Pets with Diabetes   You just learned your pet has diabetes


I wrote this essay to help people whose pet has recently (or not so recently) been diagnosed with diabetes. Many of the things discussed below will probably go through your thoughts. Hopefully this will help you understand your new situation and you won't feel so overwhelmed. 

The First Day
The initial shock and fear you feel when the vet tells you that your pet has diabetes can be overwhelming.  Diabetes is a treatable condition and your pet can live a normal, happy, healthy life. Diabetes is not a death sentence for your pet.

A question that is often asked is “My pet is older, should I put him to sleep”. This is a very complicated issue and depends on the overall health of your pet.  Age alone should not be the deciding factor in determining whether to treat your diabetic pet or whether to euthanize it.  Many older pets have been diagnosed with diabetes and with commitment and loving care, they have lived many more years. Our cat was diagnosed at age 14, and after almost three years with diabetes he is very healthy and happy. There are diabetic cats and dogs that are quite elderly (18 years old or more) and are in very good health. You may want to read some of the Quality of Life stories that are on this site. 

Commitment, Patience and Education
Caring for a diabetic pet takes a very strong commitment from both the owner / caregiver and the vet. You must provide a very high level of care for your pet on a daily basis. Gone are the days of putting out food and water, giving a quick pat on the head, and hurrying out the door.  Every day you will have to give your pet medication, feed a proper diet, and watch his behavior. But don’t get the impression that you are now a aren’t... but you will have to pay much closer attention to your pet’s needs and behavior, and you will have to make arrangements for someone to care for your pet if you leave for a day or more.  Your hard work and commitment will be reflected in your pet’s continuing good health, and hopefully you will be able to enjoy the love and companionship of your pet for many more years.

With a disease like diabetes, it is very important that you have a good working relationship with your vet.  Your vet does not have to be an “expert” but he or she should be experienced in treating diabetic patients.  If your vet does not know something or is not sure how to treat your pet, he should consult with a specialist or refer you to a specialist.  Communication is absolutely essential.  You will have a lot of questions and must be able to ask the vet questions and get thorough, understandable answers.  Read more about you and your vet and some questions you may want to ask about diabetes.

Diabetes can be a very frustrating disease.  The veterinary community is always expanding its knowledge about diseases and treatment options, and diabetes is no exception.  Although there are standard treatment options for diabetes, diabetic animals can be difficult to treat and every animal responds differently to any given treatment plan.  One thing that most vets or owners of diabetic pets will tell you is “every pet is different”.

Educating yourself about diabetes is one of the best things you can do for your pet.  There is a lot to learn about the various aspects of diabetes and its treatment, and all of this information can be intimidating.  It is important to learn the basics early on, but then you can take things a little slower and do more reading.  Even after you’ve been doing this for many months or even years, there is always more to learn.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions.  If you don’t understand something, no matter how simple you think it is, you must ask.  Knowing the correct answer could save your pet’s life.  There are many resources available on the internet and in both human and pet health care books.  With a basic understanding of diabetes, you will be better able to care for your pet and better able communicate effectively and participate in the decision making process with the vet. There are also e-mail discussion groups like Petdiabetes where owners of diabetic pets exchange information, experiences, and offer emotional support.

Cost is something owners think of when their pet is diagnosed with diabetes.  The initial “sticker shock” can be overwhelming and the financial requirements of caring for a diabetic pet can be substantial.  Unfortunately, none of us has unlimited resources, and reality is that money is a factor.  If money is limited, many vets will work with you to limit expenses and will allow you to make payments on your bill.  Please discuss this option with your vet.  Here are some other ideas about how to manage your pet's expenses.

The first few weeks.
It is not unusual to spend $200-300 for the initial diagnosis and hospitalization, even if you caught the diabetes early.  If you were not aware of your pet’s condition and he is in critical condition, the costs can be significantly more.

In the first few weeks or months when you and the vet are trying to get your pet’s diabetes regulated, the expenses may still be high. You will have to take you pet to the vet for a few check-ups during the early stages of diabetes.  These check-ups are essential to determine how your pet is doing and to make any necessary changes to the medications.

In some pets, the diabetes is quickly brought under control (regulated).  Other pets are not so lucky and they require more frequent visits to the vet and adjustments to their medication.

Typical Maintenance Expenses
After the diabetes is reasonably well regulated the costs decrease dramatically.  Supplies typically cost around $30 to 40 per month.  This includes syringes, insulin, and a prescription diet.   A blood glucose curve done in the vet’s office may cost anywhere from $50 - 100.  You and your vet will determine how often these tests are needed.  After the diabetes is fairly well regulated, a blood glucose curve may be needed only every 6 months, or only when you suspect that your pet’s diabetes is no longer under control.  If your pet is more difficult to regulate, more frequent blood testing may be required.  Home blood glucose monitoring is an option that can significantly decrease your expenses.  There are many valid reasons why caregivers choose to do home blood glucose monitoring.  A primary reason is that it may provide the most reliable and immediate information on your pet’s blood glucose levels.  Another reason is the cost savings.  If you choose to do home blood glucose monitoring, it requires the support of your vet because the vet will help you interpret the results.  The blood glucose meters and test strips vary in price, but rebates are often available.  I spent $30 for the meter (after rebate) and the test strips are about $35 for a box of 50 strips.  The strips last us for several months.  Many people monitor their pet’s urine glucose, and the test strips are relatively inexpensive (less than $10 for 50 test strips).

Another expense associated with diabetes is for vet visits for other suspected health problems. In a way, this is a strange benefit of diabetes.  You become very aware of your pet’s behavior and are usually able to detect any changes or problems very early.  Also, the routine 6 month or annual check-up provides another opportunity to catch any new problems at an early stage.

Your Emotions
Caring for a diabetic pet can be frustrating and emotionally stressful.  You wonder how much you are upsetting or hurting your pet by giving pills or injections, feeding a new diet, and doing all the other things you will have to do.  The changes are difficult at first and your pet may be upset or not acting as lovingly as usual.  But these new activities are life-saving necessities and they soon become part of daily life, both for you and your pet.  With all the extra attention and care that you give your pet, you will probably find that the bond between you and your pet becomes even stronger.

There may be times when your pet’s diabetes is uncontrolled, or when other illnesses arise. The extra effort and commitment you give to your pet makes these setbacks even more heart-breaking and stressful.  Every health crisis can be an emotional drain. Exhaustion, frustration, anger, sadness, fear, and guilt are all normal feelings that are part of caring for an animal with a chronic health condition.  Don’t ignore these feelings, but don’t dwell on them either.  Be sure to take some time for yourself and rely on your friends and family for emotional support.  The bad times usually pass quickly and you learn to cherish the little things even more.  And don’t forget to celebrate the progress that you make, even if it is just a small step forward.  I believe that animals are very perceptive of our emotions, and the healing power of love should not be underestimated.  Never lose sight of the joy that your pet brings to your life.

People Think You Are Crazy
Some friends, relatives, and co-workers may make insensitive comments that you are crazy to care for a chronically ill pet.  Although it is difficult, try to ignore the unsupportive people - they do not understand the special bond of unconditional love that you share with your pet.  Only another pet lover will understand your choice to give such dedicated care to your pet.  Your good friends will understand your choice and be supportive, and one of them may even be suitable to be a back-up caretaker.  Try to find a group of other pet-lovers who will be supportive of your decisions.  There are many internet mailing lists and web sites for care-givers of pets with chronic illnesses.  Or ask your vet if there are some other owners of chronically ill pets that you could talk to.  These people will understand and be supportive of your choices.  A favorite book of mine, "Maya's First Rose: Diary of a Very Special Love", is especially appropriate for those of us who care for a special-needs pet. It is a wonderful book about the care and devotion the author gave to his dog during her final years. If you have ever been given unsupportive comments about caring for a special needs pet, this book will reassure you that you are not alone  in your devotion to your pet. 

Your Social Life
Caring for a diabetic pet will place restrictions on your ability to spend time away from home. Each day your pet must be given insulin or other medications, fed properly, and observed. With some advance planning, diabetic dogs can often accompany you on weekend trips or extended vacations.  Unfortunately, most cats don’t travel well, so they usually require special arrangements.  Before spending any extended period of time away from home, you must make arrangements with a well trained caregiver to take over the care of your pet. This is not a job for a neighborhood child or someone you don’t completely trust.  The caregiver must be able to properly administer medications, ensure feeding, observe your pet’s behavior, and be able to call the vet or take your pet to the vet in case of emergency.  A close friend or family member may be suited to this serious job.  There may be professional pet sitters available in your area.  Another commonly used option is to check with the technicians at your veterinarian's office - they are well trained, and often available to do in-home care for a reasonable fee.  Boarding your pet at a competent boarding facility or the vet’s office is another option.

The Bottom Line
By making the decision to care for a pet with diabetes you are taking on a huge, but very rewarding challenge.  There is a lot to learn and do so be patient with yourself.  Whatever decisions you make for the care of your pet, a decision based on love and the welfare of your pet is the best decision for everyone.


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Updated October 2000
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