Case of the Month: The Thirsty Dog

By Dr. Heather Kovac

The Case: 

Abby was presented for an examination because her owner noticed she had been drinking a lot more water than usual.  Abby is an 8 year old 70 pound mixed breed dog. She has struggled with obesity her entire life and also has some arthritis in her elbows.  Her owner told me that she normally drinks 1 bowl of water a day but now she was having to fill the bowl at least 3-4 times a day. Abby was also asking to go outside to urinate more frequently, sometimes waking the owner up at night to be let outside.  She had also lost a few pounds lately even though the owner had not changed the amount she was feeding Abby. On physical exam, Abby was happy and bright, had lost 5 pounds, had mild dental disease, and thickened elbows but everything else checked out normally.  We decided to run some routine lab work including a complete blood cell count (CBC), general chemistry, thyroid screening (T4), and urinalysis (UA) to look for metabolic diseases.  

The Diagnosis

Her results showed a blood glucose of 515 and 3+ glucose in her urine.  Dogs should have a glucose of around 100 and no glucose in the urine. Abby was diagnosed with diabetes mellitus.  Diabetes is common in dogs and cats, as well as people. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas (organ in the abdomen) is not able to produce insulin, which is a hormone that regulates blood sugar (glucose).  I tell my clients that insulin is the key that allows glucose into the cell and every cell in the body requires glucose to function. When the cells can't get the glucose they need they send a signal to the body to "make more glucose, make more glucose!"  The body's response is an elevation in the blood glucose but the cells are still starving for it as it can't get in without the key (the insulin). Common presenting complaints in dogs and cats are an increase in thirst (polydipsia), an increase in urine output (polyuria) and weight loss with a good appetite.  Abby was classic for this disease. It is also more common in middle age overweight pets.  

Abby was prescribed insulin which we call into a human pharmacy for our patients.  The owner was instructed on how to handle the medication as well as how to administer it as a subcutaneous (under the skin) injection.  For most owners, this is a scary thing to do for their pet. Our technical staff is well trained in helping owners overcome their fears of the needle and giving their pet injections twice daily.  We encourage our clients to give it a try so they can see just how much they are helping their pet to feel better. We also teach owners how to monitor their pet's blood sugar at home with a small hand-held glucose monitor which takes a drop of blood from the pet's skin so they can ensure accurate dosing of the insulin.  Over the next few weeks, Abby started to feel better and her blood glucose readings began to normalize. Her owner told me that she could tell Abby was feeling better, was more playful, was drinking less water, and seemed more like herself very quickly.  

The Takeaway

Dogs and cats can live many years with diabetes as long as it is well managed by their owners.  It is a huge commitment on the owner's part as insulin doses cannot be missed and can only be given with a needle. 

Here are some lessons learned by my client and her pearls of wisdom to pass along to other owners of pets with diabetes:*

  • Walmart tends to have very competitive rates for insulin and syringes.
  • Syringes cannot be purchased without the purchase of the insulin.
  • The AlphaTrak 2 veterinary blood glucose monitor starter kit from ADW Diabetes has been incredibly useful.  Additional test strips can also be purchased on this website and my orders have been received ahead of schedule.  
  • I take my used syringes/needles to the Sheriff's Station located next to The Drake Center at 175 N. El Camino Real.  There is an outside receptacle for sharps disposal. They must be placed in a safe hard plastic container (I use an empty Gatorade bottle).
  • There are YouTube videos about administering insulin shots and taking blood samples.  I found them extremely helpful. Remember, if you are anxious about giving the shot to your pet, your pet will take on your anxiety.  I try to make it a happy time before the shot, give praise after the shot, and my dog knows she then receives her special treat.
  • Treatment is affordable and my dog is doing well! 

*Do keep in mind that these tips come directly from the client and are based on her experience with her diabetic dog mentioned in this case. All pets are different and should be seen by a veterinarian to determine the best individual treatment plan for them. If you have any questions or need to schedule your pet for an appointment, you can schedule an appointment with your veterinarian here or contact us today. 

The Drake Center for Veterinary Care is an AAHA-accredited animal hospital located in Encinitas, CA. The Drake Center loves being a source of information for all pet owners across the country however if you have any questions regarding pet care and do not live in Encinitas, CA or surrounding cities, we encourage you to contact your local veterinarian.

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