve seen her go through many stages of ups and downs throughout her life dealing with this disease. Now that she is 8 years old, she’s actually doing the best other than when she was between the ages of 2-4 years old. Mylah’s life with diabetes has been challenging from many aspects but one area I want to talk about in particular is when she was so skinny. Some days, she looked emaciated. I wouldn’t even post certain photos of her on social media because of how skinny she looked. One time I did, I got told my dog was ‘too skinny’ and was questioned over it.
The thing I’ve noticed about canine diabetes is that it does not remain the same throughout a dog’s life. Throughout every life stage Mylah’s body has gone through and changed as a result, so has her diabetes. This meant that at every change I needed to adjust food, insulin, exercise, stressors, etc. depending on what her body was doing at that particular life stage. Diabetic dogs in general really don’t have it easy. Their bodies are put under constant stress because they are working overtime to stay alive. As a result, an area that becomes affected and compromised quickly is maintaining a healthy weight, muscle wasting, and malabsorption.
I’m going to go over the six reasons Mylah has been skinny in the past and what I did to figure it out and make changes in order for her to gain a healthy weight again. To expand a bit on Mylah’s history so you have a frame of reference: between 10 months old and 2 years old she had her ups and downs in terms of blood glucose regulation until we found the right food and insulin dose around age 2, her blood sugar was all over the place. From 2-4 years old Mylah was doing very well with her diabetes diagnosis and maintaining a healthy weight. She was on a raw diet during this time and was well regulated during this young adult stage of her life. At age 5 she suffered a mystery illness and it torpedoed her diabetes into a frenzy by age 6. When she really got emaciated looking was between the ages of 6 and 7. In the last year, we finally got her back on track and she turned 8 years old in January 2019.
Here are the subtopics I will cover regarding the potential reasons a diabetic dog might be unable to maintain a healthy weight and experience muscle wasting:
1. An underlying health issue
3. Not on the right diet
4. Gut system is compromised
6. Uncontrollable blood glucose levels
Pictured above: Mylah at her worst in January 2018
Potential Reason #1 Your Diabetic Dog Might be Skinny: An Underlying Health Issue
In addition to diabetes, Mylah has exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), and protein losing nephropathy (PLN). Unfortunately, the likelihood of diabetic dogs having additional health issues is rather high. If not IBD, many diabetic dogs have pancreatitis or early signs of it which contribute to weight loss and muscle wasting. Whenever I consult on a diabetic dog nutrition case, I always look at the signs of GI distress. Often, there are undiagnosed conditions there. EPI can be a particularly difficult addition to a diabetic dog’s diagnosis. EPI can be a major contributor to weight loss and muscle wasting because it ultimately causes malabsorption of nutrients. Luckily, your veterinarian can runs tests to determine if your dog has pancreatitis, EPI or any other condition that could be causing weight issues. Diabetics can also develop Cushing’s disease alongside their many health issues. Cushing’s is known to cause weight loss as well. Make sure to rule out any underlying issues as the first step in tackling your diabetic dog’s weight issues.
Potential Reason #2 Your Diabetic Dog Might be Skinny: Medications
Now, here is where I am going to complicate the already complicated world of canine diabetes. If a dog has underlying issues in addition to diabetes and is put on medications, for example, steroids to control the underlying issue this type of medicine can cause weight loss and muscle wasting. I have been through it firsthand with Mylah, too. I have used medications to try and control Mylah’s other issues (I still do use medication for her in one certain issue) but you must be aware that certain medications can be harmful. This is when I start to say “you MUST be your dog’s advocate.” That has been my number 1 mantra (if you will) when it comes to my dogs and in particular, a sick dog. If your veterinarian prescribes medication you must do your due diligence to research this medication and question it if weird signs of weight loss or other issues occur. Get a second opinion, make your own decisions, and be diligent in protecting your dog. I have told veterinarians NO to certain medications or that I am changing the dose or taking Mylah off a certain medication. I go with my gut and have not regretted a decision I’ve made in Mylah’s healthcare except when I DIDN’T speak up. In fact, one medication Mylah was on which worked for a while began causing her body to mimic Cushing’s disease even though she routinely tested negative for it. I told the vet that is it, she is being taken off this medication. What happened? She got better, started gaining weight, skin problems began to disappear. Now, I did feel confident making this decision because I was also working on her diet playing more of a medicinal role. This brings me to my third point about weight loss and diabetic dogs in the next section.
Pictured above: Mylah with her sister Izzy in July 2018
Potential Reason #3 Your Diabetic Dog Might be Skinny: Not on the Right Diet
Diet is truly everything when it comes to diabetes. Diet paired with the right insulin will give you the best outcome for successfully managing a diabetic dog and keeping their weight on. I cannot express the importance of diet. And yes, I do mean homemade or raw diets. The best years of Mylah’s life as a diabetic dog from an energy and weight perspective have been when she was on a properly balanced homemade diet or raw diet. Any human with diabetes will tell you how important their diet is – why is this not the same for pets? It absolutely should be the #1 consideration for any diabetic animal. Often, it is not and that is why many dogs are suffering from unregulated blood glucose, out of control IBD, EPI or pancreatitis complications which will ultimately show in the forms of poor stools, weight loss, lethargy, and poor skin and coat.
Diet for diabetic dogs is a delicate balance though. There are so many nutritional factors that need to be taken into consideration when it comes to the right diet for a diabetic dog. For example, dogs with diabetes greatly benefit from fiber in their diet as it helps with blood sugar regulation and provides support to the intestines. The right amount of appropriate fiber to protein and carbohydrate ratio makes all the difference for a diabetic dog.
As a pet parent, you CAN change this and control it! There are nutrition consultants like me who can create a properly balanced homemade diet for your diabetic dog or consult with you on the right commercial raw diet for your diabetic dog. If it isn’t me you book for this kind of service then go through a veterinary university like Tufts or the University of Tennessee.
Potential Reason #4 Your Diabetic Dog Might be Skinny: Gut System is Compromised
By now you can probably sense that the gut plays an important role in a diabetic dog’s overall health and wellness – and in maintaining a good weight. This is true for every dog, healthy or otherwise, but in particular for a diabetic dog because they can have so many additional health complications that arise that directly affect their GI system. In addition to finding the best diet for a diabetic dog, boosting gut health is critical to maintaining a healthy weight. For diabetic dogs with EPI the use of potent enzymes and probiotics will make all the difference in absorption and gaining weight. Right now, Mylah does not take any medications for her EPI, she is only on food as her “medication” for EPI.
Unfortunately, there is not an easy way for me to tell you to just give your dog a certain product and the gut system will be improved. Your dog is an individual will need to be assessed as one. Diet in general will need to be addressed intently. While diet and gut health does go hand in hand there are other factors that can affect gut health such as vaccines (they can greatly disrupt the gut system), harsh chemicals (like in flea/tick products), medications (even heartworm preventative), and stress.
Working with someone like me in addition to your veterinarian means I can help you assess potential triggers that could affect your dog’s gut system. I also know veterinarians who will work to restore and promote healthy gut bacteria through fecal transplants. There are many options and ways to restore your dog’s gut health in order for your dog to gain weight, and while diet is an important factor, it is not the only one.
Pictured above: Mylah with her sister Jayne in September 2018
Potential Reason #5 Your Diabetic Dog Might be Skinny: Stress
Stress can play a role in weight loss for any type of living breathing being. Unfortunately for diabetic dogs, they are undergoing internal stress within their bodies paired with whatever external stresses they might have to deal with. This is a recipe for weight loss. The stress that we humans have from work, moving, new dog or baby in the house, etc. does relay itself onto the dog(s) we live with. Dogs are innate empaths and can feel any stress that their humans might be experiencing.
Just as stress affects humans through weight loss, it does the same for dogs. Diabetic dogs have to go to many vet visits, might be experiencing blindness due to cataracts, don’t want to be left alone (like most dogs) – any stress a normal dog might have is worse for a diabetic because their body is already under so much internal stress.
Ways to help alleviate stress for your diabetic dog has to first be through you as their caretaker – if you are stressed you need to address that. In addition to managing my own stress around Mylah, I use aromatherapy (which she LOVES), I use hemp/CBD oil for her, I carve out specific time to cuddle with just her, we meditate together, I give her a stress reduction massage. If I know she is stressed, not feeling well, or having a bad day these are all tools I utilize to bring her stress levels down.
Potential Reason #6 Your Diabetic Dog Might be Skinny: Uncontrollable Blood Glucose Levels
This is probably the most obvious reason why a diabetic dog might experience weight loss and muscle wasting but I saved it for last for a reason. The reason why a diabetic dog could be having uncontrolled blood glucose has to also do with everything I have discussed previously. Medications, diet, gut health, the right insulin, vaccines, stressors, underlying illnesses or disease could all be contributing to a dog’s inability to maintain a controlled blood glucose pattern and therefore inability to maintain a healthy weight.
If you are a diabetic dog parent, I know none of this is the easy answer that you might be looking for. That’s why it is so important to not only heavily research the ins and outs of canine diabetes but to also have a veterinarian you can trust. Diabetes is not an easy disease to manage. I am also here for consultation services as a nutrition consultant or additional support and mentorship as a coach.
A Final Note From My Experiences
As someone who is going on eight years of taking care of a very complex diabetic dog, I can say with confidence that a skinny diabetic dog can go from looking nearly emaciated and downright terrible to maintaining a healthy weight with a beautiful shiny coat and healthy skin. I have lived this with Mylah. She’s gone from her worst to her best, multiple times. It does take time, patience and faith. There were days I’d sit and cry to my husband that I thought Mylah was on her last day of living and yet, Mylah has time and time again proved me wrong. Do not give up hope. Again, you know your dog best and it is up to you to be their advocate when it comes to their health and life choices.
References: Hand, M. S., & Thatcher, C. D. (2010). Small animal clinical nutrition. S.L.: Mark Morris Institute.