Raw Feeding & Diabetes Mellitus
Similar to human public health trends, diabetes and obesity have unfortunately become an epidemic of similar proportions in our dogs and cats. Diabetes mellitus by its medical name is a chronic disease that affects the body’s ability to transform any food eaten into functional energy called glucose sugars. Insulin, a hormone made and released by the pancreas, is responsible for this important process. Without insulin, the sugar stays in the bloodstream and is unusable to the cells. Diabetes occurs when the body is either unable to produce enough insulin to breakdown food into useable energy, or when the body cannot respond to the insulin properly.
Fun Fact: Mellitus is Latin term for sweet, referring to the high level of sugars in both urine and blood that occurs as a result of the disease.
Today, diabetes is one of the most common diseases affecting middle-aged to senior dogs. Dogs develop the Type 1 form, when the pancreas fails to produce insulin after chronic destruction of the gland and because of this, requires lifelong management with regular insulin injections.
Risk factors associated with diabetes include:
- Physically inactive lifestyle
- Breed predisposition: Cairn Terriers, Samoyeds, Schnauzers, Poodles, Labrador Retrievers
- Concurrent disease: hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease), hypothyroidism, kidney disease, pancreatitis
- Chronic inflammation – inflammatory bowel disease, environmental skin allergies
- Diets high in carbohydrates which can cause increased strain on the pancreas
- Use of long-term medications, like steroids
- Obesity – likely linked to the inactive lifestyle
How can a Raw Diet help?
Once your dog is diagnosed with diabetes, switching to a raw diet can help to improve the regulation and control of their disease. While diet is not considered a direct cause of diabetes in dogs, it can be an important factor in preventing and managing it. Dogs will generally require external insulin injections lifelong. However, feeding a meat-based high-protein raw diet will prevent the extreme blood sugar fluctuations associated with carbohydrate-rich dry kibble based diets. Using a raw diet as part of your dog’s diabetes management can lead to successful stable diabetic control on a potentially lower dose of insulin. Raw diets can also support overall metabolism, balanced weight control, and alleviate chronic inflammatory conditions.
In cats, diabetes mellitus is more similar to the Type 2 or non-insulin dependent diabetes in humans. Most cases occur when a cat’s body can no longer responds to the insulin released. This is also referred to as “insulin-resistance”. Often the pancreas will initially compensate by trying to produce more insulin, until the pancreas eventually burns out.
Cats are strict carnivores, meaning they must eat meat as the major portion of their diet. Cats have a unique ability to specifically utilize protein to maintain blood sugar and therefore, have a limited ability to use carbohydrates for energy. Unlike in dogs, high-carbohydrate (dry kibble) diets and obesity are known to be major components of the development of feline diabetes. Lack of exercise and genetic predisposition are additional contributing risk factors. Feline diabetes can also be a secondary disease to other issues such as recurrent pancreatitis, acromegaly (production of excessive growth hormone secretion), and long-term medications like steroids.
How can a Raw Diet help?
For our feline friends, moving away from the dry carbohydrate-based kibble diets on to a species appropriate meat-based raw diet is an effective way to obtain more stable glycemic control. With time and careful management, some cats will even go into diabetic remission (convert back to non-diabetic state) when fed a high-meat diet. A raw diet has many other benefits for cats:
- With high moisture content, it will help them stay hydrated. This can help with urinary tract issues and kidney related problems.
- Promote a healthier digestive system – the food itself is more easily digestible compared to dry kibbles.
- Easier to control weight – a raw diet is a low-carbohydrate diet, making it easier to manage weight gain, which is an important part of feline diabetic stabilization and control.
*Use caution and follow the guidelines when switching your cat’s diet. When changing diets in any diabetic animal, it is important to ensure that your cat is still eating.
In addition to diet, changes to your pet’s lifestyle are also important to maintain control of their diabetes – it’s important to exercise your pet regularly (even indoor cats), and keep them in lean body condition.
*It is important to never change your pet’s diet or insulin dose without first talking to your vet. The amount of insulin your pet requires can change after switching to a different food, and any mismatch between diet and insulin can result in serious, life-threatening complications.