In part 1 of this two-part series, I discussed what the disease of diabetes mellitus is, how it acts in your pet’s body, and the symptoms you should watch for.
In part 1 I also pointed out that Type I diabetes (juvenile diabetes) is quite rare in companion animals. Your pet is much more likely to develop adult-onset (Type II) diabetes at or around middle age, after several years of lifestyle obstacles which have led to either decreased production of insulin or a diminished ability to use it efficiently.
So what are these lifestyle obstacles that set your dog or cat up for disease? There are three primary causes of adult-onset diabetes.
Cause #1: Over-Vaccination
In recent years the veterinary community has seen an increase in the number of companion animals with immune-mediated diseases – diseases that occur when the immune system turns on itself.
Dogs, in particular, seem prone to immune system attacks on the pancreas, or more specifically, the cells that secrete insulin in the pancreas. This situation points to an autoimmune component in the development of Type II diabetes in canines.
Immune-mediated or autoimmune diseases are thought to be caused by overstimulation of the immune system. And what causes stimulation of your pet’s immune system? Vaccines.
Over-vaccinating can lead to an over-stimulated immune system, which can lead to immune-mediated diseases like diabetes.
When it comes to humans, it’s perceived that most childhood immunizations eventually provide a lifetime of protection. So why is it many dogs and cats receive the same vaccinations year after year throughout their lives?
Good question. The fact is your dog or cat is quite likely protected for life after a complete set of puppy or kitten shots during his first 12 months.
Every time your fully immunized pet receives another annual round of the same vaccines – typically parvo, distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, lepto, chronoline, bordetella and rabies -- it increases the likelihood his immune system will become over-stimulated. And that can push him to acquire an autoimmune disease like Type II diabetes.
Before you agree to re-vaccinate your adult pet, you should ask your holistic veterinarian to run titers – tests that measure your dog’s or cat’s functional antibody response to previous immunizations. This will tell your vet whether re-vaccination is necessary, and if so, for which diseases.
This is a positive proactive step you can take to ensure your pet will not be loaded down with useless vaccines that can prompt an autoimmune response leading to diabetes.
Cause #2: Sedentary Lifestyle
Companion animals often lead the same sedentary lifestyle their parents do. It’s not a total lack of movement, of course – just a lack of the kind that’s beneficial for health.
Both you and your pet need regular heart-thumping, muscle-toning, calorie burning exercise. If your dog or cat is lying around the house all day while you’re at work – even if she can get out to your fenced yard through a doggie door to get some fresh air and sunshine – her heart rate is not being elevated for the 20 minutes per day she needs to achieve good cardiovascular conditioning.
Unless you’re actively exercising your dog or cat, her exertion will be anaerobic – short bursts of energy followed by long periods of rest. Anaerobic exercise won’t condition your pet’s heart or muscles or burn the calories she consumes.
The fact is both you and your pet require daily aerobic exercise for your overall health. I recommend a minimum of 20 minutes of daily aerobic exercise for your dog. And I’m not talking about a leisurely stroll during which your pup stops every 10 feet to sniff a rock or mark a bush.
I’m talking about taking control of your dog’s leash and leading him on a purposeful power walk that keeps his heart rate elevated for at least 20 minutes, and preferably 40.
If your furry companion happens to be feline, getting him active can be trickier. At my house we use a laser pointer to encourage our kitties to exercise aerobically. You’ll need to get creative with your cat, because as you’ve certainly noticed, when kitty doesn’t feel like moving, he just won’t. But with a little effort, you can find ways to entice your cat to exercise.
Cause #3: High Carbohydrate Diets and Obesity
Obesity in companion animals is becoming an epidemic. And obesity stems from two sources:
- Lack of movement
- Diet, which is the underlying and most obvious reason behind weight gain and the development of diabetes
The majority of pets in the U.S. consume a high calorie, high carb diet. And yet, dogs and cats have no physiological requirement for grains like corn, wheat, rice, soy, millet or quinoa as sources of energy.
Dogs are scavenging carnivores, cats are obligate carnivores – they are designed by nature to burn fat and protein very efficiently. The majority of commercially available dog and cat foods in the U.S. use grains or potato starch as filler.
Your pet’s body doesn’t need those carbs, and certainly not in the quantities contained in most commercial pet foods. You should really only give carbs as treats, if at all.
All the carbohydrates in your pet’s food – which can be as much as 80 percent of the contents – break down into sugar. Excess sugar can result in diabetes.
Too much sugar in your pet’s system can result in pancreatic failure, insulin production deficiency or insulin resistance, a condition in which the body’s cells stop using insulin efficiently and become starved of essential nutrients.
To avoid feeding carbs, transition your cat or dog to a species-appropriate, preferably raw diet.
How to Keep Your Pet Safe from Diabetes
- Avoid unnecessary vaccinations which can over-stimulate your pet’s immune system and create immune-mediated diseases.
- Get serious about exercising your pet on a daily basis.
- Feed your dog or cat a species-appropriate diet that is carb-free. Control your pet’s caloric intake and maintain an optimal weight.