Preventing and Treating Diabetes in Dogs and Cats

Diabetes mellitus, or diabetes, is a condition that occurs when the body can not use glucose (a type of sugar) normally.  Glucose is the main source of energy for the body’s cells. The levels of glucose in the blood are primarily controlled by a hormone called insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. Insulin helps cells in the body use the glucose or energy. Without insulin, the sugar stays in the blood and is useless to the cells. Without glucose, muscle wasting and weight loss will occur.

Diabetes has become a common problem for our pets. Both dogs and cats can succumb to this disease. Risk factors associated with diabetes include:

  • sedentary lifestyle
  • obesity, which may be related to the sedentary lifestyle (recent data show an increase in canine obesity of 37 percent between 2007 and 2012 and a 32 percent increase in canine diabetes over the same period)
  • diets high in carbohydrates which increase the workload of the pancreas, which produces insulin
  • medications, like steroids
  • female dogs are twice as likely to be diabetic as male dogs
  • male cats are 1.5 times as likely to be diabetic as female cats
  • breed disposition: dachshunds, beagles, schnauzers, poodles, Labrador retrievers, Cocker spaniels, and possibly Burmese cats
  • age over 8 years
  • concurrent diseases such as pancreatitis, Cushing's disease, kidney disease, and periodontal disease

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • increased thirst and water consumption
  • increased urination
  • weight loss
  • muscle wasting
  • dry coat, dandruff
  • lethargy
  • recurring skin infections
  • recurring urinary tract infections
  • decreased appetite
  • cloudy eyes or cataracts, decreased vision or vision loss
  • diabetic neuropathy
  • death, if left untreated

Avoiding diabetes may not be difficult, if you follow these simple steps:

  • Avoid diets laden with carbohydrates. These include all dry kibble, and diets high in starches like peas, potatoes, and grains.
  • Keep your pet lean.
  • Exercise your pet regularly, including indoor cats.
  • Feed high moisture diets.
  • Avoid feeding high volumes of cooked fats (i.e.-bacon grease, drippings from baking high fat meats). Cooked fats undergo oxidation, which contributes to inflammation and pancreatitis. Raw fats do not undergo the same process.
  • Avoid use of steroids.
  • Keep the mouth clean; avoid periodontal disease

Treatment of diabetes once diagnosed:

  • Feed a low carbohydrate diet, no simple sugars. Some dogs will respond well to a high fiber diet. Good fiber sources that will not cause sugar spikes include cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, kale, green beans, and possibly barley (which is cooling and draining).
  • Home prepared or commercial raw diets can be extremely beneficial. A hybrid diet using a base mix, combined with your own cooked meat can work wonders.
  • Dogs will require insulin, most likely lifelong. Some cats will convert back to not being diabetic when fed a species-appropriate high-meat diet.
  • All dry kibble and dry grain or legume-based treats should be removed from the diet.
  • Monitor glucose levels. This is much less expensive if you purchase your own glucometer and have your veterinarian teach you how to get a drop of blood for testing. Human glucometers work fine for pets; there is no need to buy a special veterinary glucometer.
  • Monitor urine for infection, as urinary tract infections are very common in diabetics. Purchase Urinary dipsticks to monitor at home.
  • Chromium supplementation may improve response to treatment. Broccoli and liver are good sources of chromium.

For more scientific information, check this article.

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