Finding out your pet has diabetes is distressing and quite often comes as a surprise. Nothing can prepare you for the lifestyle changes that inevitably follow a diagnosis of diabetes, and it can usually take a while adjusting to a new routine, especially in a household with more than one animal.

While this is a challenging time for you, it is also a unique experience for your cat or dog, and it will come to rely on you for all kinds of support. By adjusting to the situation together you can help build an even stronger bond, whilst ensuring your pet’s condition is facilitated in the most effective way.

Both of you were probably noticing symptoms long before the condition was diagnosed, meaning you have suffered the situation together from its onset. Just because your pet is diabetic does not mean its life (or your own) should suffer, and by continuing to face the condition together you can adapt to its demands without too much distress or upheaval. The trick is to catch the disorder early to avoid any unpleasant secondary conditions developing, including loss of sight, kidney damage or bladder infections.

While there was abundant advice available on injecting insulin (where and when, how and why), regular blood testing and adjusting your pet’s diet, there was very little to be found regarding the smaller practicalities of the disorder on home life, or either the financial or emotional strain that diabetes places on the owner of a diabetic animal.

How do you cope with injecting your beloved animal daily? Do owners feel an ongoing pressure to finance the condition (in terms of vet’s visits, doses of insulin, blood test strips etc)? Are there feelings of guilt associated with having a diabetic pet, that you might in some way be responsible?

Without actually asking someone that had experienced these issues, it was difficult to begin to imagine the effect of providing long-term care for a diabetic animal. I went and spoke to an elderly friend who had been the proud owner of a diabetic dog for 8 years.

Never needing much prompting when it comes to talking about Struan, her beloved Yorkshire Terrier, I soon found out that Struan’s diabetes has become more difficult to manage in the last year to 18 months.

As Struan has got older he has started to find the insulin injection a far scarier prospect than before. The usual distractions that positively reinforced his receiving the injection before no longer work. Likewise, as Struan’s owner has aged and become less mobile, she has found the rigmarole of consistent feeding and injecting times hard to keep on top of. With Struan wary of the injection and his owner struggling to detain him for long enough, whilst lacking in the strength needed to hold him, these twice daily episodes have become an increasing problem.

Being her only companion, Struan is understandably cherished and at times, spoilt. This is freely admitted, although it doesn’t look likely to ever change. Struan’s owner will happily prepare the same meal (and portion!) for her dog as she does for herself, usually at midday and in the evening. This can be anything from pie and mash to a full roast or spaghetti Bolognese. Besides this, Struan always has some dry food left out and is given daily treats. Exercising is not really an option anymore with Struan’s owner struggling to get out-and-about, so most of the time Struan is indoors by the fire.

While it is easy to see why pets might be spoilt, over-feeding and obesity only exacerbates the diabetic condition by reducing the responsiveness of tissue to insulin. This makes it harder to treat the deficiency and stabilise blood glucose levels.

When I investigated further, I learned that Struan is not the only diabetic animal to be indulged by its owner and that many pet owners will admit to spoiling their animals because they feel sorry for them. It is important to remember that a trained dog with ground-rules is a happy dog. Lavishing your pet with treats, presents and lapse parenting may only be of detriment to your diabetic animal’s behaviour and health.

When a dog or cat is first diagnosed with the disorder, many owners will struggle to absorb all the information given by their veterinarian, including the new dietary plan, the injecting schedule and general suggestions and advice. The whole thing can be a bit overwhelming and it may take a while for the information to sink in and for your new routine to become second nature.

Researching diabetes online can be helpful and is strongly encouraged, but nothing substitutes the first-hand advice of friends and family that may also have diabetic pets. Joining a community for diabetic pet owners is another way of getting more personal care and advice, as well as the reassurance that you are not alone. Many will be worried when it comes to injecting their pets for the first time, anxious they will hurt them or do it incorrectly, so speaking to fellow pet owners is sure to be of benefit. You may even have feelings of guilt if your animal is overweight and suffering with type-2 diabetes, and it may be that talking through these emotions offers some support.

Finding out your beloved companion has diabetes is a difficult time. While it is unpleasant for your pet it can trust that you will provide it with the treatment and support it needs, while you, its owner, are left anxiously wondering how you will manage. Wondering how you will afford the recommended diet, the insulin or the repeated visits to the vet so that your cat or dog can enjoy the best life possible. You may also be troubled by questions of how to store the insulin, how to administer it, how to monitor your pet’s blood from home, as well as how your social life will suffer because of consistent feeding and injecting times.

The issue is not a straightforward one, and many owners will cope differently. Perhaps the best advice is to learn as much as you can about the condition and its symptoms (excessive thirst, prolonged urination, weight loss and vomiting) early on, so that you know what to be aware of. Once diabetes is diagnosed continue your research, remembering to explore a variety of avenues for help, advice and support. Caring for a diabetic animal needn’t be traumatic for you or your pet, and establishing a routine that suits you best and ensures the most effective care for your animal is the way forward.

If you have a diabetic pet, please share your experience with us. How do you cope caring for your animal on a day-to-day basis? And what advice would you give to an owner whose pet has recently been diagnosed? Feel free to contact me directly with any further questions and/or suggestions for future blog posts: [email protected]

What is Diabetes?

Signs and Symptoms

Managing Diabetes

Complications and Conditions Linked To Diabetes

Written by: Hannah