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Exercise Helps Manage Your Dog's Diabetes

Updated on November 16, 2009

Your diabetic dog needs help from you to manage his diabetes. Part of your job as his 'parent' is to see that he receives adequate exercise, which will help you ensure that he stays healthy and has a good quality of life. But why should you exercise your diabetic pup?

The Role of Insulin: Because your dog has diabetes, her body lacks insulin, a hormone from the pancreas which works to lower blood sugar. Briefly, when she eats, her food is converted into blood glucose (sugar). In a normal dog, the pancreas secretes insulin to respond to the rise in glucose caused by food intake. In a diabetic dog, however, the pancreas does not produce insulin, and without insulin, blood glucose will rise unchecked, damaging organs and possibly leading to unconsciousness or even death.

When you give your diabetic pup insulin, it lowers the amount of blood sugar circulating in his system by allowing it to enter the blood cells and be converted into energy. To give a very simple analogy, imagine that each blood cell has a "gate" through which glucose must pass in order to be changed into energy. Insulin is the "key" to this gate, and without it, blood sugar builds up in the body, unable to enter the cells and be converted into energy. This is a very simplistic comparison, but a diabetic dog without insulin will starve to death, his body unable to absorb glucose and convert it into energy. (This is why your pet may have experienced rapid weight loss prior to his diagnosis.)

But there is more to managing blood sugar levels than replacing the insulin no longer produced by the pancreas. Other factors - stress and illness, for instance - affect blood glucose levels, raising and lowering them throughout the day. Exercise, however, has several positive effects on your diabetic dog.

Insulin Efficiency: Many studies have shown that exercise helps maintain the balance between insulin, food intake, and activity necessary for health in both diabetic people and dogs. Briefly, your pup's diabetes will be better managed if she has a regular exercise program. One reason for this is that exercise revs up metabolism. When your dog exercises, it uses up energy, and an exercising dog is a dog whose body uses up more blood glucose. This has the effect of lowering your pet's blood sugar. Vets will also tell you that exercise increases blood circulation, and that this increase may help insulin enter cells.

Exercise also keeps metabolism functioning at a higher level for hours after activity has stopped, which means that it helps control your dog's blood sugar levels long after you've come home from your regular walk with Brewster. As any insulin-dependent diabetic person knows, it is MUCH easier to control blood sugar levels when you exercise regularly. By giving your pup regular exercise (walks, active play time), you help his body use up blood sugar.

Your Healthy Dog: Remember that the key to well-contolled diabetes in your dog is balance - regular, measured food intake; regular, measured insulin dosage; and regular, measured exercise combine to maintain healthy levels of blood sugar in Fifi's body. By not deviating from your dog's daily exercise amount and level, you can help avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), both dangerous conditions we pet parents should beware of. By keeping her on a regular high fiber, low fat diet; the recommended dosage of insulin; and a regular exercise program, Fifi can live a long, healthy life, and give you many more years of puppy love.


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      Lindsey 8 years ago

      When is the best time to exercise a diabetic dog? Should I wait until before I give her shot or after the shot?