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Diabetes mellitus - a nutritional disease

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

Under normal conditions the pancreas produces sufficient levels of the hormone ‘insulin’ and releases it directly into the blood stream. Once in the bloodstream it enables the glucose present to move through cell membranes and into tissues where it can be broken down and provide valuable energy for the bodies essential functions. When the pancreas is unable to produce a sufficient volume of insulin to balance the glucose present in the blood stream, blood glucose levels continue to rise and the disease diabetes mellitus results[1]. Additional strain is placed on the kidneys as they aid in removing the excess glucose from the blood allowing it to be excreted in the urine, usually with additional water excreted too. As the glucose levels within the blood continue to rise the damage extends beyond the kidneys with the liver and other organs all at risk of suffering irreversible damage[2].

Cats and dogs have evolved with digestive systems perfectly designed to derive their energy and other nutrients from a carnivorous diet, based on meat, fat and bones with only a small need for carbohydrates and fibre. The modern commercial diets with their high carbohydrate content and inadequate zinc levels are a recipe for obesity and diabetes. As the pancreas works overtime to manage the unnaturally high blood glucose levels, pancreatic function progressively declines as the cells fail to keep up with the demand placed on them. The development of diabetes is the inevitable outcome.

Just as a poor diet can cause diabetes, a raw, balanced, species appropriate diet can prevent, or at least help in managing the disease if the damage has already occurred. Aside from the insulin support a vet will provide there are a number of nutritional changes that can support the diabetic pet. Transitioning the pet carefully to a raw species appropriate diet is the first step but this must be done with the support of the pet owners vet. There are a number of holistic vets who support raw diets with a voluntary registry available online via a local raw feeding network for New Zealand pet owners to access.

Constructing the diabetic pets diet begins with good lean meaty bones, game animals are preferred over farm animals as they tend to be leaner however any meat cuts can be trimmed to reduce the fat content if options are limited, for example due to allergies[3]. Dark leafy greens are an excellent source of fibre and other much needed nutrients without providing excess carbohydrates; easily blended with a little water they provide a useful medium for other supplements if needed. Whilst common to add fruits and other various plant based ingredients to a raw diet as a means of mimicking the gut contents of prey, the diabetic diet should avoid foods which are known to have a high glyceamic index as these would create an unwanted spike in blood sugar levels and add to the need for insulin support [3]. Splitting the daily food into multiple smaller meals is preferable to one large meal as it helps to maintain balanced blood sugar and insulin levels [4]. With diabetes there is often obesity, increasing the pets exercise with gentle walking or swimming and restoring a healthy weight is desirable in managing the condition.


[1] Smith, R. N. 1991. Anatomy & Physiology II: Assimilation of the results of digestion. In D. R. Lane, Jones's Animal Nursing, 5th ed. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press. [2] Hill, F. W. 1991. Infections and medical diseases: Endocrine disorders. In D. R. Lane, Jones's Animal Nursing, 5th ed. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press. [3] Syme, B. 2011. Scientific Guide to Natural Nutrition. Southbank, Australia: Vets All Natural Pty Ltd. [4] Anderson, R. S. 1991. Nutrition and feeding. In D. R. Lane, Jones's Animal Nursing, 5th ed. Oxford, England: Pergamon Press.


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