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Rena is a mixed breed shepherd (spayed female) who is now 9 years old. She was diagnosed with diabetes at 8 years old and lost her sight to cataracts a few months later. She has lived with the disease for about 1-1/2 years now. She gets Humilin L twice daily at 8am and 8pm. Her dose is approximately 20 units, though it varies from 18 to 21 with the level of exercise we are getting that day (and seasonally.) I feed her Purina Pro Plan, 1 cup in the morning with her shot and two cups in the evening between 6 and 7. In the morning I mix 1 brewers yeast /garlic tablet and a 400u vitamin E with selenium and 1 teaspoon psyllium fiber, and 1c water into her food. Every third day I also put in one chromium tablet of 100mcg. And so she won't feel slighted because the other animals are getting "the good stuff"- about a tablespoon of canned food (usually cat.) At night she gets dry food, 1 teaspoon psyllium powder with water and 1 tablespoon canned food. At some point every day she usually gets a dog biscuit.

Rena (left) and her buddy Jet
Rena (left) and her buddy Jet

Rena is an intelligent and very active dog. We have no set exercise schedule but she is able to run and "snoof", swim and play as much as she wants. I am fortunate to live in a rural area and am self employed so she and her buddy Jet (female chow/Border Collie) spend all day, everyday with me. We go out for an all day hike at least once a week often two days. On these days Rena gets less insulin and about 1 c of crunchies when we stop to eat lunch. I also watch her for signs of slowing on these hikes and she gets a biscuit or other treat if she is lagging. I can tell this is a sugar problem because when she feels good she is in the lead. She is also able to accompany us on periodic backpacking trips.

Because I am able to be with Rena so much, I do more monitoring by observation than any other method. I watch her water intake (and Output!), and I pay attention to her mood and activity levels. I still take a blood glucose reading occasionally, about once every two weeks. I take that when she has her daily low -between 4 and 6 pm. I draw blood from a vein - usually one in a front leg . I do this to see if we are in the ballpark according to the numbers.

The vet is 100 miles away (like I said, this is a rural area) and she has been great. I can call anytime I have a question. Rena now goes in about once every 6 months, we check glucose levels and meters against each other. The vet gives Rena the once over. That's all so far.

When Rena was first diagnosed she had lost about 15 pounds in a matter of weeks. She was one skinny dog by the time I got her to the vet. A few years earlier she had some incontinence which was the result, it appeared, of drinking too much water. I took her to a different vet because I was concerned it might be diabetes. He did some testing and said it wasn't diabetes but that she was addicted to water. He used different words but that was the gist of it. In retrospect that was her "honeymoon" period.

Rena was difficult to stabilize. We started with a dose of Humilin L of 7u and worked up from there. I struggled with what kind of food to give her. As quality food is not readily available close by I tried a few different kinds before settling on Pro Plan. About 4 months after she was diagnosed Rena developed cataracts-it seemed to happen very quickly. At that point I took her to Salt Lake City to a canine ophthamologist. Her diabetes was not yet stable so an operation to remove the cataracts was not really an option. Fortunately, my Vet also referred me to a diabetes specialist that same week. I did these appointments in the wrong order going to the Eye specialist first, but I was so upset about Rena losing her eyesight that I reacted more to that than the diabetes. The specialist was wonderful (Dr. Kris Muscari) she spent 2 hours with me, explaining the disease, teaching me how to draw blood for bg readings and working out a diet to try. I had been running to the vet once a week before that for a bg reading- a grueling trip 100 miles away (one way) over a 10,000 foot pass in the Winter! By that point Rena was up to about 35u insulin and still losing weight. I thought she was a goner. We tried Eukanuba glucose control for a few months at that point on a free choice feeding schedule. Free choice in a multi animal household did not work. I couldn't afford to feed all the animals the high price prescription food but they all wanted it. Rena still was losing weight. I switched to Pro Plan then because she needed more calories. We backed way off on the insulin and began the process again raising it every two weeks until Rena stabilized about 8 months after diagnosis. 

Stabilized is a relative term. It wasn't that we found the Magic number of units of insulin and the correct diet and nothing changed after that. I thought it would be like that. Living with diabetes and treating diabetes is as much art as a science especially when you are interpreting the signs and symptoms across species lines. There's quite a bit of "winging it" and balancing activity versus inactivity and caloric intake. We live a non-traditional lifestyle and setting a rigid schedule is not practical. It has been possible to work Rena's diabetes treatment into our lives and to continue on.

As for Rena, she has adjusted to being nearly blind amazingly well. It was awful at first because she ran into things and hurt herself. I seriously considered putting her down. I thought her quality of life would be irretrievable. I was actually grieving over this. In about 8 weeks she began to get a feel for life around home. Our daily routine includes crossing an irrigation ditch on a 12" plank. She fell in once or twice at first but now she can run across it. For hiking we have gotten her a set of boots. We have cactus here and they are not always easy to avoid. The boots also help Rena avoid lacerations from rocks and sticks she isn't able to see. We now call them her magic boots because when she has them on she thinks she is invincible. Rena always could hike the pants off us. She would go all day and still be perky. Our other dog, 3 years her junior never could keep up with Rena. We went through a year or more of reduced activity but now Rena is back almost as strong as before and at the end of the day, stronger than the rest of us -as long as we keep her sugar levels within reason.

-- Contributed by Lynne


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Contributed August 2001
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