The AAHA Diabetes Management Guidelines for Dogs and Cats include the following areas of disease management:
- Diagnostic criteria/initial assessment
- Initial treatment and monitoring
- Recommendations for diagnostic testing
- Diet therapy
- Home monitoring
According to the AAHA, diabetes mellitus develops differently in dogs and cats, and knowledge of those differences is necessary to successfully manage the
Type II diabetes, also referred to as adult-onset diabetes, is a rapidly growing problem among people and pets in the U.S.
Nearly a million and a half dogs and cats suffer from the disease, and as pet obesity rates increase, so will the incidence of diabetes.
The disease most often occurs in dogs and cats at middle age or in their senior years, and is a result of diet and other lifestyle-related causes.
Diabetes can occur in young animals, but it’s more often genetic than lifestyle induced when it does. A few breeds are actually predisposed to the condition.
Diabetes Signs and Symptoms
Diabetes is the result of a shortage or misuse of insulin in your pet's body. Either your pet’s pancreas isn’t producing enough insulin, or the insulin isn’t being used efficiently due to a condition known as insulin resistance (IR).
Your dog’s or cat’s body needs insulin to turn protein, fat and sugar from food into energy. When there’s a shortage of insulin or a condition of IR, dietary sugar builds up in the bloodstream and eventually leaks into the urine.
Sugar in the urine increases the volume of urine and makes your pet very thirsty. One of the first symptoms of diabetes is increased water consumption.
When insulin is in either insufficient supply or is being misused, the brain suffers a sugar shortage. Since sugar in the brain controls appetite, your pet starts feeling hungry all the time. But even with increased food intake, a diabetic dog or cat will often lose weight because their body isn’t using calories efficiently.
Left untreated, a diabetic pet can develop other health problems, including:
- Kidney, bladder or skin infections
- Cataracts which can lead to blindness (more common in diabetic dogs than cats)
- Fatty liver (hepatic lipidosis)
- Muscle weakness
- Abnormal gait due to dysfunction of nerves or muscles
A diabetic dog or cat will normally have either the uncomplicated form of the disease, or diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). A pet with DKA is very ill and may vomit, be lethargic, and suffer from dehydration.
How the Development of Diabetes Differs in Dogs and Cats
The triggering mechanism of diabetes mellitus in both dogs and cats is loss or dysfunction of the cells of the pancreas.
Cell loss tends to progress much faster in dogs than in cats and is usually due to immune-mediated destruction, vacuolar degeneration (the formation of vacuoles or cavities in cells) or pancreatitis.
In cats, pancreatic cell loss or dysfunction is the result of insulin resistance, islet amyloidosis (a condition in which the Islets of Langerhans in the pancreas become clogged with amyloid deposits), or a specific type of chronic pancreatitis.
Treatment of Clinical Diabetes
As you can probably imagine, treatment of diabetes in a family pet is quite involved and time consuming.
Just as is the case for people with the disease, managing diabetes in your dog or cat involves regular monitoring of blood glucose levels, making necessary dietary adjustments, giving insulin injections or oral medications, and keeping a constant close eye on your pet to supervise his condition.
Frequent veterinary visits are the norm, as are costs associated with checkups, tests, medical procedures and insulin therapy.
And unlike a person who has diabetes, your pet can’t tell you how she’s feeling or help in her own treatment or recovery.
Three Primary Causes of Diabetes in Pets
As an integrative wellness veterinarian, my primary interest lies in preventing diseases like diabetes through proactive management of your pet’s health. I would much rather help you eliminate your dog’s or cat’s risk for diabetes than teach you how to inject insulin into your sick pet.
Companion animals are dependent on their owners to help keep them well.
Your dog or cat can only eat what you feed him and exercise when you allow it.
Nutrition and exercise are two of the three most important determining factors for whether your beloved pet will be at risk for diabetes. The third consideration is over-vaccinating.
Obesity is the Biggest Risk Factor
Pets become overweight through a combination of an inappropriate diet, lack of portion control, and not enough calorie-burning physical activity.
Your carnivorous dog or cat should be eating a moisture-rich, species-appropriate diet consisting primarily of human-grade protein sources, healthy fats, and nutritional supplements.
Unfortunately, what the vast majority of companion animals in the U.S. are fed are commercial pet diets loaded with grains and other nutritionally deficient carbohydrates.
Dogs and cats have no biological requirement for grains or most other carbs, and they certainly don’t need the sugar or other additives and preservatives that are also in most processed pet foods. Carbs break down into sugar, and sugar stresses the pancreas, forcing it to produce more insulin to balance the increase in blood sugar.
Many family pets are not only being fed the wrong types of nutrition, they’re also eating way too much of it. Throw in a handful of daily treats, and there’s a good chance your dog or cat is consuming too many calories on a daily basis.
Dogs and cats also need regular physical exertion on a daily basis to keep their bodies toned and strong and to help maintain a healthy weight.
If your canine buddy isn’t getting a good 20 to 40 minutes of heart-pumping aerobic activity most days of the week, he’s exercise-deficient.
If you are owned by a cat, it can be challenging to get her to be physically active if she isn’t interested, but with some creativity it can be done. Work with your kitty’s natural tendencies and involve her in games that appeal to her hunter and predator instincts.
How Vaccinations and Diabetes Are Linked
Evidence continues to emerge linking autoimmune disorders to Type II diabetes, especially in dogs. If your pup’s immune system attacks his pancreas, diabetes can be the result.
Autoimmune diseases are caused by overstimulation of the immune system, and this process can happen to pets through repeated unnecessary vaccinations.
Over-vaccinating can lead to a hyper stimulated immune system, which can lead to immune-mediated diseases like diabetes.
If your pet has had a full set of puppy or kitten shots during his first 12 months, he’s probably protected for life from the majority of diseases he’s been immunized against.
Each time your fully immunized pet receives another round of the same vaccines, it increases the risk of sending his immune system into overdrive.
I recommend you find a holistic veterinarian if you don’t already see one, and ask for titers to be run. Titers are tests that measure your pet’s functional antibody response to previous immunizations. The results of these tests will tell you whether re-vaccination is necessary, and for which specific diseases.
An Ounce of Prevention …
The best way to treat diabetes in your four-legged family member is to prevent it in the first place – especially since the vast majority of diabetes in dogs and cats is lifestyle induced.
Once the disease has taken hold of your pet’s health, it can be a very long, difficult and painful journey for both you and your beloved dog or cat.