Hey, you think it's tough living with diabetes yourself? Try managing your own D and also having a cute little pet with diabetes whose blood sugar you have to manage as well.
We ran a report on the topic of pets with diabetes back in early 2013, but haven't yet had a chance to hear first-hand from anyone who has a pancreatically-challenged four-legged friend. Today, we're excited to welcome fellow PWD Jenna Holt, who is not only a type 1 herself, but recently started fostering a furry friend living with diabetes. Jenna is a good friend of mine here in Indiana, and you may remember her from her first guest post a couple summers ago in which she told us about her work as executive director of the Diabetes Youth Foundation of Indiana that owns Camp Until a Cure located in Noblesville (just north of Indy), a non-profit org that I've been honored to serve on the governing board of for a few years now.
Today, Jenna has a dog tale to tell...
A Guest Post by Jenna Holt
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Meet Irina: a beautiful, well-trained, 7-year-old terrier mix. She enjoys going for walks, chasing squirrels, meeting people, and most other dogs. Up until a month ago, Irina lived at the Hamilton County Humane Society (just north of Indianapolis). After four months, Irina had been brought back four times (!) after one unsuccessful adoption and three unsuccessful foster homes. Why would anyone return this sweet, adorable dog?
Simply because Irina has diabetes and requires two shots a day.
Meet Irina: diabetic, insulin-shot-hating, food-motivated, 7-year-old terrier mix who has to be fully restrained and muzzled twice a day for her Humulin N shot with an average blood glucose in the 400's. The latter paints quite a different picture than the original description.
I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes myself 10 years ago as a teenager, and since then have yet to let it stop me from doing anything. When I was told I couldn't have candy bars, I laughed. When they said T1D's can't sky dive, I may have left that bit of information off my application. When I was told I wouldn't want a dog with diabetes, it made me want to give this girl a home and family even more. After all, we could bond over our diabetes (provided dogs sense more than people give them credit for).
So Irina came home with me in September as a part of a two-week foster-to-adopt program. As of Oct. 9, she's adopted and officially mine!
Diabetes in a dog is surprisingly similar to a human. Irina (similar to most DWD's) gets two shots of Humulin N a day. There is a special meter for animals called AlphaTrak; however most use a human meter because the difference in readings is just 30 points, give or take. For the price, most find human meters cheaper. I am currently using Diastix to monitor her urine. This is very basic, but Irina hates shots and the stress of blood glucose testing probably isn't helping. I hope to be able to learn the best testing areas from her vet and use a glucometer in the near future.
From what I understand, pets with diabetes have a reading that is similar to a human A1C. I have yet to see this. The hardest part with Irina versus a child is not being able to ask how she is feeling and not being able to consistently test multiple times a day. It is a lot of getting to know your pet and watching for differences in their behavior. They can go low. The signs are weakness, shakiness, and overall "seeming off." The suggestion I received for treating lows is to use Karo syrup, something most dogs will lap up right away.
The first two days were pretty tough: 25 minutes of wrestling, sweet talking, tears, and a lot of stress for both of us with each shot. Did I mention she gets two shots a day?
Thinking back to my own diagnosis, I wondered if my parents originally muzzled me too? All of the YouTube videos showed happy, complacent dogs waiting for their insulin shots. As soon as I brought the needle within a foot of Irina, she began growling, biting, and attacking. Who could blame her? Her life was drastically changed in May when she was brought in as a 'stray' with all of the same signs as a human D-diagnosis. The worst part is knowing that pre-diagnosis, she was a part of a loving home somewhere. When not low or facing a shot, she is better trained than my 3-year-old non-diabetic poodle mix.
On the third day, it was very clear that giving Irina shots was no less than a two-person job. But I live alone and didn't have a plan yet. After getting home from church that afternoon, my neighbor, Grace, asked how my new little one was doing. Being the unemotional person that I am, Grace was taken aback when I burst into tears and told her all about the troubles but how I couldn't give Irina back. She needed a home and needed someone who understood diabetes to take care of her, and I needed a plan. Grace is one of the most patient, caring people I have ever met. She right then and there offered to help twice a day so that Irina could stay with me. This is by far one of the most selfless things that anyone has done for me. It is a big time commitment. But can't that be said about all diabetes? It's a life-changing time commitment.
A large part of my job at DYFI (Diabetes Youth Foundation of Indiana) includes talking to parents of kids and teens with diabetes -- some recently diagnosed, some having had diabetes for many years. I have always listened to the stories, tried to think back to my diagnosis and what a conversation with my parents might have entailed. I don't have any kids of my own (disclosure: my mom calls my dogs her grand-puppies), and I can't imagine what goes through a parent's mind during diagnosis.
Irina changed my life, once again. My schedule changed, my other dog's eating schedule changed, my knowledge of dog food increased, my spending increased with all of her supplies, and some people gave me the "You're crazy" look. All of a sudden, I realized that I was experiencing some of the same emotions as a parent with a child being diagnosed. The difference? I voluntarily chose Irina, a dog with diabetes that no one wanted.
It has been quite the emotional rollercoaster this past month.
I became the frantic new dog owner trying to check sugar all the time, doing math, contacting dog food companies, and of course monitoring her wondering if she is low every time she 'acts funny.' An interesting tidbit I learned about myself: when asked the ubiquitous question, "How've you been?," my new reply is now: "Good, and I adopted a diabetic dog!"
What's wrong with me? Why wasn't the answer "I adopted a dog" without feeling the need to include that she has diabetes? Did my parents answer this notorious question after my diagnosis with "We're good. Oh! And our daughter Jenna has diabetes." I have calmed down on the overbearing "parent" complex somewhat and now give her a few homemade treats. I went from counting every kibble to averaging, similar to my own story. I used to count every carbohydrate gram and now I guesstimate (a tactic that's a T1D's best friend).
Today, Irina is a 7-year-old terrier mix who loves life, has diabetes, loves her food and treats, has gained her normal weight back, chases squirrels, enjoys pillows, is a newly-converted Packers fan, and has normal blood glucose levels on average. Just like it is a part of my life, diabetes is a part of Irina's life -- not all of it.
Taking on Irina's challenges has given me a whole new perspective and a new appreciation for parents of T1Ds. I know how it feels to live with diabetes myself, but I never knew how it felt to take care of someone else with diabetes (be it a human or dog). My first night, I was scared to sleep because I wasn't sure if I would recognize if she went low. Now, I even let her stay at my parent's house (they are her babysitters). Even with my mom and I both having diabetes, it took training my parents to take care of Irina's specific needs, dosing, and feeding times.
No one asks for diabetes, but with love and support, diabetes is manageable, even in furry friends.
Side note: There are cats and dogs with diabetes needing loving homes everywhere! I found Irina at the my local Humane Society, and there are no doubt plenty of pets with diabetes looking for homes at a center near you. So next time you're looking for a pet, consider adopting a pet with diabetes -- because it takes someone with a patient heart and a lot of (D-related) empathy to care for such a special animal!
Thanks, Jenna! It's great to see how you've welcomed this pup into your home and are taking care of her so well. Hopefully other pet-lovers will follow suit.