Q- My eight-year-old female domestic short-haired cat, Penny, has been diagnosed with diabetes. I have trouble injecting her and was wondering if there are any other ways to control her diabetes?
T.R., via email
A- Diabetes is one of the most common endocrine (hormonal) diseases in cats. Basically it refers to a chronically high blood glucose level known as 'hyperglycaemia', which happens when the body either doesn't produce enough of the hormone insulin (type 1 diabetes) or doesn't use this vital hormone properly (type 2 diabetes). The incidence of these disorders is growing rapidly in both humans and cats, and is thought to be related to the rising rates of obesity in both species.
In general, cats initially develop type 2 diabetes, but by the time the disease is diagnosed by a vet, it has progressed to type 1, so insulin therapy is then required, using either oral medication or injections.
But dietary management is also an important part of diabetes treatment in cats. In fact, diet may even be an important factor in developing the disease in the first place-just like in humans. Processed cat foods are very high in carbohydrates, which can lead to obesity and eventually diabetes.
Changing your cat's diet is one of the best natural methods there is for controlling your cat's diabetes and perhaps even reversing it.
The right diet
One expert in the natural management of feline diabetes is Irish vet Dr Tom Farrington, of Homeopathy for Pets & People (see his website at sites.google.com/site/farringtonvet). Tom has been in practice for 30 years and has been treating diabetic cats for nearly 20 of those years.
"In my practice, feline diabetes is now virtually non-existent," Tom says, other than in referral cases, where clients come to him because their usual vets "live in a different paradigm, where diabetes in the cat is not a curable condition".
According to Tom, the explosion in feline diabetes is entirely down to feeding cats the wrong type of diet. In his experience, changing it from a processed, high-carbohydrate diet to a raw-food diet with some added supplements can cure feline diabetes in many cases.
You should aim to feed Penny a raw-meat diet, fed as 5-7 per cent of her target body weight. So a 4-kg (9-lb) cat would get 200-350 g of raw beef chunks, for example, spread throughout the day.
In many cases, the cat's blood glucose level will stabilize within a few days, so make sure you monitor Penny's blood sugar levels, especially if you're injecting her with insulin, so that she doesn't develop hypoglycaemia (low blood glucose levels). There are some excellent videos on YouTube showing how to do this. You could, for example, use the Bayer Contour Blood Glucose Meter and Test Strips (available at www.farmaline.co.uk; tel: 033 08 08 01 84).
You can buy human-grade, frozen, ready-made complete raw-food diets online that are delivered to your door in refrigerated vans, or you can buy them from pet shops, veterinary surgeries and supermarkets. One brand I recommend to my clients is Nature's Menu (www.naturesmenu.co.uk; tel: 0800 018 37700800 018 3770 FREE).
Aim to keep commercial diabetic foods to a minimum, as they usually contain urinary acidifiers to avoid the urinary infections that arise with uncontrolled diabetes. But this further complicates the acidosis most diabetics are already suffering from, and the wheat and corn in these foods just keep the problems going.
In addition to changing Penny's diet, try giving her the following supplements.
Magnesium. This is generally low in diabetics and even in those with normal blood glucose, as it's soaked up as a buffer to keep the blood from becoming too acidic when glucose levels are high.
Suggested dosage: 100 mg twice daily
Fish oil. This ensures adequate levels of vitamin D, so often deficient in diabetics. In addition to this, I usually give a good blend of plant oils such as hemp, starflower and evening primrose.
Suggested dosage: fish oil: 2 tsp daily; other oils: 1 tsp each
Brewer's yeast. This bumps up B vitamins and chromium. Chromium has proved effective in cases of both hyper- and hypoglycaemia (too much and too little blood sugar, respectively). It works closely with insulin to facilitate the uptake of glucose into cells. Without chromium, insulin's action is blocked and blood sugar levels rise. Chromium deficiency is common in type 2 diabetes.
Suggested dosage: 1/2 tsp Brewer's yeast per 4 kg (9 lb) body weight; 200 mcg chromium daily
Zinc-copper complex. Zinc is often low in diabetics, and some suspect insulin only works when zinc levels are improved.
Suggested dosage: 15 mg zinc picolinate daily; 1 mg copper chelate daily
Vitamin A. This enhances the effectiveness of zinc, thus supporting immune function, eye health, antioxidant activity and the reproductive system.
Suggested dosage: 500 IU/day
Wheat, barley grass or Spirulina powder. These help to alkalize the blood.
Lutein and other bioflavonoids. Found in most antioxidant supplements, these can protect against diabetic cataracts.
Vitamin C. This offers general immune support; I like the Viridian brand because it seems to cause much less stomach upset. Suggested dosage: at least 1,000 mg/day
Pro-/prebiotics. These help ward off the side-effects of any antibiotic drugs given because of concurrent bacterial infections. Antibiotics also kill off good bacteria, thus decreasing vitamin-B production in the intestines. If cats are then fed diets that encourage the growth of yeast and other pathogens, this will just add to the problems diabetics have.
Homeopathy Remedies like Iris Versicolor, Lycopodium, Natrum Sulphuricum and Phosphorus can be very helpful for diabetic cats.
Herbs. Herbal tinctures of Syzygium and the herb Gymenia sylvestre have both been shown to lower blood sugar in diabetics.
Suggested dosage: 10 drops twice daily of each
Elderberry and nettle extracts. Available from Dorwest herbs (www.dorwest.com; tel: 01308 897 27201308 897 272), these can help protect against the side-effects of diabetes in general.
Suggested dosage: 1/4 tsp once daily
What is it?
Also known as 'sugar diabetes', diabetes mellitus is a common condition in cats that arises when the animal either doesn't produce enough (type 1 diabetes) or doesn't properly use (type 2 diabetes) insulin. Insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas, is responsible for regulating blood glucose (sugar) levels by transporting glucose into cells, where it's used for energy production. When insulin is deficient or ineffective, blood glucose levels build up (hyperglycaemia), and the body is not able to efficiently use glucose as a source of energy, relying instead on other sources such as the breakdown of fats or protein.
What causes it?
The exact cause is still not fully understood but, just like human diabetes, it's thought that genetics, pancreatic disease, hormonal conditions, obesity and certain medications play a role.
What are the signs?
o Excessive urination (polyuria)
o Excessive thirst (polydipsia)
o Weight loss
o Increased appetite (polyphagia).
Less common signs include:
o A plantigrade stance or 'dropped-leg syndrome', where that cat walks on its hocks
o Anorexia associated with ketoacidosis (buildup of ketones due to a lack of insulin).
How is it diagnosed?
Diabetes is diagnosed based on clinical signs, glucose or ketones in the urine and persistently high blood glucose levels. But cats that are stressed can also have raised blood glucose levels-and cats are often stressed when visiting the vet. This is why owners need to measure blood glucose levels at home on a regular basis (see main text).
What's the conventional treatment?
Dr Andy Sparkes, veterinary director at International Cat Care, says: "There is no simple recipe for dealing with this condition. It is complicated because the ability of owners to get involved in the management of these cats varies so much."
Diabetic cats are at increased risk of urinary tract infections, so urine cultures should be performed. Cats do best with long-acting insulin and low-carbohydrate diets. The aim of therapy is to maintain the cat's blood glucose levels above 3 mmol/L but below 14 mmol/L during most of any 24-hour period.
Ideally, blood glucose monitoring should be done by cat owners at home. If owners aren't able to take blood samples, they need to monitor their cats' daily activity and water intake, both of which are good indicators of trends in blood glucose levels.