How a wholesome diet and veterinary care can work together to help diabetic dogs
The purpose of this article is to help dogs who suffer from diabetes and discuss why diabetes in dogs can be prevented by using holistic healing methods.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes falls into the category of hormonal diseases where the body, more precisely the pancreas, loses its ability to produce insulin, or there is an overproduction of the glucose releasing hormone - glucagon.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas (also called Langerhans islets). Its primary function is to make carbohydrates (sugars) available to the cells as a source of energy. If the insulin level is insufficient, or if it is entirely absent, sugars accumulate in the bloodstream. However, the cells are starved of energy because they can’t utilize carbohydrates directly.
I visualize insulin as a fuel tank release cap in a car. If the cap is not open, the car cannot be refueled and it will eventually stop. There can be plenty of gas at the pump, but if the tank is not open when you start pumping, it will spill around the car and cause pollution or even a fire.
In the case of diabetes, the fire can be compared to a process called diabetic ketoacidosis, by which the sugar-starved cells give the body a signal to burn fat to supply energy. When fat starts burning fast, it creates ketones, toxic byproducts that can cause a state of severe intoxication that can be potentially life-threatening.
The more recent opinions suggest that diabetes is also caused by overproduction of the hormone Glucagon, which has the opposite function of insulin. It releases glucose into the bloodstream if the levels are low. Glucagon overproduction by the alpha cells of the pancreas can also lead to elevated sugar levels and diabetes.
Bad luck, genetics, or no coincidence?
There is a good percentage of people who believe that diabetes is purely bad luck and genetics. While genetics plays an important role in diabetes, most scientists agree that genes cannot manifest without additional factors.
So what is it that causes diabetes in dogs, other than genetics?
Just a few paragraphs above, I mentioned that diabetes is very rare or virtually absent in dogs who eat a non-processed, grain-free diet of cooked or raw meat, raw bones, organs, and vegetables.
It appears that processed food companies either have not done their homework, or they are not being honest with us when they claim that kibble is better than wholesome food. In essence, they are saying that nature is wrong.
Based on my experience, providing a balanced, wholesome diet and essential natural supplements eliminates the chances of diabetes almost entirely.
Strain and inflammation of the pancreas may be the primary causes of diabetes
While there is a definite genetic component to diabetes, it also has a lot to do with inflammation and the formation of antibodies against the pancreas.
The canine pancreas is designed to digest mainly meat and other protein along with a small amount of plant material. Dogs have evolved eating minimal or no starchy, grain-based foods and such foods put a high degree of stress on the pancreas.
We all know that ducks are not great runners, but they are good fliers. Turtles are not great walkers, but they are excellent swimmers. The canine pancreas is not great at dealing with high levels of carbohydrates, but it is incredibly efficient in digesting protein. If a dog eats high-carbohydrate or even grain-free, but processed food, the pancreas gets stressed and inflamed. This inflammation leads to the destruction of pancreatic beta cells and the formation of antibodies against the pancreatic tissue.
To summarize, highly processed foods lead to a strain on the pancreas, which leads to inflammation, which leads to antibody formation, the destruction of pancreatic tissue, and finally, diabetes.
Symptoms of Diabetes
The symptoms of diabetes are usually not very specific. Increased thirst, urination, and appetite, weight loss, inappetence, vomiting, cataracts and weakness are the most common signs.
Diabetes is generally diagnosed by detecting increased levels of fasting blood and urine glucose. It is important to repeat the blood glucose test several times, as dogs often respond to the stress of blood collection with increased sugar levels and a one-time test can yield a false positive.
Measuring the fructosamine level is also helpful. It is usually elevated in diabetes, but not in stress-induced hyperglycemia (high sugar levels).
1. Choosing the Right Veterinarian
The most important thing is to work with an experienced veterinarian who is open to a natural approach to nutrition and who will not try to make you feed your dog processed food and make you feel guilty.
If your veterinarian claims that raw or cooked homemade diets are unsuitable or even dangerous for your dog, consider finding another vet. As an alternative, have an open discussion about why you wish to feed a raw or cooked diet.
You may also ask whether he/she feels that recipes like this one (from one of the major pet food companies) are good.
Whole Grain Corn, Powdered Cellulose, Corn Gluten Meal, Chicken Liver Flavor, Chicken By-Product Meal, Soybean Mill Run, Chicken, Dried Beet Pulp, Soybean Oil, Lactic Acid, Caramel color, Calcium Sulfate, Potassium Chloride, Flaxseed, L-Lysine, Choline Chloride, vitamins (Vitamin E Supplement, L-Ascorbyl-2-Polyphosphate (source of vitamin C) , Niacin Supplement, Thiamine Mononitrate, Vitamin A Supplement, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Vitamin B12 Supplement, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Riboflavin Supplement, Folic Acid, Vitamin D3 Supplement), Calcium Carbonate, Taurine, minerals (Ferrous Sulfate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Manganous Oxide, Calcium Iodate, Sodium Selenite), L-Tryptophan, L-Carnitine, Iodized Salt, Mixed Tocopherols for freshness, L-Threonine, Beta-Carotene, Phosphoric Acid, Natural Flavors.
One does not need to conduct scientific research to see that this is not a species' appropriate diet for dogs!
2. Insulin administration
What is the goal of insulin therapy?
Ideally, the goal should be to reduce the periods of abnormal (too high) insulin levels by giving sufficient amounts of insulin that last just the right amount of time without making the blood sugar dangerously low.
Why? If you overdose the insulin, it can cause hypoglycemia (a too-low sugar level) to set in, which can be life-threatening.
In most situations, NPH or Lente is the initial insulin started, at a dose of 0.5 U/kg every 12 hours. It is important to feed two meals of equal calories at the time of insulin administration. If your dog does not eat his or her meal, it is better to reduce or skip the insulin dose to prevent hypoglycemia (low sugar state). Once again, I need to emphasize that you need to work with a veterinarian while managing your dog's diabetes.
Remember that when you start the holistic treatment of your dog’s diabetes mentioned here, the need for insulin will likely be lower, or, if your dog is lucky, it can fully recover.
Twelve to 24-hour glucose curve and fructosamine levels will be needed to establish your dog's requirements.
How to Achieve Perfect Blood Sugar Regulation
Naturally, insulin requirements will not be constant. They will fluctuate based on the amount of food consumed, exercise, stress levels and mental exertion.
As time progresses, you will recognize the symptoms of hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia (low/high blood sugar) and learn to measure your dog’s insulin at home using a glucometer.
3. Diet and Supplements
When it comes to diabetes, most questions that we get are about diet and supplements. The best way to feed a diabetic dog is to offer a species-appropriate diet of meat, bones and predominantly leafy, green vegetables.
The purpose of this article is not to give you a crash course on feeding your dog a raw or cooked diet, but here are a few simple principles.
- Avoid all grain and rice.
- There is no kibble that I recommend, even grain-free is not optimal for a diabetic dog.
- Raw, dehydrated diets may be the middle of the road. However, a raw or cooked diet is ideal.
- There is not much of a difference in results for raw and cooked diets.
- Feed about 50 to 65 percent raw or cooked meat, 10 to 25 percent raw bones and 10 to 25 percent green, leafy vegetables.
Frequency of feeding
I usually feed a meat and veggie mix five days a week and either chicken carcasses or lamb bones two days a week. You do not need to give anything else on the bone days. Bone and meat are similar in calorie density.
The amount of food to feed is approximately one pound per 50 pounds of body weight. Small and active dogs will need up to twice this amount and large dogs may eat as little as half. Ideally, you should be able to count your dog's ribs, but you should not see them if his or her hair is short, wet, or shaved.
Additional links to articles on raw bone feeding and what vegetables are good for dogs are included at the end of this article.
How Often to Feed
Healthy, non-diabetic dogs should ideally eat once a day in order to rest their digestive tract and glands. However, diabetic dogs should eat twice daily and insulin should be administered right after your dog's meal. I do not suggest feeding your dog more than twice a day.
Nutrient deficiencies may be one of the leading causes of diabetes and is also one of the most common reasons for poorly regulated diabetes. There are several thousand enzymes participating in several hundred bio-reactions and these can't happen without the presence of minerals, vitamins, essential amino acids and other nutrients.
In summary, the depletion of nutrients in soils leads to diet deficiencies that ultimately lead to disease. Diabetic patients also excrete minerals at a higher rate, which leads to additional losses.
- Test for minerals and toxins before starting your supplement protocol
A HairQ test will give you an understanding of your dog’s initial status before you start giving supplements. It will help you finely tune the supplement plan and it may also answer some questions about why your dog ended up with diabetes. I suggest that you recheck your dog’s HairQ test twice a year to be able to adjust supplements accordingly and achieve the best results.
- Avoid artificial supplements and vitamins.
Most people do not realize that the vast majority of supplements on the market are synthetic and that they are made chemically from coal or crude oil.
There is an enormous difference between naturally sourced or cultured supplements and the ones that are made artificially. Natural nutrients are bound in complex bio-proteins and the body knows how to manage these.
While artificial vitamins can resemble the natural ones, they can be seen as the artificial plastic apples in a fake fruit bowl. The body has a limited ability to regulate them and they often create severe imbalances that I see by using the HairQ test.
- Provide naturally grown or cultured essential supplements.
There are four primary groups of nutrients that dogs need:
- Plant-based minerals and amino acids (GreenMin)
- Naturally cultured vitamins (SoulFood)
- Probiotics to support digestion and immunity (GutSense)
- Essential fatty acids oil, such as FeelGood Omega.
I suggest you avoid fish oils and blends that have not been independently tested for mercury and other heavy metals. I have seen such oils being a source of these toxins and find repeatedly elevated levels in dogs on fish diets and fish oil blends.
5. Support the pancreas
I mentioned at the beginning of the article that one of the main causes of diabetes is the inflammation and resulting destruction of the pancreas beta cells.
Pancreatrophin PMG is a glandular supplement that is known to neutralize damaging antibodies against the pancreas. This supplement is an important part of diabetes treatment and prevention.
6. Energy flow
I have mentioned in many other articles that good spinal energy flow in the body is crucial in preventing and treating disease. Each organ gets its energy supply from a different spinal segment and if a particular section is tight, injured and congested, the organ will suffer and potentially become diseased. The pancreas gets its energy supply from the thoracic lumbar junction, the space between the last thoracic and first lumbar vertebrae.
I strongly suggest that every diabetic dog, and also every healthy dog, see an experienced animal chiropractor, physiotherapist or osteopath.
As a veterinarian trained in animal homeopathy, I have seen significant improvement in dogs with a variety of conditions. However, homeopathy is a very complex discipline and my experience is that only a very experienced and skilled homeopath can achieve good results. Each patient requires a thorough assessment and there is no single remedy or cookbook approach to homeopathy when it comes to diabetes. If you are interested in homeopathy, I suggest that you do not attempt to do it yourself and instead work with an experienced animal homeopath.
Keep It Simple
I often see people frantically searching for answers regarding the treatment of diabetes and they frequently end up confused after finding conflicting information. My approach to the treatment of any disease is to make it as simple and concise as possible. While I suggest that you seek the help of a local veterinarian to help you manage your dog’s condition, remaining grounded and organized and not jumping from protocol to protocol is the key to success.
While the ultimate treatment goal is reversing your dog’s diabetes to the point where no insulin is needed, such results are still relatively uncommon.
However, if you follow the above plan, there is a very good chance that your dog will be healthier, his or her diabetes will be easier to control and the insulin requirement will be lower.
If you are living with a diabetic dog, he is lucky to have you because you have read the article all the way to here and obviously care.
The suggestions I have mentioned here are relatively simple. Learn how to measure and regulate your dog’s sugar levels, feed a species-appropriate diet, give all-natural supplements, exercise your dog regularly and keep his or her spine aligned and well.
Now, when you know that diabetes is a highly preventable disease, focusing on prevention is the key. Avoid feeding processed food, excessive vaccination, unnecessary pharmaceuticals, such as antibiotics, painkillers, or monthly flea, worm and tick medications whenever you can.
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© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM