Rico, Diabetes, and Me (How my dog and I learned to live with diabetes)

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
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