When Your Hunting Dog Has Diabetes
Diabetes Mellitus in Dogs
We recently had our eleven-year-old dog Sadie diagnosed with Diabetes Mellitus. While talking to my veterinarian about the chances of a few more years together she explained the process of getting the disease under control and then told me once that is done we have a pretty good chance.
Not A Death Sentence
I told her I was willing to go for it! She was glad to hear that because she said that about 40% of her clients have their dog put down when they hear the diagnosis. That is a shame because this disease is so treatable.
There are two forms of diabetes in dogs: diabetes insipidus and diabetes mellitus. Diabetes insipidus is a very rare disorder that results in failure to regulate water content. My dog has the more common diabetes mellitus. This is a fairly common disorder and is most often seen in dogs five years of age and older. There is a congenital form that occurs in puppies, but this is not common.
Diabetes mellitus is a disease of the pancreas. This is a small but vital organ that is located near the stomach. It has two significant populations of cells. One group of cells produces the enzyme necessary for proper digestion. The other group, called beta-cells, produces the hormone called insulin. Simply put, diabetes mellitus is a failure of the pancreas to regulate blood sugar.
The Types of Diabetes
In humans two types of diabetes mellitus have been discovered. Both types are similar in that there is a failure to regulate blood sugar, but the basic mechanisms of the disease differ somewhat between the two groups.
1. Type 1, or Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus, results from total or near-complete destruction of the beta-cells. This is the only type of diabetes known in dogs. As the name implies, dogs with this type of diabetes require insulin injections to stabilize blood sugar.
2. Type II, or Non-Insulin Dependent Diabetes Mellitus is different because some insulin-producing cells remain. However, the amount produced is insufficient, there is a delayed response in secreting it, and the tissues of the dog’s body are relatively resistant to it. People with this form may be treated with an oral drug that stimulates the remaining functional cells to produce or release insulin in an adequate amount to normalize blood sugar. Because Type II diabetes does not occur in dogs, oral medications are not appropriate for treating diabetic dogs.
The Purpose of Insulin
The role of insulin is much like that of a gatekeeper: it stands at the surface of body cells and opens the door, allowing glucose to leave the blood stream and pass inside the cells. Glucose is a vital substance that provides much of the energy needed for life, and it must work inside the cells. Without an adequate amount of insulin, glucose is unable to get into the cells. It accumulates in the blood, setting in motion a series of events that can ultimately prove fatal.
When insulin is deficient, the cells become starved for sources of energy. In response to this, the body starts breaking down stores of fat and protein to use as alternative energy sources. As a consequence, the dog eats more; thus, we have weight loss in a dog with a ravenous appetite. The body tries to eliminate the excess glucose by excreting it in the urine. However, glucose (blood sugar) attracts water; thus urine glucose takes with it large quantities of the body’s fluids, resulting in the production of a large amount of urine. To avoid dehydration, the dog drinks more and more water. Thus, we have the four classic signs of diabetes:
Classic Signs Of Diabetes Mellitus
The diagnosis of diabetes mellitus is based on three criteria; the four classical clinical signs, the presence of a persistently high level of glucose in the blood stream, and the presence of glucose in the urine.
The normal level of glucose in the blood is 80-120mg/dl. It may rise to 250-300 mg/dl following a meal. However, diabetes is the only common disease that will cause the blood glucose level to rise above 400 mg/dl. Some diabetic dogs will have a glucose level as high as 800mg/dl, although most will be in the range of 400-600mg/dl.
To keep the body from losing its needed glucose, the kidneys do not allow glucose to be filtered out of the blood stream until an excessive level is reached. This means that dogs with a normal blood glucose level will not have glucose in the urine. Diabetic dogs, however, have excessive amounts of glucose in the blood, so it will be present in the urine.
What Diabetes Means to You and Your Dog
For the diabetic dog, one reality exists: blood glucose cannot be normalized without treatment. Although the dog can go a day or so without treatment and not get into crisis, treatment should be looked upon as part of the dog’s daily routine. Treatment almost always requires some dietary changes and administration of insulin.
As for the owner, there are two implications: financial commitment and personal commitment.
When your dog is well regulated, the maintenance costs are minimal. The specific diet, insulin, and syringes are not expensive. However, the financial commitment is significant during the initial regulation process or if complications arise.
Initially, your dog may be hospitalized for a few days to deal with any immediate crisis and to begin the regulation process. The “immediate crisis” is only great if your dog is so sick that it has quit eating and drinking for several days. Dogs in this condition, called “ketoacidosis”, may require a week or more of hospitalization with quite a bit of laboratory testing. Otherwise, the initial hospitalization ma only be for a day or two to get some testing done and to begin treatment. After which your dog goes home for you to administer medication. At first, return visits are required every 5-7 days to monitor progress. It may take a month or more to achieve good regulation.
Your Veterinarian will work with you to achieve consistent regulation, but a few dogs are difficult to keep regulated. It is important that you pay close attention to your veterinarian’s instructions related to administration of medication, to diet and to home monitoring.
Many people are initially fearful of giving insulin injections. If this is your reaction, consider these points:
1. Insulin does not cause pain when it is injected.
2. The injections are made with very tiny needle that your dog hardly feels.
3. The injections are given just under the skin in areas in which it is almost impossible to cause damage to any vital organ.
Please do not decide whether or not you will treat your dog until your veterinarian demonstrates the injection process. You will be surprised at how easy this is to do. I do it twice a day and I couldn’t even open a can of dog food without gagging.
Source by Jeff Thompson