Life with Millie –  a diabetic dog

A few days after Millie, our 8 year old Retriever / Poodle cross, urinated on our sofa (something she had never done before even as a puppy) we received the news that Millie had type one diabetes. Initially we found the news both frightening and overwhelming. However, as we learnt about the disease we gained more confidence in making decisions about Millie’s welfare and we have now been successfully living with her condition for 3 ½ years. This is her story…

What is it like living with a dog with diabetes day to day?

For Millie, diabetes has not changed her or her life that much. She still lives a full and happy life and still does everything a normal dog of her age does. The only real difference the diabetes has made to Millie’s life is that she has insulin twice a day and we monitor her blood glucose at regular times during the day. 

For us, initially we had to make some adjustments to our day to day lives. Routine is the key to success. Wherever possible we try to stick to the same routine every day. Her exercise and food needs to be consistent and we give Millie the same amount of both each day. The necessary adjustments to our daily lives soon became second nature to us all.

How long after starting treatment did you notice an improvement?

We experienced a setback at the start of the process. Millie had pancreatitis a couple of weeks after diagnosis so it took a little longer to get Millie on an even keel. We noticed an improvement around 4-6 weeks after diagnosis and her weight stabilised too.

What have you found the most challenging or difficult thing to cope with?

Diabetes can be a frustrating disease at times, just when you think your pet is regulated, you may experience setbacks. The disease itself is a complicated one and every animal is different. We found that diet is critical for maintaining good health and it helps to minimise fluctuations in blood glucose that occur after eating.

Millie’s diabetes has always been unstable. However, to overcome this issue, further support and training was provided by Charter Vets so that we could monitor Millie’s glucose levels at home which we submit to our vet on a regular basis for review.

Millie has a super sensitive stomach and is a very fussy eater which is a challenge because she needs to eat her food at meal times so that we can inject her insulin. We found that Millie would only agree to eat a very small amount of the recommended diabetic food. On the days Millie refused to eat any of the diabetic dog food, we were at a loss to know what foods we could give her that would not compromise her blood glucose. We were recommended the “Vets Now Referral Nutrition Service.” We completed a questionnaire via our vet where we were asked to specifically identify all Millie’s health / dietary issues. A low fat, high fibre recipe was specially formulated to meet all of Millie’s dietary requirements. Shortly after the transition to the new diet, we saw pretty big improvements to both Millie glucose levels and attitude to food.

Is there anything you have experienced or know now which you wish you’d at the start of treatment?

At the start of the process, the injections did not come naturally to me I was completely terrified and thought I would never get the hang of it. However, both my vet and the nurses at Charter Vets were incredibly supportive. Additional training was arranged for me and in my own time I was able to take on the responsibility for the injections. Once you get the hang of it, it really is very easy- insulin needles are very small and easy to handle, and Millie does not feel a thing.  So if you find yourself struggling, do not be scared to speak to your vet regarding additional support.

What would your advice be to other pet owners who are unsure whether to embark on diabetic treatment for their pet?

When making your decision, you need to be aware that Diabetes is in most cases a treatable condition. Your pet can live out their lifespan with good consistent medical care, and with attention paid to diet and exercise needs. Successful management of Diabetes also begins with a good working relationship with your vet. Throughout the treatment process you will have many questions, so good communication is essential. The keys to success in treatment are consistency, good communications and patience, and good decisions based on welfare of your pet.

Whilst caring for a diabetic pet is a commitment, the last 3 ½ years have been both challenging at times, but also rewarding. Our Millie is still a very happy and contented girl and we couldn’t imagine our life without her. 

Cataracts were a concern to us. However, when Millie developed cataracts they took over 2 ½ years to fully mature and her cataract surgery at Rowe Veterinary Group was a complete success.

If you are insured, be sure to read and fully understand the terms and conditions your policy. 

Do you have any helpful hints or tips for other pet owners who might be facing or going through the same experience?

Once you have read and understood the information provided by Caninsulin, I recommend reading Sugarbabies written by Randi E Golub. This is a very comprehensive guide, user friendly and this hand book is packed full of useful information which is designed to be used in conjunction with your pet’s veterinary care.

I find it useful to keep a journal / day book where I note Millie’s glucose reading; the amount of exercise she’s had; amount of food eaten; the insulin units and the time it was administered as well as her urination and demeanour. I use this information for reference and to also identify any potential anomalies that may result in ‘over swing’ before it occurs.

Some other health conditions can be tricky to treat if your pet already has diabetes. Millie has benefitted tremendously by acupuncture performed at Charter Vets.

A fridge door alarm and a fridge thermometer are useful to ensure that your insulin is stored within the specific temperature range required.

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