Your dog has just been diagnosed with diabetes mellitus (Type 1). Your veterinarian says that with insulin, your furry friend can live a long, nearly normal life. So you're thinking you just have to give a shot every day—no problem. Wrong. Diabetes is a constantly changing puzzle for which you continually need to adjust your strategy. However, you're not alone. You have an invaluable resource in your veterinarian. Working as a team, and with a firm commitment from all parties, your pup truly can live a long, fulfilling life.
Education Is Key
The key to proper diabetes management is understanding the disease. Your veterinarian will explain the basics of glucose metabolism and its importance for growth and energy. He or she will also explain the role of insulin in getting the glucose into the body's cells. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. The glucose-insulin relationship is a complex system with many variables that are never static.
When some condition causes your dog's pancreas to produce too little insulin, the cells cannot draw in the glucose available in the bloodstream. The buildup of glucose in the blood causes increased urination, and therefore increased thirst. When the cells do not get enough energy from glucose, the body starts to break down fats and proteins leading to wasting away of muscle mass. If left unmanaged, diabetes can lead to liver and kidney damage, extreme weight loss, circulatory problems, vision impairment, secondary infections, coma, and eventually death.
Because the insulin-glucose cycle is complex and dynamic, you will have to monitor your dog's blood sugar levels and adjust the amount of insulin you administer. It's a balancing act.
When your vet takes a thorough medical history, performs tests to measure blood glucose and diagnoses diabetes, he or she will prescribe an appropriate regimen of insulin. Now it's your turn. You will need to monitor both physical improvement as well as blood glucose levels. According to K9Diabetes, the "ideal regulation of a diabetic dog is blood sugar that never drops below 100 or exceeds 150 mg/dL." If the blood glucose level is lower than that, you need to cut back on the amount of insulin. If it is more than the high end of that range, you will need to increase the dose. When first trying to regulate the insulin dose, it's important to test blood glucose every few weeks and stay in touch with your veterinarian.
There is a condition called the Somogyi effect, also called rebound hyperglycemia, that can complicate glucose regulation. It occurs when you administer a high dose of insulin, causing the blood glucose to fall well below the desired level. The body has a defense mechanism that tries to compensate and forces the glucose to increase, often to an abnormally high level. This becomes a circular cycle and makes it extremely difficult to determine what's occurring and how to determine an optimal insulin dose.
To determine the presence of the Somogyi effect, you or your vet will use a blood glucose curve. This entails taking glucose measurements at various times of the day, particularly after eating and after an insulin injection. After administering the insulin, the blood glucose will first drop sharply, then rebound to an abnormally high level. Your vet will work with you to ensure an appropriate insulin dose to eliminate this condition.
Managing your diabetic dog takes a firm commitment, diligence and constant monitoring. Diet, weight, exercise and other body processes will change how much insulin your dog needs. Just when you think you have the disease under control, something will change, and you will need to reevaluate. This is why your veterinarian is you and your dog's most important ally.
For veterinary care, contact a facility such as South Hills Animal Hospital.