Caring for your diabetic dog

My black lab, KeetnaThe first things I wanted to know when my dog was diagnosed with diabetes were: Did I cause it? Will she die? And – can I handle the day-to-day care?

Fortunately, the answers that I found were: No, I didn’t cause it. No, she won’t die right now. Many dogs live a normal life with the disease. And yes, I could handle it. Over time I learned how to care for my dog and help her stay active and healthy. If your dog has diabetes, you too can easily care for your pet with help from your veterinarian and support from your friends and family.

Diabetes mellitus is one of the most common hormonal disorders in dogs. Statistics show that one in 400 dogs develop diabetes. So you and your diabetic dog are not alone – many other pet owners are helping their dogs stay healthy and live normal lives with this disease.

Types of Diabetes

Most diabetic dogs have diabetes mellitus (pronounced MEL-uh-tus). In diabetes mellitus, the pancreatic islet cells that produce insulin are destroyed during episodes of pancreatitis or when the immune system attacks them (a form of autoimmunity). Dogs with diabetes mellitus usually require shots of insulin to help their bodies use the energy from the food they eat.

Diabetes insipidus means that either the body is not making enough of the antidiuretic hormone (ADH) that controls water regulation in the kidneys, or that the kidneys cannot respond to ADH. Diabetes insipidus is very rare in dogs; this article addresses only diabetes mellitus in dogs.

What is Diabetes Mellitus?

Diabetes mellitus is the inability of the body to properly use the energy from food. The disease is caused by a deficiency of insulin, a hormone that regulates how the cells absorb and use blood sugar. Insulin is produced by the pancreas, a gland in the endocrine system.

The pancreas serves two functions: one if the production of digestive enzymes; the other is the regulation of blood sugar. The pancreas produces and releases enzymes into the small intestine to break down food into nutrients. It also releases hormones into the bloodstream to help the body use sugar (glucose). One of these hormones, insulin, controls the uptake of glucose into cells. The cells use the glucose as fuel for energy production. When the body does not have enough insulin, the dog may show symptoms of high blood glucose, such as excessive hunger and thirst, increased urination, and weakness in the limbs.

A lack of sufficient insulin causes glucose to accumulate in the blood until the kidneys must use water to flush excess glucose into the urine, causing dehydration. Severe dehydration can causelow blood pressure and possibly shock, so it is important to start diabetes mellitus treatment as soon as possible.

Causes of Diabetes Mellitus

Scientists are not sure about the cause of diabetes; it may be caused by various factors, including a genetic predisposition, diet, or even exposure to certain viruses. But they can point to risk factors such as obesity, a sedentary life style, and genetic history.

Risk Factors

The following are risk factors for diabetes in dogs:

  • Age — Dogs are generally over seven years of age, but are occasionally diagnosed at a much younger age. On average, dogs are diagnosed between the ages of 8 and 12.
  • Gender — Female dogs have diabetes at almost twice the rate of males.
  • Breed — Although any breed of dog may get diabetes, several studies indicate that some breeds tend to be diagnosed with diabetes more often, which may point to a genetic predisposition to the disease.

The breeds that are at higher risk include:

  • Keeshond
  • Cairn Terrier
  • Schnauzer (miniature and standard)
  • Poodle
  • Dachshunds
  • Beagles

Symptoms

Some of the symptoms that can indicate diabetes are:

  • Low energy, lethargy
  • Losing weight
  • Eating excessively, not eating, or other changes in interest in food
  • Drinking large amounts of water
  • Urinating frequently, which may cause waking up at odd times to urinate

By the time you notice that your dog’s eating habits have changed, that he’s drinking excessive water, or even vomiting, your pet may be losing weight and getting lethargic. Because diabetes can be controlled more easily with an early diagnosis, it is important to go to a veterinarian as soon as you notice these symptoms.

The longer symptoms persist without a diagnosis, the more the blood glucose level increases and damage can occur in the bladder, kidneys, liver, and eyes. Dogs with diabetes can also have a decreased resistance to bacterial infections.

Diagnosis

Tell your veterinarian all the symptoms you have observed in your dog, including the physical symptoms and any changes in mood, behavior, and energy. Your veterinarian may suspect diabetes right away and take a quick blood glucose test like the ones that human diabetics use. This kind of test can give an immediate reading of current blood glucose, but is not a definitive diagnosis since elevated blood glucose readings can be caused by problems other than diabetes.

Your veterinarian will know about many other health problems that cause similar symptoms, such as Cushing’s Disease, and may order a blood test for blood glucose levels along with other tests of kidney and liver function, etc.

It may take several days to get the blood test back from the lab. Your veterinarian will want to meet with you to discuss the findings and the care you need to give your pet.

Treatment

Treatment for most dogs includes insulin therapy, weight control, dietary therapy andexercise.

Insulin

Most diabetic dogs need insulin, given in daily injections. Depending on the type of insulin your veterinarian suggests, your dog will need one or two injections per day.

Your veterinarian will show you how to handle insulin and administer shots to your dog. The veterinarian may have you practice giving the shot in the office, to make sure you know how to do it and to answer any questions.

Insulin shots are given under the skin, so you won’t have to find a vein. Some veterinarians suggest you give shots in the buttocks area, others suggest the loose skin around the neck. Ask which area your veterinarian recommends for your pet.

Too Much Insulin

The greatest threat to your dog’s health related to insulin is getting too much insulin. This causes blood glucose levels that are too low (hypoglycemia), which can make the dog very sick and can result in death. Just as human diabetics carry a candy bar or orange juice to treat their low blood glucose, you should carry corn syrup or sugar pills with you for your diabetic dog.

Symptoms of low blood glucose include:

  • Dizziness or unsteady gait
  • Lethargy
  • Shaking
  • Falling
  • Seizures

Every dog shows a different combination of these symptoms. React immediately to the symptoms by giving your dog corn syrup or sugar pills. It’s important to make sure your dog ingests glucose in one of these forms as soon as possible. You can dilute the corn syrup in water and let your dog drink it. If the dog does not willingly drink it, administer it orally using a turkey baster. Corn syrup absorbs into the blood stream through the tissues of the mouth, so it is immediately effective.

You should quickly see a change in the dog’s symptoms and behavior since this treatment increases the blood glucose right away. Keep in mind that elevated blood glucose for a short time is much less dangerous than low blood glucose. To prevent low blood glucose, it’s generally better to err on the side of too little insulin rather than too much.

Weight Control

A healthy weight for your dog will help you control the diabetes and keep your dog active. A diet that is low-fat, moderate complex carbohydrate, and high-protein is recommended. Your veterinarian can suggest changes in diet or a prescription food for your dog.

Make sure to feed your dog at specific times each day and stick to these prescribed times. Resist the temptation to feed extra food, such as table scraps, and ask others in your household not to give treats that may alter blood sugar or increase weight. Consult your veterinarian about acceptable treats.

Other Medications

Check with your veterinarian about other medications your dog is taking. Some medications should be avoided in diabetic dogs.

Consequences of Diabetes

Diabetes can cause many other health problems when not properly regulated. Some of the complications include:

  • Eyes — diabetes can cause or worsen cataracts
  • Kidney disease
  • Liver disease
  • Limbs — high blood glucose can cause weakness and instability in the legs
  • Increased susceptibility to infections

Prognosis

Most dogs are diagnosed with diabetes when they are between 8 and 12 years old. Some are much younger, but with the consistent care, you can expect your pet to live a normal life and be active and healthy.

This article was written in consultation with Ellen Miller, DVM, MS, Diplomate ACVIM of Flatiron Veterinary Specialists (http://www.flatironvetspecialists.com/)

Please consult your veterinarian for diagnosis and before beginning any treatment program.

Dry and Irritated Skin Treatments for Pets

We’ve all seen pets that seem to drive themselves crazy with dry skin. Our poor dogs and cats don’t know that constant scratching, clawing, and biting of their itchy skin is only making it worse. It’s up you to help them get rid of dry and irritated skin. How do you do that? Well you try one these helpful tips for healthier skin and coats:

Poor nutrition is often one of the main causes of dry skin. Commercial dog and cat foods often lack essential nutrients that help our pet’s coats and skin stay healthy. Search for pet foods with natural ingredients that contain leaner proteins and fatty acids which help your dog or cat maintain shiny, healthy coats and skin. You can also ask your veterinarian for nutritional supplements and healthy snacks for your pets that contain vitamins and minerals needed for excellent skin health.

Bathing your pets too often can dry out their skin. Never use people shampoo as it is much too harsh for their skin. Instead find moisturizing shampoos made especially for pets. Grooming experts and veterinarians recommend bathing your pet once every ten days or so. This helps your pets stay clean and healthy at the same time.

A little trick I sometimes recommend is adding some olive oil to my dog’s food twice per week. The oil helps my dog develop moist skin and smoother, shiny hair. Oatmeal baths are also popular for helping soothe the skin of your pets. The only problem I found with oatmeal baths is that my dog then proceeds to taste every part of its body cause it now smells and tastes like delicious oatmeal!

Vitamin extract supplements are also widely-accepted forms of dry skin treatment. Try applying these supplements directly to your pet’s skin and rub them in well. Fish oils, teat tree oil, and calendula extract tend to work best. Vitamin E supplements also work well for revitalizing a pet’s skin.

Try to make sure your pets are drinking plenty of water. If you find that they aren’t drinking enough water on their own, try supplementing their diets with wet foods. Hydrated animals tend to have moist skin compared to animals that don’t drink enough water.

Monitor your pets regularly for changes in their skin condition. If any of the above remedies don’t help or their condition worsens, have a veterinarian examine your pet. There are times that no matter what you do skin diseases and conditions just have to be treated with medication. Your pets will eventually have healthy, vibrant skin at the end of this entire ordeal if you take the time to help them.

 

Keeping Your Dog Fit and Healthy

Just like any you and I, your dog can gain unhealthy levels of weight and suffer from low energy levels due to being too inactive, especially in the winter. There are ways, however, to combat this with a few simple exercises and everyday physical activities for your dog. Some of these will even work great for older dogs who aren’t used to frequent bouts of physical exercise. When it comes to trimming down your dog’s waist line and getting it to become more active, the saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks simply isn’t true anymore. Even the slightest bit of exercise will provide some benefits to your dog.

One exercise to try an incorporate into the dog’s daily routine is walking. While, it may not seem like much, walking is a great way to stay fit with your dog and it doesn’t require much more than a leisurely stroll around the neighborhood. Try not to overdo the distance of the in the beginning. I recommend keeping the walks short and gradually increase the distance as it gets in better physical shape.

Another great exercise for your dog is walking up and down stairs. Walking the dog up and down the stairs a few times will make a notable a difference. Similar to walking, try to increase the reps on the stairs over time so it can get more benefits of the exercise over time.

My personal favorite dog exercise is a good game of fetch. My dog can play this for hours on end and never tired or bored. You’ll need a few different toys and dog supplies for this one. The reason the different toys is so it can run further and longer after the different one, increasing its workout and activity level. For some of us who aren’t really into high-levels of physical activity personally, a game of fetch is great because it doesn’t require the same amount of physical output from us as walking does.

While this particular exercise may not apply to all dog owners, it is still a pretty fun activity. A swimming pool makes a great piece of exercise equipment for dogs. It is important to determine if your dog does or doesn’t like the water. Some breeds do and others not so much. Try to see if swimming is something your dog would enjoy and have fun doing before planning out a whole list of swimming related exercises for it.

Regardless of what type of activity you choose, your dog will be better off for it. There are many great exercises out there which will benefit him or her. Just remember to have fun and be consistent with it so that you and your dog can enjoy many more years together.

Holiday Dangers to your Pet

Holidays can be risky times for pets. Among the many things you plan for during holidays, your pet’s safety should always be on included. It is disappointing to hear of a friend’s pet suffering illness or death during the holiday season. However, it is a story that we hear far too often every holiday season.

Taking the following seven precautions will allow you and your pet to enjoy a merry and bright holiday!

Warn Company – People who don’t have pets, and even some who do, don’t always know what foods it can or cannot have. If you intend to let your pooch mingle among the crowd let everyone know that food is only to be eaten by humans.

Keep Them Out Of The Fray – -Do your pet a huge favor and keep it safe. Keeping it away from guests also prevents young children, hard-headed children, and hard-headed adults from going against your wishes and doling out food that can range from harmful to deadly.

This also prevents them from running or flying out of the house when guests open the door unexpectedly. Small pets can escape being stepped on.

Keep An Eye On Food – Many holiday foods such as chocolate, snacks high in sugar and salt, nuts, alcohol, avocados and others can be deadly. Pets left unattended for as little as a split second can result in irreversible problems. As horrible as it to lose a pet anytime, it has to be worse during the holidays.

Protect Wires – Most holiday celebrations include decorating with lights. Make sure your wires are protected from sharp teeth, strong claws and insatiable curiosity. Hide them behind furniture, tape them down, or put them in plastic tubing to further insulate them.

Avoid Choking Hazards – There are tons of items that surface during the holidays that can cause potential choking. Things like wire ornament hangers, marbles, broken bits of glass ornaments that go unnoticed on the floor, small toys and other items can be to intriguing for your pet not to explore. Put risky ornaments high on the tree where your pet is unable to reach..

Beware of PlantsSome plants are poisonous to pets and pose a real health threat if ingested. Why risk it?  To a pet, pine needles can be hypodermic-like and puncture the intestine while holly lilies can literally be the kiss of death.

But if you must have them, make sure they are kept out of reach, and be vigilant about dead leaves that drop. Be sure to check with a certified nursery about other the safety of any other plants before bringing them into your home.

Limit Access To Christmas Tree WaterAllowing pets to drink tree water is dangerous. Fertilizers and other pesticides may leech into the water and health problems or death when ingested. Stagnant water that sits will contain a high level of bacteria that can also cause problems for pets.

The Importance of Finding the Right Dog Crate

Dogs are den animals. It’s their nature. Knowing this, it is important to create a safe area in the home where your dog can call its own little den. I recommend dog crates. They provide a safe, personal area where your dog can curl up to take a quick nap or to distress with a good rope toy.

Now you are probably wondering what type of crate would be best for your dog. The answer to this question depends on how you plan to use it. In other words do you plan on using primarily for traveling with your pet or is it going to stay in the home as your dog’s own little place of residence within the house? Do you want a crate that can fold for easy storage or would you prefer a corner pin which you can simply leave in one area of the home? These are important questions to consider before making an investment in a dog crate that you may not use in the way you intended.

When it comes to the size of the crate is all depends on the size of your dog. It is important the dog is comfortable in the crate. It needs to be tall enough for it to stand up to its full height and, wide enough to allow the dog to lie on his side and stretch out. A crate that is too small is bad for the dog both physically and mentally.

The most common reason a dog owner would use a crate is to confine their dog without making it feel either isolated or punished. Ultimately, you want the crate to be the dog’s little home in a home. Try setting it in a corner, close to where everyone in the home typically hangs out. The dog should feel like it has some privacy in its crate but also as it is part of the family when everyone is home.

There are different advantages between plastic crates and wire crates. For example, wire crates allow your dog to see more of his surroundings, providing good visibility in all directions for the dog. A plastic crate restricts its view of the room. Wire crates allow more air circulation, which is always better when it is hot and humid out. If your home is cool and drafty in the winter, I recommend a plastic crate since they are better insulated. Finally, wire crates typically fold flat or can be quickly disassembled for storage. Plastic crates are neither of these but work as an open dog bed by removing the top.

Food Allergies and Cats

Did you know that cat food allergies represent roughly 10% of all the allergies in cats and 57% of the causes for itching and scratching? Food allergies are actually quite common among cats. They can sometimes manifest as young as five months old; other times they can take years to develop. Odds are your kitty won’t purr her way up to you at the dinner table and let you know what you are feeding him or her is making them sick.

The most common feline allergies to food are

  • Beef
  • Corn
  • Dairy products
  • Lamb
  • Seafood
  • Soy
  • Wheat gluten

You may not always associate the symptoms with an allergy so it is important to know what to look for. If your cat is allergic to her food, the signs will be pretty clear to tell. You will notice any or all of the following:

  • Scabs around her face and neck
  • Flaky or dry skin
  • Excessive scratching
  • Chewing on her limbs
  • Hair loss (oozing bald patches)
  • Changed toilet habits

Typically the diagnosis will include ruling out all other conditions that result in the same symptoms. After all other forms are ruled out your vet will like start a food trial. The purpose of a food trial is to determine what is causing the allergy.

During the food trial you will need to follow the veterinarian’s instructions carefully and make sure your cat does not ingest anything else. This means no treats, toys, etc. You want to be very diligent during the food study so you can identify the allergen and help your cat overcome it.

If you have multiple cats you will also want to make sure you have a separate litter box used by the cat being tested. Keep an eye out to make sure none of the other cats use this. Once you have gone through the food trial your vet should be able to identify what your cat is allergic to so you can start to find the right cat food for your cat’s allergy.