Diabetes mellitus. Not so long ago that diagnosis was an automatic death sentence for a dog or a cat. Both veterinary and human medicine have come a long way in dealing with the disease, and now we have excellent treatment options available that can often mean that family pets with diabetes can comfortably live the rest of their natural lives in spite of the disease.
This type of diabetes happens in both dogs and cats with some frequency. The onset can be sneaky--often the pet is feeling normal, but an owner may notice an increase in the amount of water drinking and urination. Sometimes a dog who could always make it through the night starts having accidents in the house because she just can’t hold it that long any more. Simple blood work and a urinalysis can produce the diagnosis quickly. Sometimes the early warning signs are not obvious and a patient only gets diagnosed when they get so out of balance that they have a crisis. Those pets often need some intensive care to get them back on their feet, but even then most of them can be stabilized and sent home to be successfully managed.
Unfortunately the oral medications that some people can use to control their diabetes do not work in dogs and cats, so managing diabetes in our pets requires giving them insulin shots twice daily. This is a pretty scary prospect for many people who have never had to do anything like this before. Of course nobody wants to inflict pain on their beloved pet, and twice a day no less. The syringes used to give insulin injections have needles that are not much larger than a hair, so they are so small that pets don’t even notice that they got a shot. I usually recommend giving a special treat at shot time so that pretty soon your dog or cat will be looking forward to their treatment so much that they will come get you if you are late. Handling a syringe and giving an injection seems awkward and hard at first, but it only takes about two days before even the greenest novice becomes an old pro.
The internet is another hurdle that may need to be overcome before committing to treatment. Although there is good and accurate information about this complicated systemic disease, there is sometimes wrong or conflicting information too, and unless you already thoroughly understand diabetes in dogs and cats it can be hard to tell what is true and what is not. Bring up questions with your veterinarian, and you can get the straight answer. I often run across websites that are put up by people who have gone through the experience of treating their own pet and they want to share that experience with the world. For some reason these people seem to be the ones with the exceptionally complicated cases or extremely complex treatment regimens. I have had more than one owner come back to me looking a little wild-eyed after surfing the web. They just didn’t think they could do it after reading someone else’s account about how they had to feed their cat food that had been imported from East Timor every two minutes while standing on their head and twirling a hula hoop around their left ankle. Don’t get me wrong, treating a diabetic dog or cat does require a commitment to keeping to a program, but a diabetic pet can be very successfully treated on a daily basis with about as much effort as it would take to give a pill twice a day.
Regular monitoring with your veterinarian is the last thing that owners need to be able to commit to. Diabetics often need modifications to their insulin dosages, and they do not tend to look sick until they are in very bad shape. Skipping checkups because your pet is acting just fine may seem like it is saving money in the short run, but that trip to the emergency center and week-long hospitilization that could have been prevented if the problems had been caught earlier will eat up any theoretical savings in no time. There is a certain level of expense that must be incurred for medications, supplies, and monitoring, so you may need to make a decision about the affordability of treatment before you get going.
Diabetes is a diagnosis that may seem scary at first, but if you have the resources, are willing to engage in a fairly simple routine of giving shots every 12 hours, and can follow up with checkups when needed you very well might be able to give your best friend the rest of her life.