On Living With a Diabetic Dog
My experience so far with canine diabetes and our scare with ketoacidosis
How it started. We brought our dog, Tuesday, (a corgi/terrier mix, you’ve probably seen her around town) into the vet’s because she seemed lethargic, she was incontinent, and she had a general apathy for life. This came on the coattails of a string of vet visits for “possibly a slipped disc”, a Urinary Tract Infection, dozens of acupuncture appointments, chiropractic appointments, and also a couple of sessions with the local dog psychic. We love this dog. And she just didn’t seem like her normal self.
We saw a different vet this time and the way they check for a UTI nowadays is instead of trying to collect pee in a soup ladle, they insert a needle into the bladder and pull out the urine. When the vet saw her results, she said she had noticed ketones in her urine, which was a red flag for diabetes. She then took a blood test and confirmed that her blood sugar level was sky high.
My husband and I were shocked. Tuesday was not currently overweight, nor had she ever been overweight. She is definitely not a chowhound—she eats when she is hungry and has never been motivated by treats. Her number one priority has always been squeaky toys and chasing chipmunks (it’s the terrier in her :)). Also, to be completely honest, I felt ashamed. Had I done something wrong? Had I given her too much human food, too many table scraps? Had I not fed her a balanced diet? Not taken her to the vet enough? How could I have prevented this? I went through all kinds of stages of dog-mom shaming. I asked our vet if this was in fact something that we had done wrong or could have prevented. She Kindly said that it was not. It was an autoimmune disease in this case. A breaking down of the pancreas. I cried a little in that vet’s office.
Basically, the vet said, in dogs, diabetes can be caused by being overweight (which Tuesday was not), but could also be caused by a breakdown of the pancreas. The pancreas is what produces insulin in the body, which is what breaks down sugar. So, when you don’t have insulin, your sugar or glucose levels in the blood will be sky high and, according to petmd.com (https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/endocrine/c_dg_high_blood_sugar), will make your dog feel depressed, experience increased thirst, and increase urination. Something that can exacerbate hyperglycemia is infections in the body (hello, UTI). So, I suppose you could say that Tuesday was a classic case of diabetes. Insulin 2x/day @ 12 hours apart, was what they prescribed.
Still, I doubted. It took some time (months, I’d say) to fully accept this diagnosis. Thoughts raced around my crazy head—could the vet be wrong? Vets have been wrong before, I insisted! It didn’t really seem like the insulin was doing much. She still had good days and bad days. Some days she didn’t want to eat, so we didn’t give her the insulin. We had a hard time getting blood from her—the vet techs said she has tough skin, so when we poked her at home, which she always squeaked for, we couldn’t get a significant drop of blood to squeeze out to get a measurement of glucose levels. She would also squeak for the insulin shots. It got so tough emotionally for us, we quit trying to get her blood glucose levels. We kept giving the shots and would take her in to the vet’s office periodically to check up. The blood glucose levels varied—sometimes high (350 mg/dl), sometimes almost in the right range (the right range is 150-250 mg/dl and Tuesday was in the 200 mg/dl range once or twice.) It was very hard to measure if we were on the right track.
Life goes on. We got used to the way things were—our new reality of life with a dog with diabetes and of seeing Tuesday as a diminished version of herself.
My husband happens to be the best boss in the world. He set up a raft trip for his employee party this summer (actually mostly organized by one of his employees, who is an avid rafter and great organizer of group trips) and invited all significant others and their dogs to join (including me and our own pups). Tuesday and Louie were super excited for the trip. We fed Tuesday and gave her shot at 7am before leaving on Saturday morning. Saturday ended up being a long, hot day. By the time we got on the river, Tuesday seemed listless and a little wobbly on her legs. I figured she had just overdone it by being so excited and having already run around with the other dogs and from being in the car for the drive. It was a lot for all of us—the packing of the cars and trailers, driving to Utah, stopping for lunch, dropping off 2 cars at the exit point, driving back to the entry point, the unloading of the cars and the loading of the boats, the parking of the cars, and finally the take off of boats—and everyone seemed a little exhausted and frazzled by the time we actually got into the raft. We floated until 8pm on Saturday, which, by the time we got off the boats and set up at our campsite, is at least an hour after the time we were supposed to have Tuesday fed and insulined up. We offered her food, but she was uninterested. She just wanted to lay down and drink water. I started to worry, but placated myself by thinking she was just exhausted from the day. This was much more activity than she was used to.
The next day she declined her food as well. We even offered her bacon and eggs. She ate a little bacon, then laid back down. She later threw that up. I took comfort in the fact that she was still drinking water, but then she started to throw that up too. By now, I was worried, but what was there to do?? We were stuck on the river, in the middle of who-knows-where, without a cell signal and without a car to get anywhere anyway. We tried to keep her as comfortable as possible—keeping her shaded and supplied with cool water. She would wobble around, barely able to stand up straight, until she vomited, in which she would flop over onto her back, like a fish, heaving so and not able to support herself. I would pick her up and put her back upright so that she didn’t choke on her own vomit.
We got back to Steamboat by 5pm and took her directly to the vet’s. She was in diabetic ketoacidosis is what we later found out. We are lucky she is alive today. They kept her at the hospital for 2 nights, gave her lose dose, fast acting insulin every hour and hooked her up to an IV to re-hydrate her, because even though she had been drinking tons of water, if your blood sugar is completely off the charts, your body has a very hard time absorbing nutrients and hydration and you end up just peeing all the water straight out (or vomiting it up as well). So Tuesday’s PH levels and electrolytes were completely out of balance, as well as her glucose levels.
Thank God for the vets and their hard work and dedication to helping people’s pets. The vets and vet techs stayed overnight (for 2 days and 2 nights!) and checked her glucose, electrolyte, and PH levels every hour until she was eventually able to eat and have healthy bowel movements on her own. They think it stemmed from an infection—possibly pancreatitis—that made her not want to eat. They also said it could have stemmed from stress or overexcitement. Ugh. In turn, when a diabetic dog doesn’t eat, you can’t give her insulin, and the blood glucose levels begin to get off balance and in addition, any infection in a diabetic dog affect blood glucose. So it becomes a perfect storm for ketoacidosis to occur.
We are so happy to have our dog back, alive. She actually seems better than she has in months (so I wonder if she was dealing with the pancreatitis for a while). She is spunky and wakes up excited for life, instead of just waking up and lifting her head up in greeting.
What have I learned from all this? I learned what to look for when her blood sugar is off—lethargy, wobbling, excessive thirst and urination. I learned that Tuesday’s activity levels need to be lower and a little bit slower than we have had before—short walks at a cool time of day are great, also short sessions of squeaky toy tosses in the grass.
Also that it is supremely important to get her to eat, so in her case, it is better to mix up her food, and give her boiled chicken and rice or cottage cheese and a boiled egg, or even a jar of Gerber’s baby food, if she is refusing to eat her kibble wet and dry “dog food”, than to let her not eat and not get her insulin. I learned that we can not take Tuesday somewhere where we have no access to a phone or a car, in case of an emergency.
I learned how hard vets work and how seriously dedicated they are to this community and our pets.
And I was reminded about what is most important in this life for me—the love and connections that I have with my pets and my husband. I was reminded of the support that I can lean in to from people that are around me—my friends, my extended family, the vets and vet techs and receptionists, and even people I don’t know that were supportive when they could see I was stressed and that Tuesday needed help. Support and love is always around us, we just have to ask for it.