Keep Your Pet Healthy in 2020 Keep Your Pet Healthy in 2020


Diabetes: The Devastating But Preventable Disease That Threatens Your Pet

Pet with a lot of medicationIn response to the rapidly growing problem of diabetes among dogs and cats, Abbott Animal Health, in partnership with several other animal health organizations, associations and businesses, will release The Diabetes Report in the November edition of DVM Newsmagazine. In addition to Abbott, report contributors included:

  • American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)
  • American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)
  • National Association of Veterinary Technicians
  • Banfield clinics
  • Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica
  • Nestle Purina PetCare
  • Pets Best Insurance

The report is written primarily for veterinarians and vet techs rather than pet owners.

Per Veterinary Practice News:

“Although the true incidence of diabetes among dogs and cats is unknown, pet health professionals believe that it is increasing due to the obesity epidemic and the longer lifespan of pets, according to a new report released by Abbott Animal Health.”

According to Banfield Applied Research and Knowledge (BARK), a leg of Banfield clinics, which partnered with Abbott on the report, diabetes is more common in cats than dogs, and is most often diagnosed in neutered male pets older than 10.

“While diabetes is a chronic disease, it is something that clients are capable of managing,” David Bruyette, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM, medical director at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital in Los Angeles, said in the report.

Dr. Becker's Comments:

As of this writing, I haven’t yet seen a copy of The Diabetes Report, but from what I gather from the linked article and others I’ve read, it approaches the subject from the viewpoint of managing the disease, not preventing it.

And yet, the report makes the following points:

  • Diabetes is tied to obesity. Did the authors point out that obesity in dogs and cats is clearly preventable?
  • Diabetes is more common in older animals. Does the report then make the point that since diabetes occurs primarily in older animals -- but isn’t a disease of aging -- it is therefore a disease brought on by lifestyle obstacles? Pet owners can prevent unhealthy lifestyles for their pets.
  • According to, The Diabetes Report references a study done in 2006, which showed that “… insulin was stopped in twice as many cats that were on a high protein-low carb diet than cats on a high fiber-low carb diet." Common sense seems to dictate, if a high-protein, low-carb diet can eliminate the need for insulin in cats with diabetes, it seems logical the same diet might prevent kitties -- and their canine counterparts -- from developing the disease in the first place.

I suspect one of the reasons more cats than dogs get diabetes is because so many cats eat kibble-only diets.

Not only do kitties require very few carbs and fiber, which most kibbles (dry food) are loaded with, but more cats are fed dry food because if their owners need to be away from home, they can stay alone for a few days with a litter box, water, and a supply of dry food that won’t spoil at room temperature.

In many ways, kitties are lower maintenance than dogs, so people who are gone from home frequently are more likely to have cats as pets and feed them a diet that is convenient.

Add to that the finicky appetite of many domesticated felines and the challenge of getting them to eat a different type food, and you end up with lots of kitties dining on only one brand of dry, high-carb food for a lifetime. This can set the stage for disease and diminished quality of life.

Why Pets Get Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes, the form of the disease that strikes the young, is actually quite rare in companion animals.

Your cat or dog is much more likely to develop Type II (adult-onset) diabetes around middle age or in his senior years, as a result of a lifestyle that has led to decreased production of insulin or the inability of his body to use it efficiently.

Obesity is far and away the biggest reason pets become diabetic.

You can help your dog or cat stay trim by feeding him a portion controlled, moisture rich species-appropriate diet consisting primarily of a variety of unadulterated protein sources, healthy fats, veggies and fruit in moderation, and specific nutritional supplements as necessary.

Your pet has no biological requirement for grains or most other carbs. Carbs, which can be as much as 80 percent the ingredient content of processed pet food, turn into sugar in your pet’s body. Excess sugar leads to diabetes.

Another lifestyle-related reason pets develop diabetes, one that often goes hand-in-hand with poor nutrition, is lack of physical activity.

Your dog or cat needs regular aerobic exertion to help maintain a healthy weight and to keep her muscles in shape. Your pet should be getting 20 to 40 minutes of aerobic type exercise several days a week.

The Vaccination Connection

There is a growing body of research that connects autoimmune disorders to Type II diabetes, especially in dogs. If your pet’s immune system attacks his pancreas, he can develop diabetes.

One of the main ways your pet’s immune system can be over-stimulated is through repetitive yearly vaccinations against diseases he is already protected against.

If your pet had his full set of puppy or kitten shots on schedule, there’s a high likelihood his immunity to those diseases will last a lifetime. Each time a fully immunized pet receives a repetitive set of vaccines, it increases the risk of sending his immune system into overdrive.

I recommend you find an integrative or holistic veterinarian who runs titers to measure each animal’s antibody response from previous vaccinations. Titer results will tell you whether re-vaccination is necessary, and for exactly which disease.

8 Symptoms of Diabetes

The symptoms of diabetes can develop very gradually and include the following:

  1. Increased urination and increased thirst. These two signs are hallmarks of a diabetic condition, so you’ll want to watch closely for them, especially as your pet ages.
  2. Unfortunately, increased thirst and urine output are also signs of other serious health problems, so regardless of the age or condition of your dog or cat, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian (and bring a urine sample) if you notice these symptoms.

  3. Increased appetite. Your pet might grow hungrier over time because the amino acids and glucose needed inside the cells aren’t getting there, or aren’t being used appropriately.
  4. Weight loss. When the cells of your pet’s body are being starved of essential nutrients, the result is often an increase in appetite. But because the energy from food is not being used efficiently by the body’s cells, your pet can lose weight even though he’s taking in more calories.
  5. Lack of energy and increased need for sleep. When the cells of your pet’s body are deprived of blood sugar, he’s apt to show a general lack of desire to run, take a walk with you, or engage in play.
  6. Vision problems. Another symptom of diabetes in companion animals is blindness, which is seen primarily in dogs, but cats can also develop blindness as a result of diabetic cataracts.
  7. Weakness in rear limbs (cats only). This symptom is unique to kitties with diabetes. It’s called the plantigrade stance. Instead of walking high up on the pads of his feet, which is how cats normally walk, a cat with plantigrade stance will drop his hind quarters low and actually walk on his back ankles. Fortunately, this symptom can be reversed once your kitty’s diabetes is under control.
  8. Urinary tract infections. It’s not at all uncommon for diabetic dogs and cats to acquire secondary urinary tract infections. This happens because the more sugar there is in the urine, the greater the likelihood that bacteria will grow in your pet’s bladder.
  9. Kidney failure. Kidney failure, especially in cats, is also a common secondary symptom of diabetes. Often the first diagnosis for a diabetic kitty is chronic renal insufficiency or acute kidney problems. The sugar that is meant to be retained in your pet’s bloodstream spills over into the urine and is very damaging to the kidneys.

Why Learn to Manage Diabetes in Your Pet When You Can Prevent It?

Despite all the tools and resources, like The Diabetes Report, available to your veterinarian to treat the disease, the ideal situation for your pet is to never acquire this debilitating, life-shortening disorder in the first place.

Treatment of diabetes in a family pet is complex and time consuming in the vast majority of cases. It involves regular monitoring of blood glucose levels, ongoing dietary adjustments, insulin given by injection or oral glucose-regulating drugs,and keeping a constant, careful eye on your sick pet.

Frequent vet visits are a way of life, and the cost of checkups, tests, medical procedures and insulin therapy add up fast.

Needless to say, the toll the disease takes on your pet’s health and quality of life can be devastating. That’s why I encourage you to do what you can to remove any obstacles in the way of a lifetime of good health for your four-legged family member.