Ella is my 8 year old female Rat Terrier and for 8 years she has brought great joy to my life. Unfortunately, on February 1, 2012, she was diagnosed with canine diabetes. After getting over the initial shock, I had so many questions: What kind of food is safe for a diabetic dog? How often do I need to administer insulin shots? Was Ella's diabetes my fault? My vet provided some information, but after looking online, I realized that there wasn't a dedicated community for diabetic dog owners. That's when I decided to start Dogabetix!
My hope is that Dogabetix can be a place where owners of diabetic dogs can share their personal stories, learn tips and tricks for caring for diabetic dogs, and find support when they need it most. I'll also be sharing my personal experiences as I work to keep Ella happy and healthy!
Part I: The Diagnosis
I've had Ella since she was 6 weeks old. She had all of her shots and seemed to be a healthy dog the first few years. It was in the Summer of 2011 when things began to change and she became very sick one night. Although she had vomited before, she never had any lingering symptoms. This time, not only was she vomiting, but she was very lethargic, and unable to stand on her own. She slept the entire weekend away, unable to eat or drink. At best I thought she caught a bug, or maybe she had eaten something bad. By Sunday night she seemed to be back to normal, so I figured whatever it was that was making her sick had passed.
Unfortunately, this sickness became a pattern, and Ella suffered from similar symptoms about once a month. I took her to the vet who told me that "Terriers have very sensitive stomachs" and that I just need to watch what she eats. I went home and wracked my brain, trying to think of all the things she could have eaten. I remembered that a few hours before she got sick she had eaten bird seed off of the floor at my neighbors home. Could that have been it? I had also fed her a femur bone earlier in the week, maybe she wasn't able to digest the bone marrow? Maybe it was the human food I sneak her, unable to ignore her begging eyes? I tried to eliminate all variables and bought her food for dogs with sensitive digestive systems.
My efforts were to no avail. She kept getting sick no matter what steps I took. In January of 2012, Ella's condition worsened. She was so lethargic that she couldn't even hold her little head up. Her eyes were blood shot and rolling into the back of her head. I took her to the vet and she was diagnosed with Pancreatitis. It was difficult watching Ella hooked up to an I.V. over night, but the next day she seemed back to her normal self.
Sadly, my relief was short lived. 3 weeks after being diagnosed with Pancreatitis, Ella became sick once again. This episode was the worst and in the span of 7 hours, she vomited 9 times. It was heart-breaking to listen to her, each time she would begin to cry before throwing up. She couldn't even keep down water, drinking a little from the palm of my hand only to throw it up 5 minutes later. She was unable to sleep that night.
I had had enough. I needed to know why my dog kept getting so sick. It was not because she ate something bad for her, it was not because of a sensitive stomach, and now apparently it wasn't Pancreatitis. As we rushed to the vet, I thought that Ella was dying before my eyes. They took her x-rays and drew her blood. The vet came into the room and told me that the X-rays really didn't show anything other than a slightly enlarged pancreas - which was expected. He left the room, and came back about 10 minutes later with the result of her blood test. "I have good news and bad news." I figured I could use the good news first. "We have figured out what's wrong with your dog." Without me having a chance to ask what the bad news was, he blurted out "she has diabetes."
I stood there shocked that Ella was diabetic as the vet proceeded to dump a ton of information on me at once. Her blood sugar level at the time of diagnosis was 520, whilte the normal range is between 150-200. He even brought out a vial of a healthy dogs blood, and compared it to a vial of Ella's blood. The normal blood had a deep red color while Ella's was pink and looked like a strawberry milkshake. The vet administered Ella's first shot of insulin and he kept assuring me how easy it would be, as if I would have no problems administering her shots twice a day. He also told me, with no real look of sympathy, that diabetes could cause Ella to go blind, possibly lose her tail, or even necessitate having a limb amputated. I couldn't believe it when he told me: "If you want to have Ella put down, I understand. Other owners do it, they don't want to deal with the added time and cost of having a diabetic dog."
I picked up Ella and left the vet's office feeling deflated. I thought it was my fault that she was diabetic. The vet did inform me that female Rat Terriers are one of the breeds most likely to become diabetic, but that didn't help soften the blow. We got in the car and drove back home. Thankfully Ella seemed a little better after receiving her first injection of insulin.
Part II: Life with Diabetes
I went home that night and did what many of you did--I sat in front of a computer and began an online search desperate for as much information I could find about diabetes in dogs. I visited a lot of websites written by vets as well as info sites like Wikipedia, but nothing was presented from the viewpoint of an owner of a diabetic dog. I was already dreading having to give Ella her shot the next morning, and dozens of questions floated in my head: How do I do this? What's this going to be like? How am I going to be around Ella every 12 hours to give her the shot? How is my life going to change? What about Ella's life? I started this site in an effort to prevent dog owners from experiencing the same desperation I felt that night.
After I calmed down, I visited the local pet store that night to see if they had any dog food made specifically for diabetic dogs. They didn't, and was surprised that a dog could even have diabetes! Actually, I had never heard of a dog becoming diabetic until Ella was diagnosed. We went down the aisles, spending about a half an hour before finding something that was sugar free, gluten free, and potato free, but the closest brand I could find that would be good for a diabetic dog was made with wheat flour. I went to a specialty dog food store and it all began again; the surprised look, the mediocre effort to help me find a dog food that would be safe for Ella to eat.
This went on for several months. I'd find a food that should be good for Ella, but she wouldn't eat it. Even the most expensive brands (wet food as much as $4.00/can) would make her sick after eating it for a few days. I can't even tell you the amount of time and effort I spent on dog food. So I decided to take matters into my own hands and began to make my own diabetic safe dog food and treats. I consulted with several vets and spoke with a Pet Food Nutritionist to find out what ingredients would be safe for Ella to eat. I also joined several online groups for diabetic dog owners to get their opinions.
I must have tried about 30 different recipes until I finally found one that Ella enjoyed eating, and wouldn't make her sugar levels spike! After successfully testing them with Ella, I began to share them with my friends who own dogs and realized that I was surrounded by people with diabetic dogs.
I found out that my neighbor owns a miniature schnauzer that was diagnosed the same month as Ella. I met a family at the dog park that once owned a female rat terrier that was diabetic. Two of my coworkers, including my boss's girlfriend, have diabetic dogs. Suddenly I was in touch with about 10 other owners of diabetic dogs. They've all been a great source of support and a sounding board for what we all experience having a diabetic dog.
Ella's blood sugar level is now in the safe zone, and she hasn't had one of her 'episodes' in over a year now. The food is working, she's healthy and happy, and I'm able to enjoy her as a health dog again! Both of our lives have changed--I am much more careful about what I eat, and Ella and I walk several more miles every week. Thanks for reading Ella's story, and I look forward to hearing your story as well!