Managing long-term health conditions in your pets
Just as with human medicine, animal medical care is advancing all the time. We are constantly improving what we can manage and how long animals with long-term conditions can be kept alive. The great thing is that any advances in animal care may well be transferred to human medicine, meaning that we all live even longer – great!
I have already talked about Luna in relation to her last litter and written about what went wrong. Since then, Luna has been diagnosed with diabetes and I thought it would be useful to review the management of this condition so far.
Symptoms of diabetes
These are similar to the symptoms of type 1 diabetes in humans, namely:
- excessive thirst
- excessive urination
- lethargy or depression
- unexplained weight loss
Luna has always been a ‘thirstier dog’ than my other dogs. She has also been more prone to urine infections and has been the one more likely to have the occasional accident overnight. She has had periods where she will suddenly produce a huge amount of urine in the house. These symptoms were not hard to manage and I just thought that she had slightly poorer bladder control, compared with the other dogs.
When she was pregnant last year, both the drinking and urination seemed to get worse. I was a bit unhappy about this, but she had no other symptoms and seemed generally in good health otherwise. However, after she had gone through the delivery and subsequent operation, she had a period of seeming better than before. This was followed by a gradual decline in her demeanour. She became less lively and more subdued. It was hard to pinpoint, but over the course of a few weeks we became aware that something wasn’t quite right.
Over Christmas, I realised that Luna was losing weight. Again, it was quite a slow process and quite subtle, but by the time we were into the Christmas holidays, I knew she wasn’t right. So on 27th December, I took her into the vet’s, expecting the worst. Her weight had gone from 17-18 kgs to 15.95 kgs. Straight away, the vet knew it was diabetes; there was glucose in her urine and a blood test confirmed it.
Initial management – routine is the key
So there we were, learning how to inject our dog, using a teddy bear to practice on! It was a bit daunting, but we were given a ‘medipen’ which seemed pretty foolproof. Well Chris managed to bend the needle on one of his practices, but we felt reasonably confident about having a go.
We were told that routine is the key to managing diabetes successfully in a dog. So it would be no good giving her a quick walk round the block some days and a great long hike at the weekends. Or putting down food for her to pick out when she wanted. Or giving her treats throughout the day.
Fortunately for me, I also thrive on routine. I get up and feed the dogs at 7am, every day, more or less. I then walk them for around an hour, off lead, every day, roughly an hour after breakfast. I used to feed them again at 4pm, but Luna must have her injections every 12 hours, with food. So now they are fed at 7pm as well. That was the biggest change. It is also the hardest to stick to, since if we go out for a meal, or to the cinema, or I have a governors’ meeting and no-one else is in, then the routine must change slightly. But we are really lucky, because I am around most of the time and able to set my own routine.
Giving the injections every 12 hours has become as routine as cleaning my teeth. Fetch kit from fridge, open and screw on needle, turn dial to required number of units, remove cap. Wait for Luna to finish her (special diabetes) food, grab a handful of skin on the scruff of her neck and jab in the needle. Press the button, wait 5 seconds and rub it. Give her a kiss and tell her she is a special girl. Remove needle and put in sharps bin. Return kit to fridge. Check there are plenty of needles and insulin phials. Order more of these and/or sacks of food as required. (I recommend Pet Drugs Online for this)
Of course there has been the odd mishap. I have stuck the needle into my finger or thumb a few times. Bent the needle once or twice. Squirted the insulin onto my hand instead of into her neck. Panicked that there isn’t enough left in the phial and when I should change it over.
Stabilising the condition
Luna immediately improved following the diagnosis. She went back to her normal self; happy and lively. Her weight slowly returned to normal, over the next few weeks. She stopped drinking and weeing to excess. Fantastic. We were told it could take a few months to stabilise the condition and to sort out the correct dosage of insulin. Luckily, we have a good routine and this seems to have really benefitted Luna, as she has been doing really well.
After a couple of weeks, Luna spent the whole day at the vet’s having something called a ‘glucose curve’ done. They did the equivalent of a pinprick test on her every hour and looked at the level of glucose in her blood. This told them whether she was on the correct dosage. Then a month later, she went back for a blood test, which showed the levels over a longer period. This will be reviewed again 3 months later.
Hypo or hyper?
When the glucose levels are not stable, diabetics can become hypo- or hyperglycaemic. In people, this is a concern and diabetics generally check their blood glucose levels throughout the day and change their food intake accordingly. However, in dogs this is less variable, so less of an issue. We were told that if her glucose level was ‘out’ she would generally seem unwell and we should take her into the vet’s to be checked and treated accordingly. Fingers crossed, nothing has happened, yet.
One variable Luna has to cope with is her agility training and competition. We made the decision to continue with this, as she really enjoys it, it keeps her fit and mentally stimulated and is part of her normal life. She was so happy to be back! She really loves running around with Chris. I tend to find that a few hours after a lesson, she will come up to me and tell me that she is feeling in need of a ‘little something’. I give her a handful of her normal food and she is fine. Simple!
Other long-term conditions
In addition to managing Luna’s diabetes, I monitor Sunny’s arthritis. She has spent her life jumping around after balls and doing agility (she retired aged 10), so it’s not surprising that she has a bit of stiffness in her shoulders. She is on an anti-inflammatory for this and I make sure that she has regular check-ups.
Then the cat also suffered from pancreatitis last year and has had some ongoing kidney issues, for which he has a specialist renal diet. All good fun!
As you can see, there are many ways in which we monitor and care for our pets, thanks to the ongoing development of veterinary medicine. Personally, I don’t believe animals should be kept alive at any cost. Sometimes we have to make the difficult decision, because it is the right thing to do for our pets, however painful this is for us. When is the right time is a useful guide to this process. But for something like diabetes, the prognosis is really good. I am indebted to MK Veterinary Group for their care.
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