Managing Diabetes in Dogs: Spike’s Story
“Spike’s symptoms were weight loss, drinking a lot of water and peeing a lot,” says pet parent Pat. Her Miniature Pinscher (aka a “MinPin”) Spike was diagnosed with diabetes in 2016 at 8 years old, only a month after these symptoms showed. He had seemed otherwise healthy.
Diabetes in dogs is a fairly common medical condition, and it’s completely manageable by an organized pet parent. Much like humans, symptoms gradually appear and include unusual changes in appetite, behavior, frequent urination, and excess thirst. The cause of diabetes in pets is just like humans as well – vets see the following two forms of diabetes in dogs:
- Type I, called insulin dependent diabetes, is caused by a shortage of insulin, which regulates blood sugar. This condition requires insulin injections and is the most common form of the disease in dogs.
- Type II, known as insulin resistant diabetes, is more frequently seen in cats. Some insulin production remains, although it may be too high or low for the animal’s health. Treatment varies.
“When he was tested initially his blood glucose (BG) was in the 600s and 700s – sometimes it was so high there was no reading. I use an AlphaTrack meter and strips and the meter would just say ‘HI,’” continues Pat. “It took about a year to get it under control and to have reasonably consistent readings twice a day. He didn’t respond to the first insulin we tried (Vetsulin) so we then switched to Levemir insulin.”
The Hard Part: Needles
“I had a difficult time getting used to giving insulin injections but after I got very fine needles, it’s much easier,” explains Pat. Many pet parents have an adjustment period when injecting their animals, and it can be stressful. Make sure you have a vet who is understanding, whom you can reach out to 24/7, and don’t forget to do your research! Many vet hospitals have instructional sites and videos on how to make injections easy and less nerve-wracking.
Remember: keep insulin in the fridge when not using it.
Testing Blood Glucose
Most pet parents use AlphaTrack, as Pat does, to monitor their pet’s blood glucose. “It was recommended that I take blood from the rim of his ear, but that proved to be just about impossible! Instead, I take it from the toes on his back feet. I use a spot near – not on – the pad and can vary the site from toe to toe so I’m not using the same area twice a day. I use a bath mat and have him on a table so I don’t have to bend down and he’s very cooperative.”
A Daily Routine
One of the most important parts of managing diabetes is sticking to a routine – breakfast and dinner at the same time every day, and insulin to correspond with those times. “I feed [Spike] around 5 a.m., test his blood about 5 minutes later and give him his insulin,” says Pat. “He’s on 2.5u (units) of Levemir twice a day, so the same routine is repeated at 5 p.m.”
Keeping healthy, natural food on hand is best for your pet’s health, especially if they’re battling a chronic metabolic condition like diabetes. But it doesn’t stop there – pet parents have to be diligent about exercise every day and visiting their vet regularly to keep blood glucose numbers balanced.
Spike’s blood sugar is stable now, but in the first year it varied tremendously. “It could be 350 in the morning and in the 40s and 50s at night; one time it was in the 20s. There were many calls to the VCA Emergency Room in the evening!” The hospital advised Pat to feed Spike again, wait 30 minutes, then test his blood sugar again; repeat if it was still low. “Most of the time the BG would increase into the 100s and I could give him insulin, but a few times it didn’t and was told to skip the evening dose. The morning BG would then be high, but it would usually even out that day.”
To combat lows, Pat keeps a bottle of Karo Syrup on hand to rub on Spike’s gums just in case he goes into shock. “Now most of the time his readings are in the 100s and 200s and the vet is happy with that; they occasionally go high in the mornings – in the 400s sometimes, but go down during the day.”
As with humans, the lows are the most dangerous, while highs can be managed (although damaging over time). “I found through all this that BG can be a very variable target and to not panic when it’s very high or very low,” says Pat. “When it’s very low you have to watch for symptoms of shock like vomiting or shaking, and to be prepared. And, thank goodness, I can call my vet’s emergency room 24/7 for advice!”
Diabetes Can Cause Other Issues
Diabetes can be a devastating condition, and it affects all of the body’s systems. Pets with diabetes are more prone to complications like high blood pressure, chronic UTIs, and eye issues. “About a year ago, we noticed Spike’s eyes were getting cloudy and he was diagnosed with diabetic cataracts,” says Pat. Cataract surgery and steroid eye drops, the typical treatment for cataracts, comes with the added stress of temporarily making the blood sugar higher. Steroids tend to cause insulin resistance, harbor glucose, and put pressure on the liver to release extra glucose. “We didn’t want to do it but the cataracts got worse rapidly and Spike could only see light and dark by that point. We decided to have the surgery, which he came through just fine! His BG readings were somewhat higher for a short period, but came down after the steroid eye drops were discontinued.”
Living with Diabetes
Keeping your diabetic pet healthy seems daunting upon the first few days of diagnosis, but pet parents get the hang of it quickly, prioritizing their best buddy’s health over all. Plus, as the AVMA says, with proper monitoring, treatment, and diet and exercise, diabetic pets can lead long and happy lives. By having pet insurance, Spike’s medicine and treatments have been covered, and Pat has been reimbursed a total of $11,598. “Spike’s a very active MinPin and not much changed from his puppy days,” says Pat. “He’s doing really well now. I don’t see any affects from the diabetes at all and I hope it stays that way!”
By enrolling your dog or cat in pet insurance early, vet visits and prescriptions for chronic conditions like diabetes can be covered up to 90%, as long as symptoms show up after your waiting period. Find out more by getting a free quote.
Are you a Healthy Paws pet parent with a recovery story to tell? We’d love to hear it! Send your pet’s story along with photos of your four-legged family member to firstname.lastname@example.org.