Diabetes is not a disease exclusive to humans, other animals, such as cats and dogs also suffer from it. It is a hormonal disease that requires regular control and daily treatment. The sooner it is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis.
Diabetes is caused by a variety of factors, among them are: obesity, low activity levels, diet, age and genetics. Changes in lifestyle not only affect humans, but also their pets, and obesity is becoming more common amongst humans and pets. Obesity increases by 3-5 the chances of developing diabetes. The lack of exercise and a poor diet increase the levels of blood sugar and tissue insulin resistance. Due to age and genetics, some animals are more prone to developing pancreatic diseases.
Early symptoms include: polyuria (increased urination), thirst, hyperglycaemia (increased blood sugar), renal diseases, weakness, depression, incontinence and infections, the coat becomes coarse, there´s dehydration caused by the excess urination and vomiting, in cats, they tend to walk with their heads down, almost crawling. Dogs often develop cataracts.
Weigh loss occurs rapidly, depending on the stage of the disease, although appetite may increase. Many pets with diabetes will have fatty livers, like humans, and approximately a third of the diabetic cats will show jaundice.
Despite all these very obvious symptoms, they are not entirely exclusive of diabetes, therefore, a blood and urine sample at the vet is totally necessary for a proper diagnosis. Usually, pets are tested for blood sugar and ketone bodies, but sometimes the vet needs to perform other tests, such as seric glycosylated haemoglobin concentrations or fructosamine levels when the animal is stressed.
There´s a variety of treatments depending on the symptoms, the type of diabetes and the diagnosis made by the vet, but in most cases it will include diet and insulin. The importance of diet in animals is indisputable, and in animals suffering from diabetes, essential. To control glucose peaks (glycaemic index), it is recommended to give the animal several small meals a day, instead of just one big meal. The food must be specific for diabetic animals and must possess a series of qualities. Firstly, the ingredients and nutrients delivered by these must remain constant between batches. It must provide sources of soluble and insoluble fibre, it must contain at least 30% (on a dry matter basis) of high quality protein, except for cats with renal disease. Fat should be restricted, because it increases insulin resistance and reduces glucose tolerance, and it must provide essential fatty acids. Carbohydrate intake should be restricted, and the sources should be from complex carbohydrates, with a lower absorption rate.
Supplements that seem to help humans and their pets control their diabetes include Chromium. This mineral is essential for glucose metabolism, and in animals with diabetes chromium reduces tissue resistance to insulin.