Diabetes - the silent killer amongst pets
Did you know that 1 in every 200 cats may be affected by diabetes mellitus, and the amount of diabetic dogs has increased 79.7% since 2006?
November is National Pet Diabetes Month. This month was originally created to increase awareness about human diabetes, however a rising number of dogs and cats are developing this preventable disease and dying from it every year. Diabetes mellitus is the most diagnosed endocrine condition in pets, with anywhere from 1 in 500 to 1 in 100 dogs developing this disease at some point in their life.
With our pets, there are two types of diabetes mellitus: Type I DM and Type II DM.
Type I DM is when not enough insulin is made by the body. Insulin is produced by the pancreas, and is required to help provide the body energy from the sugars in the food we eat. Type I DM requires life-long insulin therapy which is typically delivered by a syringe twice a day. This is most commonly seen in dogs – in other words, once a dog becomes a diabetic, he or she is diabetic for life. This condition is similar to humans who are born with diabetes or develop it at a young age.
Type II DM is when the pancreas is still able to produce a small but inadequate amount of insulin. This is most commonly seen in cats and can be potentially fixed with diet. If your cat has recently been diagnosed with Type II DM, he or she may only need insulin injections (via a syringe once or twice a day) for a few months, not necessarily for life, if the correct lifestyle and diet changes are made. Type II DM is becoming the most common type of diabetes in people due to lifestyle factors and poor dietary choices.
What are the clinical signs of diabetes mellitus in pets?
-Inappropriate urination (accidents in the house)
-Weight loss (most commonly over the back), despite an overweight body condition
Increased “whiteness” of the lens of the eye due to cataracts
-Poor skin condition (like excessive dandruff or an oily hair coat)
Are there certain breeds that are more prone to developing diabetes?
In cats, breeds such as Siamese are over-represented. In dogs, breeds such as the Samoyed, Keeshond, miniature pinscher, Cairn terrier, Schnauzer, Australian terrier, dachshund, poodle, Beagle, and Bichon Frise are over-represented. In dogs, females seem to be more likely to develop DM. In cats, males are over-represented. DM is typically seen in older pets – typically from 7-9 years of age in dogs, and 8-13 years of age in cats. While juvenile (young) diabetes mellitus can also occur, this is less common. Usually, diabetes is occurring because our pets are overweight.
With diabetes mellitus, the body does not have enough insulin, which is the hormone necessary to push sugar into the cells of the body. As a result, the cells of the body are starved, and the body is stimulated to produce more and more glucose as a result. However, without insulin in the body (or being delivered by syringe), the sugar can’t get into the cells, which leads to massive amounts of weight loss even though your pet is eating more.
The excess sugar that is produced by the body results in the symptoms of excessive thirst and urination. When diabetes is not treated, a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) occurs, where the body starts breaking down fat in an attempt to feed the starving cells. These fat breakdown products (e.g., ketones) poison the body, resulting in vomiting, dehydration, inappetance, electrolyte abnormalities, and even too much “acid” production in the body. DKA is very serious and can be life-threatening, and typically requires intensive supportive care (which can be expensive to treat, as it typically requires 24/7 care).
How do we diagnose diabetes?
Diabetes can easily be diagnosed with bloodwork and a urinalysis. Because there is too much sugar (glucose) in the body, it raises the blood glucose and glucose in the urine. Some cats will have transient blood glucose levels from stress, but there are other tests that can be run that measure what the blood values have been doing over the past few weeks or months (fructosamine test).
Ok so now what?
Treatment for diabetes can differ between dogs and cats in regards to the type of insulin recommended and types of diets. Treatment typically requires twice a day injections of insulin and frequent rechecks with blood glucose curves. Oral medications, which are often used in people are not recommended in dogs and cats. These oral medications do not work in dogs, and usually do not work well in cats either. In cats, dietary changes to a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet, along with weight loss and in combination with short-term insulin therapy, can help your cat go into remission where they do not require insulin injections, because they are typically a Type II DM.
What are some holistic modalities you can use for your pets?
First, keep your pet LEAN!! When our pets are overweight, there is more insulin resistance and inflammation in their body, which affects the way glucose is metabolized and insulin is produced. Diet is key to this. Do not overfeed your pet. Remember we have control over this.
What are some of the supplements we can use to help with blood sugar control?
Chromium is a nutrient that plays an important role in helping the body use insulin more
efficiently, which in turn can help control blood sugar levels. The recommended dosage for the use of chromium in pets with diabetes is 50 to 300 mcg per day. Typically, a dosage of 200 mcg/day of chromium picolinate is recommended. Good food sources that high content of chromium include brewer's yeast, beef steak and calves liver. Remember if you are using meat sources, you want them to be organic and grass fed with no GMO's.
Using foods like buckwheat, parsley and eggs help provide a good source of vanadium. Vanadium acts as a co-factor for various enzymes which are part of blood sugar, lipid and cholesterol metabolism. Vanadium works by mimicking insulin, leading to lower blood sugar levels.
Oat bran is another supplement that can help lower the glycemic index of foods. These should be given with brown rice and any whole grains fed to your pets. With oat bran, give 2 tsps. per meal for every 10 lbs of weight (double this dose if your pet is obese or you want to reduce weight).
There are many options we have to help your pets reduce their weight to a lean body condition and support their bodies naturally with supplements so they can achieve optimal glucose utilization. The number one way to help your pet is to change the diet to low carb and high fiber for dogs and low carb and high protein for cats. What is the best way to do that? Put them on a biologically appropriate diet like a home-cooked diet or raw diet that is balanced, which is essential for working with a veterinarian to ensure it is balanced and appropriate for your pet.
Remember there is always hope for your pet and help for them. You are not alone in this journey towards lifelong health and vibrancy.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.