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Jacque Newman's Jenny (part 1)

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January 2007 - Jacque wrote this story about Jenny for her column five months after Jenny's diagnosis.

As Andy Rooney said, “If dogs could talk, it would take a lot of fun out of owning one.”

I agree with Andy. But for the sake of my sanity, I’d appreciate it if my dogs would talk for 30 seconds each month. I’d click my stopwatch and…

“You’ve got 30 seconds. What’s new?”

“The cat peed on the couch. And you look fat in that dress.”

“Okay, good. What else?”

“There’s a microscopic hunk of gravel stuck between my toes. On Saturday night my foot will swell up like a balloon and you’ll rush me to the emergency clinic. Cancel your vacation plans.”

STOP! Time is up! That’s exactly the information I wanted.

When my 13-year old Golden Retriever, Jenny, seemed lethargic back in August, I assumed it was due to the heat, her age, and her multi-factorial health issues. Assumptions are all we have when the patient isn’t talking. If my 30-second gab fest had been in effect, it would have gone something like this:

“GO! What’s up?”

“The cat peed on the Persian carpet.”

Jenny was diagnosed
August, 2006 at age 12

Breed: golden retriever

Weight: 68

Insulin: Average of 13 units Caninsulin/Vetsulin twice daily

Diet: Merrick's canned (low glycemic and regular formulas) plus cooked human-grade meat, often mixed with rice or oatmeal.

Other Medication: Mestinon for Myasthenia Gravis; Thyro-Tab for hypothyroid

Monitoring: Home blood glucose testing

“Okay, good. What else?”

“My thyroid medication is messing with my myasthenia gravis medication because my body chemistry is screwed up because of a urinary tract infection due, in part, to my increasing blood sugar. I’m drinking like a camel, peeing like crazy and I’ve got diabetes. Do something.”

But, alas, it wasn’t Jenny who discovered her diabetes. It was our veterinarian who ran lab tests and found elevated blood sugar and glucose in the urine.

The adventure started on a positive note as I already had some knowledge of diabetes. (a) It’s fairly common in both people and animals, (b) Insulin is available for dogs and, (c) I could pronounce and spell both “diabetes” and “insulin” more readily than “myasthenia gravis,” Jenny’s previous claim to fame.

Our veterinarian wrote notes in Jenny’s 40-pound file folder and said something like, “You’ll need to give her insulin injections twice a day. We’ll schedule monthly blood curves and fructosamine tests, change her diet and…”

Diabetes, regardless of the fact that I can spell it, has proven the most challenging of Jenny’s health conditions. But I know people and other dogs and cats with diabetes. Everyone seems okay with it. Jenny would be okay with it. I’d be okay with it. Now, five months later, the more I understand it, the more okay it becomes.

According to www.petdiabetes.com, classic signs of diabetes mellitus include excessive thirst and urination, increased appetite, weight loss, and lethargy. It occurs in about one in every 400-500 dogs and cats. The average age of onset in dogs is between 7 and 9.

That’s as far as I’ll go to describe the disease because each dog is different and success depends on the dog’s general health, exercise and diet and, last but not least, the owner’s willingness to work through the process of finding the right path.

Our vet showed us how to administer insulin injections and it was much easier than I thought. Jenny didn’t mind, even in the beginning when I hovered over her, clutching the needle in my sweaty palm while chanting, “I can do it. I can do it. I can…”

Jenny’s injections are supplemented with monthly trips to the vet clinic for a fructosamine test and glucose “curve,” both of which help indicate how well her diabetes is being controlled and if we need to make any changes to our routine.

Now, five months later, we’re continuing the monthly fructosamine test at the clinic but we’re able to “run the curve” twice monthly at home, using a blood glucose monitor purchased at a drug store.

And, best of all, we’ve graduated to testing Jenny’s glucose level with the monitor, just like a human diabetic, before we administer each insulin shot. It allows us to fine-tune the amount of insulin she receives which reduces our paranoia and delights our veterinarian.

Learning to use the monitor was surprisingly easy. We keep a chart and dutifully report results to our veterinarian who, along with her colleagues, coaches us along and rejoices with our successes.

Until our dogs can give us that 30-second monthly chat, it’s our job to watch for signs that indicate a trip to the veterinarian. If your dog suddenly begins drinking and urinating excessively, don’t wait – see your vet. Diabetes can be controlled and you can do it.

I’m hoping that Jenny’s next chat will go like this:

“I have nothing to say except thanks for looking after me. I feel great.”

Thanks to Dr. Tara Sermer and Dr. Chris Catena and their colleagues at McLean’s Animal Hospital in Scarborough for their expertise, compassion and encouragement.

Jacque Newman lives in Toronto with two Golden Retrievers, two cats and one husband who has become a pro at monitoring blood and administering insulin.