Diabetes in dogs is a common disorder and is similar to juvenile diabetes in people in which the pancreas cannot produce sufficient amount of insulin. This page looks at the symptoms, health risks, and treatment of this disease. It also discusses how to use some natural remedies such as herbs and supplements to help dogs with diabetes.
Diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) is a common autoimmune disorder in both cats and dogs. Pets that are obese, as well as neutered male cats and unspayed female dogs are more prone to the disease.
Most dogs that have diabetes are between 7 to 9 years old, although it can occur to very young dogs as well.
Sugar diabetes is divided into Type I and Type II.
Type I diabetes (similar to juvenile diabetes in people) occurs when the body attacks the pancreatic cells that make insulin.
When your dog's body does not have enough insulin, the body is unable to properly utilize or store blood sugar, resulting in increased sugar levels.
The excessive sugar spills over into the urine and is removed from the body. As a result, the body tissues do not have enough blood sugar to sustain a consistent energy level.
In type II diabetes mellitus, insulin is still produced, but it is either not adequately produced, or the cells are not as sensitive to it as they should be.
If the cells are not sensitive enough, then even though insulin is present, glucose cannot enter the cells.
Type II diabetes is associated with obesity, and in many cases can be cured with weight loss and exercise. This form is uncommon in dogs and is frequently referred to as non-insulin dependent diabetes (NIDDM).
Glucose is sugar, and is the direct energy source for the cells in an animal's body to stay alive. Glucose can be ingested directly. In addition, carbohydrates are broken down into glucose by the body. Even fats and proteins are converted to glucose by the body.
Insulin is a hormone produced by beta cells in the pancreas. Insulin allows glucose to enter the cells so it can be used as a fuel. Without insulin, glucose cannot enter the cells. If glucose cannot enter, the cells die.
When a healthy dog eats, glucose level in the blood increases, which then causes an increase in insulin. The increase in insulin allows the glucose to enter the cells where it is either used or stored.
A drop in the level of glucose in the blood signals the pancreas to stop releasing insulin.
If the blood glucose drops too low another hormone, glucagon, is released which signal the cells to release some of the stored glucose. Thus a fine balance between glucose and insulin levels is maintained.
There are several possible causes of sugar diabetes in dogs:
In addition, dogs whose diets consist of too much high glycemic food (e.g. corn, whole wheat, rice, white potatoes, carrots) can also develop diabetes over time. It is therefore important to feed our dogs species-appropriate diets (higher amounts of good-quality animal protein, small amounts of low glycemic foods, no grains and starch).
Since diabetes mellitus is a type of autoimmune disorder (it happens when the immune system attacks the pancreas), over-vaccination may be a cause of diabetes. Instead of letting our vets vaccinate our pets annually, therefore, insist on a titer test.
Dogs with diabetes show four classic symptoms:
The reason for the above symptoms is that the dog's body knows that it should decrease the high blood glucose level. Since it cannot decrease the glucose by cellular uptake, it then tries to eliminate it in the urine.
To eliminate glucose in the urine, the dog needs to drink a lot more water to produce a lot of urine.
Also, even though there is plenty of glucose in the blood, the cells are still hungry because they cannot get the glucose, so they signal the body to eat more. Though more food is being eaten, the body loses weight because the food cannot be used.
Besides the above hallmark symptoms, there are other signs of diabetes, such as:
Unfortunately, there is no cure for diabetes in dogs. Insulin therapy is the most common treatment for canine diabetes.
In addition to insulin treatment, if you have a dog with diabetes, you also need to take a holistic approach to manage all facets of your dog's life in order to keep the glucose levels in check.
In particular, it is extremely important to pay attention to your pet's diet, supplements, exercise, and weight control.
The general guidelines for a healthy diabetic dog diet are:
Foods to avoid:
A regular exercise program is important as it has the effect of decreasing insulin needs. However, irregular exercise will destabilize insulin needs, so the key is to:
If there is a change in the daily exercise routine, diabetic dogs can become seriously hypoglycemic (dangerously low blood sugar level). As a precaution, therefore, always carry some sugar source with you when you take your diabetic dog out for exercise.
If your diabetic dog is obese, gradual weight loss is highly recommended. Weight loss may help to reduce your dog's need for insulin. However, the key is to lose weight gradually. Rapid weight loss should be avoided.
Supplements should be added to a diabetic dog 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 to one tablespoon (depending on the size of your dog) of brewer's yeast with each meal to your dog. Vitamins C and E are also essential.
Herbs can also be used to help strengthen and support major body systems that have been weakened by diabetes. Dogs with diabetes are unlikely to be able to fully utilize nutrients, so herbs that aid digestion and nutrient absorption will be beneficial to diabetic dogs.
Dandelion leaf, alfalfa, and calendula are such herbs.
Some herbs are effective in maintaining and moderating blood sugar levels, such as dandelion root and burdock root.
Aloe vera and fenugreek seeds have also been found to be able to reduce blood sugar levels and stimulate insulin production in diabetic animals.
Garlic is another useful herb for diabetes in dogs. Garlic stimulates the stomach and intestines and increases digestive organ function.
Cinnamon may also be helpful for dogs with diabetes as it may improve how the body uses glucose by enhancing the action of insulin. Since cinnamon is also an antioxidant and is good for dogs, it does not hurt to sprinkle some cinnamon on your diabetic dog's food on a regular basis.
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.
This formula contains a lot of herbs that are effective in maintaining sugar levels in the blood, as well as to support the liver and the pancreas. Very effective!