Diabetes in Dogs & Cats
Diabetes mellitus is a disease in which the body is no longer able to regulate blood sugar levels. Blood sugar is regulated mainly through insulin produced by the pancreas. There are several types of Diabetes, which can be either Insulin Dependent (IDDM) or Non-Insulin Dependent (NIDDM):
Type I diabetes is always insulin dependent (IDDM). This type of diabetes is characterized by decreased insulin production in the pancreas. The beta cells which produce insulin are destroyed and normal insulin production is lost. This type is most common in dogs.
Type II diabetes can be either IDDM or NIDDM and is a result of decreased responsiveness of the body's cells to insulin, or improperly functioning pancreatic cells that produce insufficient levels of insulin. Type II diabetes is most common in cats. I have seen many cats become non-diabetic with a proper diet and treatment plan.
In cats, one can see Transient Diabetes Mellitus, in which insulin requirement comes and goes. Approximately 20 percent of diabetic cats may experience periods where they no longer require insulin injections. Sometimes called a “honeymoon,” these periods can last for days or months.
Risk factors for diabetes include obesity, an unhealthy diet, steroid treatments and, in unspayed female dogs, diestrus, the period of sexual inactivity after the female is receptive.
The actual cause of diabetes in each animal may not be known. For some animals it is genetic. Diabetes is sometimes linked to an infectious viral disease or autoimmune disease.
"Risk factors for diabetes include obesity, an unhealthy diet, steroid treatments and, in unspayed female dogs, diestrus, the period of sexual inactivity after the female is receptive."
Natural Treatment for Diabetes in Dogs & Cats
It is always best to work with your own veterinarian along with a holistically trained veterinarian in determining the best treatment plan for your companion. Diabetes is a complicated disease and is different in every animal. Regular testing is essential in determining what works best for your companion. The following are the possible components of a holistically oriented treatment plan. These will often be combined with some level of insulin support.
Diet is one of the most important components of a treatment plan for a diabetic animal. A diet low in fat is typically recommended, but a diet too low in fat creates health risks of its own. Of utmost importance for Type II diabetes is weight control. SLOWLY reducing your cat’s weight to an appropriate level is the very best thing you can do for him or her.
For cats, I frequently recommend a diet high in very good quality protein and low in carbohydrates. For dogs with Type I diabetes, a diet high in fiber and complex carbohydrates is recommended to slow digestion and the release of sugar into the bloodstream. In most cases, for both dogs and cats, a raw diet is best, or at least home-cooked. With the growing variety of commercially available raw diets, this part of the treatment plan can become less time-consuming. Only Natural Pet Store offers a wide variety of raw food diets. Freeze-dried and dehydrated diets are also good options when raw is not practical, (with added fiber for dogs with Type I diabetes).
Canned foods should be high in protein with little or no grain. I like Nature’s Variety, as their formulas do not contain grains, as well as some varieties of the "I and love and you" Canned Food to supplement the diet (we also have a wide selection of other grain free foods). For dogs, fiber can be added to the diet by including some lightly steamed or ground vegetables in the diet. Complex carbohydrates are acceptable for dogs (whole grains, not grain by-products).
It is important to feed at least 2 times and preferably even 3 times per day to reduce meal size and spread out the food intake, as this will assist in keeping blood sugar levels more stable.
Freeze-dried treats are also good choices for most diabetic animals. The treats are all meat and can be broken into small bite size pieces.
"Diet is one of the most important components of a treatment plan for a diabetic animal."
There are some Chinese herbal formulas that can be supportive in treating diabetes. It is best to work with a veterinarian trained in Chinese medicine in choosing the right one. Health Concerns Astra Essence is one Chinese herbal formula that can be used as a general tonic for some diabetic animals.
Another potentially useful supplement for many diabetic companions is PetAlive GlucoEnsure. GlucoEnsure contains a variety of helpful nutrients and herbs that can support the animal’s system and possibly reduce the amount of insulin required..
Supplements to support the animal’s immune system are also important since many diabetic animals have a weakened immune system. A good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement is important.
Added antioxidants are also helpful for increased immunity, such as Vetri-Science Cell Advance.
Vitamin E has been shown to reduce the need for insulin in humans, so I often recommend a Vitamin E supplement if you are not using an antioxidant that contains it.
Essential Fatty Acids, specifically Omega 3 fatty acids and GLA have been shown to both enhance glucose metabolism and protect against secondary cardiovascular problems in diabetics. While the diet should be lower in dietary fat overall, the supplementation of Essential Fatty Acids can often be beneficial. It is also useful in preventing diabetes.
Homeopathy is often very helpful in treating diabetes, particularly in cats with transient diabetes. Treatment is very specific to each individual and must be guided by a veterinarian trained in homeopathy. You can locate one through the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy.
Acupuncture can also be an excellent supportive treatment for diabetic animals. You can find a local practitioner through the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture.
Diabetes is a disease that must be managed for the life of your companion, but it does not necessarily need to reduce the quality of life if managed properly. Many animals with diabetes live long, happy lives when their guardians are willing to put the time and effort into developing a comprehensive treatment plan.