Pets

Don't give up on a dog that has diabetes

It seems like I've been haunted by diabetes forever.

I lost my father 15 years ago to the disease, so I've seen first-hand diabetes' slow, heartbreaking march through a loved one's health.

Then in late 2005, the disease came storming through the front door again when my miniature schnauzer, Mackie, began plowing through gallons of water and running outside every 15 minutes.

Six years and more money than I care to think about later, Mackie and I are still walking paw in hand down the trail of this horrible disease.

Diabetes is going to win this battle. It wins them all. But we're not going down without a fight.

I was warned. Mackie's vet at the time dismissed him with a curt flip of the hand at the time of diagnosis.

"It's gonna be expensive. You should put him down," the vet said.

I was equally dismissive. We got rid of the vet, replacing him with Dr. Randy Smith at Apple Lane Animal Hospital in Hutchinson.

Randy's patience with a panicked owner and his counsel are big reasons why we've had six more years together.

That's the first message I hope any owner of a diabetic pet takes from our story: It is expensive, but there's absolutely no reason to give up. Canine diabetes can be managed successfully.

But not without a lot of patience and some heartache along the way.

There is no boilerplate for treating canine diabetes. It is a never-ending process as you search for the right insulin dose to keep your pet's blood sugar as low as possible.

The trial and error extends beyond the twice-daily insulin shot, too, into diet, exercise and other forms of illness.

Every pet and every case of diabetes is different.

Like cataracts, for example: Exactly six months into the disease, a milky white film began to work its way across both of Mackie's eyes.

That's one of the harshest realities of the disease: Diabetes is the second most common cause of cataracts in dogs.

Mackie went from a loud, boisterous dog to a quiet, reserved animal trying to figure out why the lights went out on his world.

That's when our second blessing arrived, in the persons of Drs. Harriet Davidson and Rachel Allbaugh in the opthalmology department at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine's teaching hospital.

Which brings me to the second message: Your diabetic pet will adapt a lot better than you will. Even blindness is not a death sentence, given a dog's innate ability to use its other senses to adapt to its environment.

The problem was me. I wouldn't adapt, so Harriet and Rachel operated on Mackie in July 2006, removing the cataracts and replacing them with artificial lenses. Mackie hasn't stopped barking since.

The initial operation cost me $2,500, and the meter's still running for daily eye drops. Mackie sees better than his owner does, and it's the best money I've ever spent.

There have been other significant bumps in the road: Cushing's disease, or the overproduction of cortisol; the occasional infection that requires antibiotics.

I've caught a fair amount of grief during the past six years from people who consider pets disposable.

"He's just a dog," I've heard more times than I care to remember.

No, he isn't.

Canine diabetes is not a death sentence. I don't regret a single cent I've spent on my little pal. Diabetic pets deserve nothing less.

Now you know: Canine diabetes

Canine diabetes strikes 1 in every 400 dogs, according to various sources. Some of the most susceptible breeds are keeshonds, Cairn terriers, standard and miniature schnauzers, poodles, dachshunds and beagles. Visit www.caninediabetes.org for additional information.

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