Holistic Diabetes Support for Pets

Written by: Dr. Jean Hofve, Holistic Veterinarian, DVM

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.

  • 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, unhealthy diet, steroids, and, in unspayed female dogs, diestrus, which is 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 also sometimes linked to an infectious viral disease or autoimmune disease.

"Risk factors for diabetes include obesity, unhealthy diet, steroids, and, in unspayed female dogs, diestrus, which the period of sexual inactivity after the female is receptive."

Naturally Lower Blood Sugar & Support Diabetes in Dogs & Cats

It is always best to work with your own veterinarian along with a holistically trained veterinarian in determining the best approach to help support 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 approach to help support your pet with diabetes. These will often be combined with some level of insulin support, which should be discussed with your veterinarian.

Diet is a very important consideration for a diabetic animal. A diet low in fat is typically recommended, but a diet too low in fat may also create 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 a good way to support your pet.

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 help support proper digestion and blood sugar levels. 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 diet approach can become less time-consuming. Only Natural Pet 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 decrease meal size and spread out the food intake, as this will help support blood sugar levels within normal ranges.

Freeze-dried treats may also be good choices for most diabetic animals. The treats are all meat and can be broken into small bite size pieces.

Dietary Supplements & Herbs

Supplements may help to support the animal’s immune system, which is important since some diabetic animals may have a weakened immune system. A good quality multivitamin and mineral supplement can provide nutrients for a healthy body.

Added antioxidants, such as Vetri-Science Cell Advance, are also helpful to support normal bodily functions. Many animals can also benefit from additional vitamins, like Vitamin E.

Essential Fatty Acids, specifically Omega 3 fatty acids and GLA may promote proper glucose metabolisim and normal cardiovascular function. While the diet should be lower in dietary fat overall, the supplementation of Essential Fatty Acids may be beneficial.

Homeopathy may also be a useful approach for animals with diavetes, but should 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 approach 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 decrease 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 support plan.

Information in this article is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure your pet and is not a substitute for veterinary care provided by a licensed veterinarian. For any medical or health-related advice concerning the care and treatment of your pet, contact your veterinarian.