Diabetes in Pets
Diabetes can strike a pet at any time, but most commonly occurs in older pets. Characterized by impaired insulin production or utilization in the pancreas, diabetes is an endrocrine disorder in which glucose builds up in the blood in excessive levels.
Your pet is more likely to be predisposed to developing diabetes due to:
- Hereditary factors
- Prolonged obesity
- Long-term medications, such as corticosteroids or progestogens
Types of Diabetes That Can Occur in Pets
There are two types of diabetes that affect pets as well as people. Type I diabetes occurs when the pancreas fails to make sufficient insulin to be used as fuel for the body. For reasons that are largely unclear at this point, the body mistakenly attacks and destroys the beta cells of the pancreas that are responsible for manufacturing the hormone insulin. Nearly all diabetic dogs and up to 50% of diabetic cats suffer from diabetes type I.
In type II diabetes, the beta cells of the pancreas become insulin-resistant and basically ignore the hormone, allowing it to build up in the blood and be eventually discarded by the kidneys.
Overall, the rate of incidence of diabetes in pets ranges from 1 in 100 to 1 in 500. However, in recent years diabetes has become more prevalent in cats than it is in dogs.
What are the Symptoms of Diabetes in Pets?
The symptoms of diabetes in pets are similar to those exhibited by humans and may include one or more of the following:
- Excessive thirst
- Increased urination
- A marked decrease or increase in appetite
- Weight loss
- Loss of vision or the appearance of cataracts (in dogs)
- Weakness in the rear legs (in cats)
- Noticeable sweet odor in breath
The Complications of Diabetes
Diabetes is associated with very serious health complications, most notably hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Symptoms of hypoglycemia may appear as:
- Lethargy or weakness
- Loss of bladder control
Ketoacidosis is another condition that can develop if blood glucose levels remain unstable. This condition leads to a build up of waste products called ketones in the blood and a life-threatening coma, commonly called a diabetic coma, may result. Signs of ketoacidosis developing include:
Another serious complication that can occur is metabolization. When this happens, the animal’s body begins to break down muscle and fat to feed itself and is characterized by a thinning of the skin that is readily apparent.
Treatment of Diabetes in Pets
Diabetes in pets is treated much in the same way as it is in people, with the primary treatments being:
- Glucose monitoring and management
- Insulin injections
- Diet therapy
Glucose levels are measured via the blood or the urine. In the latter, a test strip is used to detect the presence of ketones. Testing glucose levels from the blood involves the use of a glucose meter to read a small sample obtained from a tiny prick of the animal’s paw or ear. In the case of dogs, a sample taken from the lip is also acceptable. The goal of glucose monitoring and management is to achieve and retain a glucose level within an acceptable range most of the time. For this reason, testing usually occurs several times a day, at different times of the day.
Dietary considerations play an important role in the management of diabetes in pets. For example, a recent study showed that diabetic cats fed a low carbohydrate diet reduced or even eliminated the need for insulin therapy. Most dry cat food formulas contain a high amount of carbohydrates. This is not only unnecessary; it’s harmful. Cats require a minimal amount of carbohydrates in the diet to begin with and the conversion of excess carbohydrates to sugars can only escalate the complications of diabetes. Therefore, it is recommended that a carefully balanced homemade pet food, or a natural canned food formulated for diabetic cats be given instead.
For dogs, a diet moderate in carbohydrates and high in fiber should be adopted.
Complimentary Treatments for Diabetes in Pets
While conventional therapy for diabetes type I in pets usually dictates daily injections of insulin, there are several nutraceuticals that may also help to reduce blood sugar levels, in both diabetes type I and type II in pets. These include:
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Vitamin B6
In addition, there are several herbs used in the treatment and management of diabetes in pets by holistic veterinarian practitioners, often in conjunction with conventional treatments. These botanical therapies include:
- Panax ginseng
- Dandelion leaf
- Burdock root