If your pet has been diagnosed with diabetes, you know that you’ll be helping them manage their disease for the rest of their life. Diabetes can have some debilitating effects; however, many pets go on to live long and happy lives when their symptoms are managed properly.
Because diabetes requires long-term treatment, most vets recommend a holistic treatment plan that includes both lifestyle and pharmaceutical approaches. Besides insulin therapy, which is often necessary, one of the most important aspects of a diabetes treatment plan for pets is diet. Here’s why.
How diabetes works
Diabetes in pets operates very similarly to how it does in humans.
Our pets’ bodies derive energy from glucose, or sugar, which is present in their food. As food is digested in your pet’s stomach and intestines, sugars are extracted and simplified to create glucose. Glucose is then absorbed into the bloodstream, where it circulates until cells take it in for energy.
In order for cells to use glucose for energy, the pancreas needs to produce an important hormone called insulin. Without it, the glucose remains in the blood. When too much glucose is present in the blood (also called high blood glucose or hyperglycemia), your pet can start to feel sick or experience negative side effects. This also means that your pet’s cells aren’t getting the energy they need to function properly.
Diabetes is characterized by one of two insulin-related problems. Type I diabetes is when your pet’s pancreas does not produce enough insulin. Type II is when the pancreas produces a normal amount of insulin, but the cells do not respond to it normally or are resistant to it.
As a result, when either type of diabetes occurs, your pet can suffer from hyperglycemia and a lack of cellular energy. High blood glucose can cause damage to the body’s organs over time, while low cellular energy forces the body to metabolize fat and muscle tissue for energy, causing weight loss.
Pets experiencing diabetes often drink more water and urinate more frequently as a result of the body flushing out excess glucose in the blood. They might also lose weight while retaining their appetite or lose their appetite entirely.
The role diet plays in diabetes
Insulin therapy is a critical factor in helping a pet manage their diabetes. Without insulin, the body is incapable of absorbing glucose in the blood and regulating their blood glucose level.
However, one of the next most important aspects of diabetes treatment is actually diet. That’s right—the food you feed your furry friend can have a dramatic impact on how well their disease is managed over time.
Blood sugar consistency is extremely important for diabetic pets, especially if they also require insulin injections. If your pet’s blood sugar gets too high too quickly, they will experience hyperglycemia due to a lack of insulin. If your pet’s blood sugar drops too low, there will be too much insulin in the blood, causing hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia could cause tremors, seizures and weakness in pets. Both the type of food and the feeding schedule you use play into keeping your pet’s blood glucose levels stable throughout the day.
Most diabetic pets will benefit from being fed a special diet. In cats, low-carbohydrate, high-protein foods are ideal, and high-fiber foods are best for dogs. These diets keep blood glucose levels stable throughout the day and do not flood their systems with glucose their cells can’t put to use.
Carbohydrates are of particular concern when it comes to pet food. Different pet foods are made up of a variety of ingredients and nutrients that get broken down by the body in different ways and at different speeds. Low glycemic carbs—carbs that are broken down slowly—are important aspects of diabetic diets.
For example, think about when you eat an apple versus when you eat a candy bar. The apple has complex carbohydrates that take longer for the body to break down into simple sugars, while the candy bar is processed and full of simple sugars. Therefore, eating an apple won’t cause the same blood sugar spike that eating a candy bar will.
The same thing happens with pet food. Diabetic dogs and cats often benefit from pet food made of complex carbohydrates, so they don’t experience rapid spikes and drops in blood glucose.
Another aspect of diet control to consider with your pet’s diabetes treatment plan is whether your pet is obese or if they are a healthy weight. Obesity and diabetes are closely linked in pets, and weight management is another important tool in managing their condition. If your pet needs to shed some weight, ask your vet about the best weight-loss diet that will also work to keep your pet’s blood glucose stable.
Diet is critical to a well-rounded diabetes treatment plan
If your pet has been diagnosed with diabetes, speak to your vet about the role diet will play in their treatment plan. Avoid changing your pet’s food without speaking to your vet beforehand to ensure that your furry friend’s blood sugar levels stay consistent and healthy day in and day out.