Diabetes and Insulin requirements for dogs
Diabetes Mellitus is a significant and debilitating chronic disease that causes poor quality of life for both pets, and owners, and significantly reduces life expectancy. Diabetes in dogs and cats used to be quite a rare disease, but has been increasing in recent years to become a more common diagnosis. Diabetes in pets tends to be the insulin dependent type (as compared to type 2 diabetes in people), but is certainly more common in older pets, as it is in people. Diet does play a significant role in the development of diabetes in both pets and people.
Signs of diabetes can vary, but most pets will primarily show an increase in drinking (and urinating), a very aggressive appetite (always hungry) and some gradual and progressive weight loss despite the good appetite. As the disease progresses to become toxic, affected pets will then lose their appetite, and show signs of vomiting and lethargy, and often will have a characteristic ‘acetone’ smell on their breath. Dogs and cats that present like this are in a critical condition, and are at a high risk of dying. Diabetes is caused by a failure of the body (special cells in the pancreas) to produce adequate insulin, which is required to allow cells in the body to absorb glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream. Diabetic patients end up with very high blood sugar, but with body cells starving from lack of sugar – this results in a long-term breakdown of body tissues (as a source of energy), and production of toxic metabolites (called keto-acidosis).
Stabilising diabetic pets involves the use of specific insulin injections with a once or twice a day injection program, combined with very strict diets, exercise and feeding regimes. Well managed pets can remain stable for several years, but the long term picture for diabetic pets is not good.
One of the main reasons we are seeing such an increase in diabetes in pets is due to the change in feeding practices. 50 years ago, pets were primarily fed raw meat, bones and table scraps. But nowadays, pets live mainly on processed tinned and dry foods, which are fundamentally quite different from raw meat diets. One very significant difference is the level of simple carbohydrates in modern pet foods. Dogs and cats do NOT have a high requirement for carbohydrates in their diet, with levels of 10-15% being more than adequate. Dogs and cats have evolved to get most of their energy requirements from eating animal proteins and fats, and a smaller portion from complex carbohydrates (often from the gut content of their prey animals). But, in contrast to this, most modern pet foods are very high in carbohydrates like wheat and corn, primarily because they are cheap, whereas animal fats and proteins are expensive. The net result of this is that many processed pet foods can have more than 50% carbohydrates (which results in a significant level of obesity), and most are simple carbohydrates which are easily converted to sugars (not like complex carbohydrates (eg. whole grains) that have a low GI – Glycaemic Index – and are not so easily/quickly converted to blood sugars). With such a large amount of carbohydrate available (often up to 4-5 times the normal requirement) the dog or cats body must produce up to 4-5 times as much insulin to cope with this, and the net result long term is failure of these insulin producing cells, and the end result is Diabetes. This mimics the Type 2 adult diabetes syndrome we are seeing in epidemic proportions in humans eating the typical western diet (high in sugar and carbohydrate).
So how does a raw food diet alter this ?
Primarily, animals fed on a raw meat diet, with 60-80% of the diet being meat, will simply not develop diabetes in the first place. But, for pets that have developed diabetes all ready, changing the diet to raw meat does several fundamental things.
1. Reducing the total amount of carbohydrate in the diet and replacing with fresh meat – this immediately reduces the amount of insulin required on a daily basis to handle the blood sugar levels. In cats, it is quite possible to have them totally (100%) revert back to normal and have NO requirement for insulin at all.
2. Providing naturally occurring levels of micronutrients like chromium and vanadium, which are both integral to the cells in the pancreas that produce natural insulin. By providing these micro-nutrients which are found in a well-designed raw food diet, many dogs can start producing higher levels of their own insulin, which results in a much lower requirement for external insulin injections.
NOTE : IT IS VERY IMPORTANT TO MONITOR YOUR PETS BLOOD SUGAR LEVELS IF YOU INTEND TO CHANGE TO A RAW FOOD DIET !!!
I have had many cases of diabetic dogs over the years that have responded very favourably to a change to Vets All Natural raw meat diets, but it is vital that the owners are familiar with doing regular urine tests and weekly blood sugar tests to monitor changes in insulin requirements. As a pet’s need for insulin reduces, the amount of insulin given by injection must correspondingly be reduced – or you can mistakenly give an overdose of insulin, which can cause hypoglycaemia, a diabetic coma, or even be fatal. It is very important to discuss your decisions and dietary changes with your veterinarian so they can teach you how to monitor your pet at home.
The simplest measurement is from a urine dipstick that measures both simple sugar and ketones in the urine. A Daily test (ideally the first urine sample of the day) can form a great record over time that can indicate a trend in urine sugar levels. If they are consistently reducing, then you should discuss reducing the insulin injection amounts your pet is receiving each day.
One of my earliest cases was a small terrier cross that came to me with a daily dose of 18 units of Caninsulin. We changed the dog to a total raw food diet, and monitored the dog’s blood sugar levels closely. Over a period of 8-12 months, the dog’s insulin requirement progressively dropped, until it was maintained on a dose of only 2 units per day. This dog went on to live until it was 18 years old, the last 7 years as a diabetic (the average life expectancy for diabetic dogs is usually only 2-3 years).
A raw food diet does play a significant role in both treatment, and prevention, of diabetes in dogs and cats, but it is VITAL that you know what you are doing if you are going to consider changing your dog or cat’s diet if he/she is diabetic.
Supplements of trivalent chromium (chromium picolinate) and vanadium have been shown to assist the pancreas to improve production of insulin. Herbs like cinnamon and gymnema also function in this way – An over the counter product called Ethical Nutrients Chromium Sugar Balance is an excellent supplement to use in dogs and cats with diabetes. Because we are dealing with type 2 diabetes, the condition is in part, or fully, reversible, and so pet owners must closely monitor their pet’s blood sugar levels when making changes to diet and adding supplements.
This article was written and authorised by:
Dr Bruce Syme BVSc (Hons)
Founder of Vets All Natural
For more information visit www.vetsallnatural.com.au
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Dr Bruce Syme is a practicing vet and animal lover who founded Vets All Natural in 1996 with a simple mission, to “Improve the health and longevity of dogs and cats”. Dr Bruce is an expert in natural pet nutrition, has spoken at the Australian Veterinary Association Annual Conference, and provides regular comment on TV and Radio.
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Disclaimer: The entire contents of this article are based upon the opinions of Dr. Bruce Syme, unless otherwise noted. The information is not intended as medical advice, it simply shares the knowledge and information from the research and experience of Dr. Bruce and his community. Pet health care decisions should be based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified pet health care professional.
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