Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs & Cats

The four main symptoms of uncomplicated diabetes mellitus are increased thirst, increased urination, weight loss and increased appetite.

Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) is a disease of the pancreas. This is a small but vital organ located near the stomach. It has two significant populations of cells. One group of cells produces the enzymes necessary for proper digestion. The other group, called beta-cells, produces the hormone insulin. Insulin regulates the level of glucose in the bloodstream and controls the delivery of glucose to the tissues of the body. In simple terms, diabetes mellitus is caused the failure of the pancreas to regulate blood sugar.

The Signs
Diabetes mellitus is usually first seen in middle aged cats and dogs (4-14yrs). Diabetic pets usually eat a lot but lose weight, drink a lot and urinate a lot. Cataracts develop quite rapidly in dogs with poorly controlled diabetes, leading to blindness. As the untreated disease progresses pets develop ketoacidosis and become very sick. At this stage the diabetes has become a serious life threatening illness. They develop anorexia, vomiting, weakness and lethargy.

The Causes
Several factors raise an animals risk of developing diabetes include breed, age, gender, weight, diet, virus infections, an inflamed pancreas, chronic inflammation of the small bowel, Cushing’s disease (excess production of the hormone cortisol) and long-term use of progesterone-like drugs or steroid drugs. In dogs, females are affected twice as often as males.  In cats diabetes is more prevalent in males. Obesity increases the risk of the disease. A diet high in fat may also contribute to pancreatitis (inflamed pancreas).

The Diagnosis
Diagnosis involves measuring glucose levels in urine and blood. A full urinalysis and blood screen is performed to diagnose the diabetes, assess the severity of the disease, look for underlying causes of diabetes and examine for secondary problems associated with the diabetes, eg urinary tract infections.

The Treatment
Treatment requires a commitment of time and management from owner. There is no cure for diabetes mellitus, but, as with humans, it can be controlled with insulin injections, diet and exercise management. With such therapy, your pet can lead a happy, comfortable life. Some cats can be managed with oral medication rather than insulin.

Spaying prevents female dogs from going through diestrus which makes management of their diabetes difficult, and pregnancy is strongly recommended against, as it is extremely difficult to control the diabetes and may cause a life-threatening situation.

Diet. Soft, moist foods should be avoided. Most veterinarians recommend a diet low in fat and high in fiber. Fiber slows the entrance of glucose into the blood, helping to stabilise blood glucose levels.

Natural Supplements can be added to a diabetic dogs diet to further help glucose metabolism in the body. One important supplement is brewer’s yeast. The chromium in the yeast aids the body in using blood sugar more effectively. You can give one teaspoon (small dog), one tablespoon (large dog) of brewer’s yeast with each meal. Vitamins C and E are also essential.

Herbs help to strengthen and support major body systems that have been weakened by diabetes. Dogs with diabetes are unlikely to be able to fully utilise nutrients; dandelion leaf, alfalfa, and calendula help aid digestion and nutrient absorption, while dandelion root and burdock root are effective in maintaining and moderating blood sugar levels.

Aloe vera and fenugreek seeds may also help to reduce blood sugar levels, as well as  stimulate insulin production in diabetic animals. Garlic is another useful herb, as it stimulates the stomach and intestines and increases digestive organ function. Although not an herb, Kelp also with antioxidant properties, may be capable of helping the body in secreting insulin, thereby lowering the blood sugar levels.

Cinnamon may also be helpful, as it may improve how the body uses glucose by enhancing the action of insulin. Since cinnamon is also an antioxidant, it does not hurt to sprinkle some cinnamon on your diabetic dog’s food on a regular basis.

Weight loss. Shedding some pounds can make the cells more sensitive to insulin, which means that glucose uptake is easier. Overweight pets should aim to reduce weight gradually to target over 2-4 months.

Exercise lowers blood glucose levels. Your dog should exercise every day for about the same length of time at about the same exertion level. Consistency is important—an unusually long or vigorous exercise session can cause blood glucose levels to drop dangerously low.
Once the diabetes mellitus is properly regulated, the dog’s prognosis is good as long as treatment and monitoring are consistent. Most dogs with controlled diabetes live a good quality of life with few symptoms of disease.