This post is a little off what I usually write about, but I feel it’s important to share our experience dealing with diabetes in dogs. If it can help someone else make the right treatment decisions, it’s worth it.
After all, most people in Alaska do have multiple dogs and according to our vet, diabetes is a common problem.
I am a Sap for Animals
I love dogs! Right now we have my 12 1/2 year old Keeshond Rio who we’ve had since a puppy and my “grand-dogs” Rogue the German Shepherd, and Ted the Pomeranian. Rogue came to us because my daughter Candace couldn’t have a large dog in her apartment. She has pannus and possible hip dysplasia. Ted came to us because he is in decline with a collapsed trachea and severe heart murmur. My daughter Haley couldn’t stand to watch him worsen.
Both daughters asked Mom and Dad to care for the dogs because they knew I could never say no. I cherish my fur babies. Rogue and Ted are now thriving in the low elevation and humidity of where we live in Alaska! We take care of their medical issues and love them both as furry family members.
I always joked that the healthiest dog I have is the oldest, Rio. That was until about a month and a half ago.
Diabetes in Dogs-The Diagnosis
Something was very wrong with Rio. She became lethargic seemingly overnight, and began loosing wt; plus, urinating and stooling indoors (which she never does). And she was drinking water excessively. I knew immediately from my background as a registered dietitian that she likely had diabetes.
I made an appointment with the vet, and Jeff and Bridger took her in. We hadn’t seen this particular vet in the practice but trusted her advice as the other vets there had been wonderful. It was later in the day, and Jeff said she seemed anxious to finish.
After blood work and urine testing, it was confirmed that Rio did have diabetes, was in ketoacidosis, had elevated cortisol levels indicating a possible adrenal tumor, and was developing cataracts in both eyes.
The short verdict? Jeff was told that the choice was to spend $3,000-$4,000 to treat her with immediate hospitalization, but that in a dog her age with other issues, it probably wasn’t worth it. She said, “You have some tough decisions to make” and left the room. My 18 year old son cried the whole way home.
When I got home from work, Jeff and I sat down to talk about what we needed to do. Obviously that’s a lot of money and if unknown cancer existed, then the stress and pain to Rio may not be worth it at her age. Our daughter’s Candace and Haley were coming for Bridger’s graduation and begged us to try to keep her alive until they arrived. So we set about making Rio comfortable.
I took her to the groomer and got her a “Lion” cut so she would be easier to clean, bought doggie diapers and gentle dog food, and spent hours with the kids loving her and crying. The photos for this post were taken the day after her diagnosis and the kids wanted to look their best for their last pictures with Rio. This dog is so special to us and her loss was going to hard to bare.
The girls came and went, and Rio seemed to stabilize a bit while they were here. Saige said it was because Heavenly Father wanted Rio to see them one last time.
The week after they left, Rio took a turn for the worse. She was so lethargic and stared at me with those old dog eyes pleading for me to do something. We began to prepare to put her to sleep. I was referred to a vet, who also owns a crematorium here, who would allow her to die surrounded by nature and family in a peaceful setting. She would then provide us with an urn to remember Rio by. It was one of the most painful things I had done in a long time.
I made one final vet appointment and met Jeff over there to make sure this was the right decision. It was a different vet than the first time and I knew her from taking care of Ted. She kept asking us about just treating Rio.
It took some back and forth before I exclaimed, “The last vet told us that we would have to admit her to the hospital and the cost would be a minimum of $3,000-4,000 without even exploring the cancer diagnosis. I don’t think that’s something we would do with her age and comfort.”
Her reply haunted me, “You can treat diabetes in dogs at home; and, her high cortisol levels may actually be due to the diabetes.” Jeff and I were stunned.
Diabetes in Dogs-The Treatment
I repeated her answer back to her, “You mean we can treat Rio at home?”. Yes!
The vet explained that we could give her two insulin shots a day, morning and night with her meals, and that she could come back every two weeks for a blood sugar/urine test to make adjustments. Of course we were in!
The cost? For a vial of insulin and needles from Walmart pharmacy that would last a month, $35. For follow up blood sugar/vet tests, $30- 2 times a month. For pads for Rio’s diaper, $5 a month. So for about $100 a month we could treat Rio at home.
We started that evening. It was simple; tiny needle stuck into the nape of her neck, insulin injected, done. She didn’t even feel a thing.
The improvement was dramatic. Within a couple of days, Rio was almost back to her old frisky self. Her water consumption decreased and she was able to hold her bladder a little longer. Not perfect, but her quality of life was so much better.
At her last check, we increased her insulin dosage a little bit; but, her weight had stabilized, she didn’t have ketones in her urine, and her blood sugar had decreased.
Diabetes in Dogs-Answers?
My question founded in frustration and fury is “Why weren’t we told that diabetes in dogs can be treated at home when we initially brought her in?”
We could have stopped Rio’s suffering and our families grieving so much sooner. We’ve never heard the answer and I’ve been more engaged with taking care of Rio than going after the other vet. She is still an old dog with other possible medical issues, so I’d rather spend my time enjoying her, and making sure she has a good quality of life.
If things change, and we can no longer treat her effectively then we will let her go. But for now, she’s good. And I hope by sharing Rio’s story, that others who find themselves in this situation with a beloved dog seek a second opinion if they are told there are no treatments other than to break the bank.
For more information on diabetes in dogs, check out this link at Pet MD