This is the first part of a two-part article discussing diabetes in dogs and cats. The first part will discuss the disease, the two types of the disease and what causes it. In the second part, I will discuss how it is treated from a holistic perspective and what can be done to prevent it.
In the US there is an epidemic of diabetes and pets. Let’s take a look at this disease, get an idea as to what causes it, how it is treated and what can be done to prevent it. This is obviously my perspective, which over the years has helped many diabetic dogs and cats.
Diabetes is a disease that is caused by the body’s improper utilization of insulin. Insulin is a hormone that moves glucose (sugar) from the blood into the cells. We refer to this as a feast and famine disease. The blood has too much glucose and the cells are starving for glucose. This presents two sets of symptoms. Elevated blood sugar causes an increase thirst and increased urine output. This is usually what flags the pet caretaker to take the pet to the vet.
The other symptoms that are not as apparent are caused by the depriving the cells their required sugar. The cells need sugar as a source of energy. You probably remember this from science in high school. The Krebs cycle, where sugar is broken down in the cells and ADP is converted to ATP to provide biochemical energy.
Diabetics, without the sugar in their cells, would die if there were not a backup system. When the cells don’t have sugar as their energy source, they go into an alternative metabolic pathway where the body breaks down fat to provide energy for the cells. This alternative pathway is a temporary process to maintain life and in time can become a life-threatening problem. This is also responsible for the other symptoms we see with long-term diabetics: weight loss, neuropathies, cataract formation, organ failure, etc. Obviously, the cells can’t survive without a permanent energy source.
When fat is used by the cells for energy the byproduct of this pathway is the production of ketones. You have likely heard of the Keto diet. This is basically the same thing; depriving cells of carbohydrates (sugar) in order to force the body into using fat for energy causing weight loss.
Ketones produced in the cells are returned to the blood stream and the levels over time accumulate. This will cause a change in blood ph, called ketoacidosis, which is extremely dangerous and can be life threatening and many patients die from this. Diabetes in pets may often go undetected until the ketoacidosis occurs and they crash, end up at the emergency room with critical care in order to save their life. This is one reason that I don’t recommend the Keto diet as a diet for healthy pets or people.
The pancreas plays a vital role in diabetes. The pancreas has two major functions: endocrine and exocrine. The exocrine function of the pancreas is to produce the pancreatic enzymes for digestion while the endocrine function is to produce insulin. Different cells in the pancreas are responsible for this dual purpose. This is important to remember when we look at this disease from a holistic perspective.
There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 diabetes is basically when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin. There is much debate as to how this happens from a conventional medicine perspective. Type 2 diabetes is when the pancreas produces enough insulin but the body does not utilize its own insulin. The theory is that the immune system is over-reactive and somehow targets the insulin, blocking its effects. This type is referred to insulin-resistant diabetes and is by far the most common type in people. It is important to remember that in dogs, the most common type of diabetes is type 1 and in cats the most common type is type 2.
Typically, in dogs, it is just a matter of providing more insulin and they regulate easily. In cats, it is more difficult as it is an insulin-resistance and often takes more insulin or using different types of insulin to get the pet regulated (getting sugar back into the cells).
Diagnosing diabetes. Most of the time when a vet thinks that the pet might be diabetic, a blood and urine sample are taken. Remember, that when you take your pet to the vet, try to schedule an early appointment and do not feed the pet that morning. This will allow a 12 hour fast that is required to accurately assess the blood sugar. If a blood sample is taken within a few hours after a meal, the blood sugar will be elevated in a normal individual. If it is a fasting blood sample and the blood sugar is elevated, usually over 200, then a tentative diagnosis of diabetes is made. The urine will be assessed because if the blood sugar rises over 220 then it spills over into the urine. There will be sugar detected in the urine, which will likely confirm the diagnosis. The clinician will also be looking for ketones in the urine. If the pet has a high level of ketones in the urine, the clinician should be aware that the diabetes has been going on for sometime and that there is a high probability of ketoacidosis occurring and a potential for a crisis. She will usually be very aggressive at driving the blood sugar down with insulin to prevent a life-threatening situation.
It is very important to remember that if a pet has had diabetes for sometime, which most of them have, using insulin to regulate the blood sugar is very important. I have had clients that did not want to use insulin as they were against using pharmaceuticals and this is not a holistic approach. Holistic means looking at everything. I recommend getting the pet regulated using insulin and into a positive energy state while working on restoring balances that caused the problem.