Diabetes in Dog

In today’s society our pets are now afflicted with common human diseases.  One of these is Diabetes.  This disease is due to the body either not producing insulin, referred to as type 1 Diabetes or the body not utilizing it effectively, type 2 Diabetes.  Insulin is a hormone secreted by the pancreas to regulate blood glucose levels.  The following description by Vetwest reveals the importance of insulin:    ‘Insulin promotes the uptake, storage and use of the sugars, fats and amino acids within the body. The role of insulin is much like that of a gatekeeper: in effect, it stands at the surface of body cells and opens the door, allowing glucose to leave the blood stream and pass inside the cells. Glucose is a vital substance that provides much of the energy needed for life, and it must work inside the cells. Without an adequate amount of insulin, glucose is unable to get into the cells. It accumulates in the blood, setting in motion a series of events that can ultimately prove fatal.’

Let’s take a closer look at the causes,  the signs to look for and treatment options. 

Type 1 diabetes where the pancreas is unable to manufacture Beta Cells (insulin producing cells) strikes at a young age and is usually more common in dogs than cats.  It is a serious genetic fault and requires insulin injections.  Type 2 diabetes is where the body has become resistant to insulin absorption or decreased secretion of insulin and normally occurs around middle age.  It is common in cats and seen in older dogs. 

With Type 2 diabetes it is predominantly lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise that impact on your pet’s capability to produce and absorb insulin.  As with human type 2 diabetes, obesity is far and away the biggest reason pets become diabetic.  Most processed food (dry food) is made of grains and carbs.  Our pets have no biological requirement for grains or carbs.  Their essential nutrients are predominantly protein and fats .  These high carb diets are turned into sugar in our pets’ bodies and this excess sugar leads to diabetes.  Research has shown high protein-low carb diets can reverse this type of diabetes. 

In addition to poor diet, many of our pets are obese due to lack of exercise.  More physical exercise can reduce obesity and lower blood sugar levels.  However, too much physical exertion can lead to hypoglycemia so always be careful with a diabetic patient.

Dogs which have had Cushing’s Disease or high use of steroids can also develop diabetes.

Diabetes 1 is not linked to diet.  Some of the major factors contributing to diabetes 1 are genetics, autoimmune issues and pancreatitis.  Half of all canine diabetes cases are thought to be due to autoimmunity, where the body destroys the beta cells.  Some breeds are thought to be more susceptible and 25% of type 1 diabetes is related to pancreatitis where the beta cells are also destroyed.

Early signs are:

  • Ravenous Appetite with weight loss –medical terminology is polyphagia.  This happens as the cells in the animal become starved of energy so the body begins to break down its own stores of fat and protein.  To replace this fuel loss the animal eats more, yet loses weight.  
  • Increased frequency in urination – medical terminology is polyuria.  There is a build-up of sugar in the body so the animal urinates more frequently as it tries to eliminate the excess.
  • Excessive Thirst – medical terminology for drinking more is known as polydipsia.  With excessive urination dehydration can set in so the animal drinks more to compensate.

Later signs include:

  • Vomiting and Diarrhoea
  • Dehydration – Along with excessive urination a bout of vomiting and diarrhoea can also increase the level of dehydration.
  • Weakness and Lethargy – as the cells cannot convert the food into the energy the animal becomes weaker and conserves energy by limiting it exercise.
  • Smelly breath – this is from a build-up of toxic acids known as ketones.  It is said to have a peardrop scent.  Ketones are the by-product of the body utilising its own fat and protein as an energy source since it can longer get enough from food.

Treatment Options
Type 1 Diabetes will require a life-time of insulin injections or oral medication.  That is the only way for these animals to regulate their blood glucose levels.  You can also help your pets by maintaining a regular feeding routine, providing a species appropriate diet and limiting their stress levels. 

However, Type 2 diabetes can possibly be prevented and reversed with the appropriate diet.  Your pets need protein, fibre, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals and water.  Once dogs are weaned they have no use for carbohydrates.  Our pets get their energy or calories from protein and healthy fats.  By feeding a species appropriate diet (in most cases raw) and avoiding processed foods you can help your dog manage diabetes and may even prevent onset or reverse this disease.

Kinesiology may also help your pets with diabetes.  With a series of blood glucose balances and or pancreas balances kinesiology aims to regulate blood glucose levels, hormones that influence blood glucose levels, digestion and absorption of carbohydrates and improved pancreatic function.   

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