Monday, November 18, 2013

Canine diabetes and obesity: Not connected, but still a danger

All this month we are observing National Pet Diabetes Awareness Month. We are examining different aspects of the disease in both cats and dogs. See our stories so far, and enter our giveaway.

As the experts we've talked to have said before, obesity so far does not have a direct link to canine diabetes. In cats there is a direct link, but not in dogs.

However, that doesn't mean that poor diet and lack of exercise can't be a problem for dogs, especially once they get diabetes.

So to talk about obesity, I've enlisted the help of Steve Pelletier, founder of Slim Doggy. He's an expert in the field of pet obesity, and how to whip your pup into shape. He graciously wrote this guest post for us.

Canine Obesity:  We are killing our dogs and paying a lot of money to do so.

Yes, you read that headline right.  Having a fat pet is costly:
  •  To the dog’s lifespan: lean dogs will live on average almost two years longer than their fat littermates.  They will also have a more active and higher quality of life.
  • To the owner’s wallet: owners of fat pets are spending a lot of money that they might otherwise not spend if their pet was fit and slim.  In the U.S. alone, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, there are about 37 million overweight dogs.  We estimate that the owners of these overweight dogs are spending somewhere near $8 billion dollars each year, on extra food, medical care, and medicines, all because they have fat pets.

A Human Problem

Pet obesity is actually a human problem, not a pet problem.  Most dogs (and cats) that I know do not have opposable thumbs to open the fridge and serve themselves.  Nor do they go shopping for their own food.  It is the human who controls the quantity and quality of their food.  We are the stewards of our pet’s health and heretofore, we are failing them.

Obesity is arguably the biggest health threat to our pets, yet, it is entirely, and easily preventable in most cases.   There are many health related problems that are a direct result from your dog being fat including:
  • Shorter life
  • Arthritis and other orthopedic problems
  • High blood pressure and cardiovascular disease
  • Cancer
That is a scary list, and I don’t know a single pet owner who would feel good about themselves if they were to unwittingly facilitate the development of such conditions by letting their pet become overweight.

Canine Obesity and Diabetes Linkage

You might notice that diabetes was not on the list of health problems related to having an overweight dog.  Unlike with cats, who are prone to type II diabetes, there is no evidence that supports the notion that type II diabetes occurs in dogs or that obesity is a risk factor to this disease[1].   

For some background, 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 insulin hormone.  Type II diabetes is directly linked to obesity in both humans and cats (but not dogs) and the treatment protocol centers around weight reduction.  Read our recent article “Exercise and Canine Diabetes” for more information on canine diabetes and suggestions on how to properly feed and exercise a dog with diabetes.

Despite the fact that there is no linkage between canine diabetes and obesity, it is still very important to keep your pet fit and slim, for all of the reasons listed above.    Below are some of our top tips to help you keep your pet at a healthy weight.

Courtesy Robin Zebrowski via Flickr Creative Commons
 5 Tips to Help Keep Your Dog Fit and Slim 
1.       Provide proper exercise for your dog.  Dogs need exercise!  They thrive on it.  Putting your dog out in the back yard does not count either.  They need 30 minutes or more each day of vigorous exercise depending on their age, breed, and medical history.  They will feel and look better.  So will you!  And don’t let excuses get in the way.  Winter weather?  No problem.  Use a dog treadmill, try alternative exercise like core and balance training using balance cushions and wobble boards, or simply bundle up and get outside.
2.       Determine your dog’s daily calorie requirement to achieve or maintain their ideal weight.  Most people have no idea how many calories they should be feeding their dog, given their dog’s age, weight, and activity level.   Our SlimdoggyiPhone app was created to supply this information.  Note that the more active your dog is, the more you can feed them.  If you exercise your dog more on the weekends, they can be fed differently than on the weekdays!
3.       Measure, measure and measure.   It is crucial to accurately measure how much you feed to make sure you stay within your dogs daily target range.  Use a measuring cup.  If you are a ‘high-tech’ person, or are not at home for long periods of time, there are actually some pretty amazing technologies and devices being created to help with the measurement problem. (formerly is one company that is building an intelligent pet feeder that will help people address the overfeeding issue.
4.       Account for treats.  We all love giving or dog’s treats and table scraps and there is nothing wrong with it.  You simply have to account for those calories and adjust your regular feedings accordingly.  It helps to know the calorie content of the dog foods and treats you use—another benefit of using the SlimDoggy app.
5.       Learn to read dog food labels.  Your pet’s overall health is greatly impacted by both “how much” and “what” you feed your dog.  Spend some time examining your dog food labels and learn to spot healthy and unhealthy ingredients.   Use your analysis to buy the best food possible given your budget.  For more tips on how to read a food label, go to and search on food.

[1] Canine and Feline Diabetes Mellitus: Nature or Nurture? Jacquie S. Rand2, Linda M. Fleeman,  Heidi A. Farrow,  Delisa J. Appleton, and Rose Lederer, 2004

Thanks Steve.

On Saturday, we will talk about obesity in cats and the link to feline diabetes.

In the meantime, check out our previous stories, and be sure to enter our GIVEAWAY!



  1. This is a great piece. Nice to know about the types of diabetes but more importantly, how having an overweight pet can cause a myriad of health issues. Just like humans, I guess.

    Will look into that smart feeder. It sounds great.

  2. Something I did for Daisy while she was with us was to put her daily ration of food into a rolling dispenser. She got quite a bit of exercise just getting her daily meal. I also kept some of the food for treats and made her do various tricks to get it. She was pretty easy however as she would do anything for ANY food.


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