Diabetes mellitus is treatable. Some breeds of cats are more susceptible to the disease, whose symptoms can include excessive urination, excessive appetite and weight loss, leading to ketoacidosis -- high concentration of ketone bodies -- and other complications. Early detection and aggressive treatment can bring about remission.
Some cats are less than receptive to receiving injections on a repeated basis. Some humans are not able to perform injections, due to physical limitations. Either reason may lead the owner of a companion animal to seek alternatives to daily insulin injections.
Why Use Alternatives to Insulin?
Cats can develop a Type I form of diabetes, in which the body does not produce insulin, or Type II, in which the body produces insulin but does not respond to it. Type II, insulin resistance, is the most common in cats. About 30 percent respond to oral medications such as glipizide and acarbose, which help lower the blood glucose levels. These are most effective for cats with mild diabetes but are not effective for all diabetic cats. Glipizide, or the alternative Glyburide, increases secretion of insulin by the pancreas.
Acarbose, or its alternatives Glucobay and Precose, will inhibit the digestive enzymes that break down starches and promotes more gradual absorption of sugars after a meal; this leads to a more stable blood sugar level. Metaformin --its alternatives are Diabex, Glucophage and Diaformin -- makes insulin stronger by increasing tissue sensitivity. Potentially a good treatment for diabetes, this medication may have side effects and other choices may be preferred.
Vanadium is a trace mineral with properties resembling those of insulin. It may or may not be effective on its own. Chromium picolinate, a vitamin supplement that appears to enhance or strengthen the insulin, is similar to Vanadium in that it supports insulin therapy.
The Diet Alternative
One alternative to insulin is a well-controlled diet, although diet is important even when insulin is administered. A cat with diabetes needs food high in protein and low in carbohydrates. Severely diabetic felines may not thrive on this approach alone, but it can be effective in combination with insulin. If obese, cats must lose weight to regulate their diabetes; they should have regular meals, with no food left out for snacking. Their diet should contain arginine, an amino acid found in meat, that stimulates cells of the pancreas to produce insulin. The biochemical L-carnitine helps transport fats to cells to stimulate the metabolism. Discuss diet and other treatments with a veterinarian before making any changes.
How to Decide
If a cat is obese and drinks and/or urinates often, have him screened for the presence of diabetes and its type. Regular checkups and monitoring of blood glucose levels are necessary; each owner must decide how to best meet this responsibility. Research on diabetes continues, and efforts like the Manhattan Project of Medicine, which studies tissue regeneration, may eventually result in alternative treatment for the disease.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Kathleen March has been a writer for 40 years. A professor and translator of Spanish, Portuguese, and Galician, she has studied several languages and uses them for travel and research. She enjoys medieval architecture and avant-garde poetry. Her work has appeared in numerous critical journals in the U.S. and Spain.