Dick with his buddy, Rico.

Rico is my 16-year-old toy poodle. He’s been with me since he was seven months old. In December of 2017, he was diagnosed with diabetes. When the vet gave me the diagnosis, she asked one question: had I noticed him drinking more water or urinating more frequently? I hadn’t, but that didn’t mean that he hadn’t been doing both of those things. We have a pet door that he uses whenever he needs to, so I had no idea of how often he was urinating. I had noticed that his water bowl had been empty a few times over the past several weeks, but I put that down to my laziness in keeping it filled.

16-year-old Rico.

The next few months were uncomfortable for both of us. The first step was to put Rico on regular injections of insulin for two weeks, and then check to see if the initial insulin dose was correct. That check meant that he stayed at the vet’s office all day, with them taking a blood sample every hour to check his glucose levels. The samples were taken from veins in his ears, which he was very unhappy about. That was also when they showed me how to give him his injections, and I gave him the initial dose there. It took me a long time to feel comfortable with poking a needle into him, but I eventually got there. Rico hasn’t completely adjusted to the injections, but treats immediately after have really helped.
The blood samples showed that the initial insulin dose was controlling his blood sugar, so we maintained that for about three weeks, when I noticed that he’d again starting drinking more water. I discussed this with the vet, and we adjusted the insulin dose up a bit, which took care of the situation.

Our vet told me that diabetes was a lifestyle change, and she was right. We’re now on a pretty strict schedule, with meals followed by the injection twice a day, twelve hours apart. Rico’s lifestyle has changed in that he can’t graze during the day like he used to (plus, he gets poked with a needle on a regular basis). Mine has changed in that I need to be home at his mealtime, or arrange for someone else to go through that ritual. Understandably, not every friend is comfortable with giving injections. That’s required me to juggle my schedule a bit and modify my social outings. Also, traveling with Rico is complicated a bit by the need to keep his insulin refrigerated. There’s also the issue of syringe disposal. You can’t just throw them in the trash, but there are various options available. I order sharps containers from a company online, and mail the filled containers back to them.

I still can’t track how often Rico urinates, but I do monitor his water intake. Every morning I put one cup of water in his bowl, and the next morning I measure how much he drank. For him, that’s usually between 1/3 and 2/3 of a cup. This is how I noticed that he was drinking more, which led to increasing the insulin. Another plus is that it’s disciplined me to make sure he’s got fresh water in his bowl every day.

Diabetes can be life-threatening, but it’s not a death sentence. There are some health problems associated with diabetes. For example, 75% of dogs with diabetes develop cataracts within a year of diagnosis. There’s also a condition called diabetic neuropathy, where the nerves suffer damage from increased blood glucose, resulting in weakness and sometimes a loss of muscle control. Rico had a few days where his back legs wouldn’t hold him up, so he was on some painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs. I can tell he’s a little wobbly, and our walks don’t go as long and as far as they used to, but he still gets around pretty well for an old guy.

There’s no cure for canine diabetes, but early diagnosis can minimize the negative impact.

Editors Note: We want to thank Dick Young for sharing his and Rico's experience with canine diabetes. Dick is a valuable team member at our Healthy Pets Northwest Woodstock store. We want to emphasize that diabetes is a serious condition in dogs, but that it can be managed, especially if caught early. Some of the warning signs to look for in your dog:

  • Thirst and frequent urination – dogs with diabetes drink a lot so they pee a lot
  • Extra hungry – dogs with diabetes do not utilize glucose properly so their bodies are hungry for more
  • Weight loss – Instead of dietary glucose, untreated diabetic dogs start to burn their own muscle tissue and fat to produce more glucose  
  • Vomiting – this may also be a sign that your dog has pancreatitis
  • Fatigue and weakness - because diabetic dogs have to produce energy from their own bodies
  • Overweight - diabetes is more prevalent in overweight dogs
  • History of pancreatitis - it is estimated that 25% of dogs with or that had pancreatitis will develop diabetes

The first male dog I’ve owned is a fine specimen: it is generally agreed that he is handsome and loving, albeit dumb as a box of rocks.

I enjoy him for other reasons as well. He moves with the laziness of a breeze on a hot summer day, crowds with his snuggling, and performs tricks for treats - up to a point. He’ll play dead for us, but refuses to army crawl unless it’s for a really good treat. Food and his ball are his deities, while he appreciates walks so long as he doesn’t have to go too far.

All in all, he’s as stereotypical as a dog can get. However, while I do often say dogs are similar around the world, they do often behave differently. I’m thinking particularly of the difference between stray dogs and pets, and more specifically, between intact males and those sans testicles. And it can be quite a difference.

Dog socialization on the streets is interesting to watch. They often hang out in troublesome packs, wandering together in search of food or shade - or chasing after whichever female seems vulnerable that day. I’ve read - in my quick research on the subject - that there are three types of dogs you might see on the street: the first is the true stray, unattached to any kind of person or place, and that often wanders alone. The second is the kind I’ve become familiar with: dogs that don’t technically have owners but that remain attached to a set of streets and are enough of a repeated sight for people to take care of them more. These are neighborhood dogs. And the last is the type of dog that I’ve written about before: dogs with owners who simply have a lot of freedom.

In fact, I’ve been reading the psychology between street and domesticated dogs are completely different, at least in some studies on the subject so far. Some of it is obvious, especially to those of you who have rescued strays; I’ve written before about my little gremlin, who we love dearly, but who also came with a specific set of challenges. She desperately wanted human affection but couldn’t trust it. She guarded her food and bit anyone she deemed as a threat to anything she had or wanted. It took years of patience and kindness to win her over, but she’ll always be a little wary and guarded in some ways.

There’s another difference I didn’t realize could be related to her having been a stray until I read about it. Our male dog, as I said, has learned how to do tricks, up to the point where either his pride or salivary desires take over. Cora, the gremlin, will only sit and lie down; over the years, we have finally gotten her to an approximation of playing dead, but nowhere near to the levels of dramatization performed by our male dog. It’s not that she’s a dumb dog; she’s had to be quite resourceful in her years on this planet. But - it’s because apparently domesticated dogs and stray dogs have completely different abilities in reading human social cues.

To an extent, this seems obvious. Clearly, our rescue has a harder time reading whether there is an intent to harm, in contrast to our male, who trusts everyone. This is trauma-related. But at an even deeper level, I found this cool article on dogs being able to understand the human act of pointing. Domesticated dogs understood what pointing meant, and in general, there was a shared understanding of certain expectations. You do a trick, you get a treat. It’s easy to understand (relatively) what the trick is and how the human is teaching it to you. Strays, on the other hand, were much less responsive to pointing.

So a lightbulb has gone off for me in regards to our rescue and why she doesn’t follow our conventions. It seems there are a lot more unacknowledged differences, but they haven’t been studied as much, or the results of such studies aren’t as accessible to the average layperson (thanks, Google Scholar).

Then, of course, there’s what I actually see on the street. There are some generalizations I can make, but who knows if they’re backed by science. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve seen a lot of dogs wandering around in packs wherever I go. Often, this is a bunch of male dogs after one female dog - my generalization here is that, while I’ve been abroad, I’ve noticed that it’s very frequently the female street dogs who try to attach themselves to people, and often, desperately, to any person who crosses their path. On occasion, male dogs would approach and allow themselves to be petted, but often it would be in the wake of a female dog. In the town where I volunteered in Cuba, there was one female dog in particular always getting hounded by the males. Usually the tourists would try to find ways to defend her, but there was only so much we could do, and every time she’d have to accept her with submissive passivity. I get that it’s the way of the world, but it seems like an awful type of life.

We would like to thank our friends at Aloha Natural Pet Supply in Vancouver, WA for these winter weather tips.

Let’s talk temperature!

Bently loves his warm coat.

wear a sweater or coat when out for winter walks. A good coat should reach from the neck to the base of the tail and also protect the belly. But remember that coats will not prevent frostbite on the ears, feet or tail ... so even with a cozy coat, don’t keep your short haired dog out too long in freezing temperatures.

If your dog feels the cold, try to walk her in the late morning or early afternoon hours when temperatures are a little warmer, and avoid early morning or late evening walks. Spend time playing outdoors while it’s sunny; sunshine brings the added benefit of providing both you and your pet with vitamin D. Play fetch with toys, not sticks, which can cause choking and other injuries. So, if your dog likes to chew and chase, pack a Frisbee, ball or other safe toy and play together in the sun.

Limit outdoor time in winter

Your family pet may love to spend time outdoors but in winter even the furriest dog can get cold. Ears, paws and tails are all susceptible to frostbite. Take your dog out frequently for walks, exercise and play ... but when the temperature drops, don’t leave him outdoors for long periods of time. A good rule is to go out with him and when you’re ready to come in, he probably will be too. If he’s outside in your yard by himself, check often to make sure he’s not showing signs of feeling cold.

Cozy bedding

In addition to limiting your dog’s time outdoors on cold days, don’t let your pooch sleep on a cold floor in winter. Choosing the right bedding is vital to ensure your dog stays warm. Warm blankets can create a snug environment; raised beds can keep your dog off cold tiles or concrete, and heated pet beds can help keep the stiffness out of aging joints. Place your dog’s bed in a warm spot away from drafts, cold tile or uncarpeted floors, preferably in a favorite spot where she sleeps every day so that the area doesn’t feel unfamiliar.

Protect your dog from heaters

Dogs will often seek heat during cold winter weather by snuggling too close to heating sources. Avoid space heaters and install baseboard radiator covers to avoid your pet getting burned. Fireplaces also pose a major threat so please make sure you have a pet proof system to keep your heat-seeking pal out of harm’s way!


Dry and cold weather can do a number on your pet’s skin. Help prevent dry, flaky skin by adding a skin and coat supplement to her food. Coconut oil is a good natural moisturizer that can help keep your pet’s skin and coat healthy. If you find your pet’s paws, ears or tail are dry or cracking, you can also apply coconut oil topically as needed.

No overfeeding please!

Although dogs may need an extra layer in winter, make sure it comes from a coat and not a layer of fat. Cold temperatures may even bring on lazy behavior and the need for fewer calories. Be attentive to your dog’s activity level and adjust her calories accordingly. A high quality, whole foods, preferably raw meat based diet will help ensure a healthy coat and good energy for the cold winter months.

Keep your dog hydrated

Dogs can dehydrate just as quickly in winter as summer. Although many dogs eat snow, it’s not an adequate substitute for fresh water. If your dog spends time outdoors in your yard, make sure she has access to a water bowl, check it often and break ice that forms on top.

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