The answer is yes! This article explains how and why diabetes develops in cats, and the steps you can take to reverse the process and regain health for your feline friend.
Diabetes mellitus is a very common endocrine disease in cats, and its incidence has risen dramatically over the last several decades. In 1970, one in 1,000 cats developed diabetes; by 1999, the numbers had risen to one in 100 to 200. Today, the incidence of feline diabetes is closer to one in 100 and is correlated with a rise in obesity, which is estimated to affect 63% of cats. There are around 93 million cats in the US: if one in every 100 is diabetic, that translates to a huge number, of epidemic proportions. What can be done about it? Can diabetes in cats be reversed? To find out, it is helpful to understand why the disease develops in the first place; the causes are multifactorial and directly related to diet, lifestyle, and increased exposure to environmental toxins. We can then look at what we can do to reverse the processes leading to diabetes in our cats.
Normal Metabolism and Nutritional Requirements in Cats
Cats are obligate carnivores. This means that for survival and optimal health, they must consume protein. They have very little, if any, dietary requirements for carbohydrates.
Based on their physique and dentition, cats are designed to hunt, pounce, tear and shred their food. In the wild, carnivores consume herbivores.
Did you know? The prey-model diet of a cat eating a mouse a day should be highly beneficial, and studies in which domestic cats were allowed to choose what they wanted to eat have shown they self-select a high-moisture, high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet.
Unfortunately, many commercial kibble formulations contain up to 55% carbohydrates. From this perspective, it may seem that restricting all carbohydrates is the solution to diabetes. However, if that was the case, why aren’t all cats eating high-carb diets diabetic? The answer depends on other mitigating factors.
Causes of Diabetes
Diabetes mellitus involves an imbalance of multiple metabolic systems, and essentially a mal-regulation of glucose metabolism. In general, the body’s exposure to too much sugar (glucose and carbohydrates) is what kicks off the process. It results from a slow, chronic assault to the physiology, affecting the processing of nutrients from the level of the gastrointestinal tract, pancreas, liver metabolism, and lymphatic detoxification system to the secretion and utilization of hormones, enzymes, co-factors and more.
The cellular effects of inflammation, oxidative stress, altered membrane permeability, ionic homeostasis mechanisms, and the expression of poor-quality proteins due to epigenetic factors form the foundation of the changes that manifest into a dysregulation between glucose and insulin.
Did you know? A variety of factors predispose cats to diabetes, and it seems obesity is the greatest in precipitating diabetes as compared to just an increase in carbohydrate consumption.
A domesticated lifestyle means that a large number of cats have become more sedentary and graze leisurely on an endless supply of highly processed, low quality commercially-prepared kibble. Humans, in essence, have helped turned their cats into lazy carb-junkies.
So Can Type 2 Diabetes Be Reversed?
Among all this complexity, the good news is that the body is designed for health and homeostasis. Since food is what the body uses as fuel, the digestive system and all the metabolic by-products, reactions and interactions are elegantly designed for the ingestion, absorption and utilization of nutrients. All we need to do is help the body do what it does best.
Treating Diabetes in Cats – Supporting the Body
Once diabetes is diagnosed, it is important to recognize any other compounding factor, such as obesity, pancreatitis, urinary tract infection, or inflammatory bowel conditions. As cats have very specific nutrient requirements, we can start by supporting the body in a variety of ways:
- Feed a species-appropriate, high-moisture, biologically available diet
- Initiate at-home glucose monitoring and insulin therapy as directed by your veterinarian
- Provide adequate sources of:
- Vitamin A: beef liver, pumpkin, sweet potato skins, cantaloupe
- Taurine: scallops, shrimp, cod, Nori seaweed
- Arginine: turkey, pork, chicken, spirulina, pumpkin seeds, some cheese, garbanzo beans, lentils
- B12: lamb liver, sardines, trout, salmon, fortified nutritional yeast
- Increase exercise and enrichment activities
- Institute a detoxification, cellular-cleansing protocol using homeopathy, zeolite or clinoptilolite sources
- Use natural anti-inflammatory agents such as nutraceuticals and essential oils
- Decrease stress
This process may take several months, but as you institute this therapy with the guidance of a holistic veterinarian, your cat’s biological system can find its way back to optimal function.
Veterinarian Dr. Barrie Sands received her DVM degree from Ross University in 1991. She achieved her CVA certification from IVAS in 2003, followed by advanced training in food and herbal therapies and homeopathy. Dr. Sands has been working at the VCA Emergency and Referral Center in San Diego since 1996 in the Emergency Critical Care department, and is head of the Integrative Holistic department. She is a certified trainer for the Institute of HeartMath. Dr. Barrie authored the book The Stupid Things My Human Does; True Stories from the Animal ER.