Dear Dr. Forsythe: Our 11-year-old terrier was recently diagnosed with diabetes. We are going back to the vet soon to get insulin and more information on this disease. I wanted to know your opinion regarding quality of life issues with pets who have diabetes. My boyfriend and I do not want to prolong “Woody’s” life by giving shots twice a day and feeding special food unless we can expect him to maintain a good quality of life. Do you think it is worth putting him through these shots. Do they hurt? – N.G., Napa
Dear N.G: In my opinion, dogs and cats that are diagnosed with diabetes usually enjoy a high quality of life once we regulate their disease with proper insulin injections and improved nutrition. Getting a diabetic pet “regulated” means making sure that their blood sugar is controlled as well as possible so that it is as close to normal as we can make it for the majority of each day. Insulin shots are administered via a very tiny syringe with a needle that is very thin. I imagine that the shot itself hurts less than a flea bite. However, I always caution clients with a newly diagnosed diabetic animal that they may expect increased veterinary costs in the future and that all pets respond differently to treatment. Some pets (dogs in particular) become well regulated quickly and easily, while others (more often cats) can be more difficult to get to a steady state.
Diabetic pets are prone to urinary tract infections as well as developing other complications such as cataracts. It is a big commitment to “Woody” to take on the duty of seeing that he gets insulin administrated twice daily (at the same time each day) and eats a diabetic appropriate diet for the rest of his life. While this an adjustment that will impact your family, the reward will probably be huge when you see Woody start to feel better and will continue to enjoy the vast benefits that come from having a loyal family pet. As long as you have realistic expectations and you are willing to elevate the level of veterinary care he may need in the future, I suspect you will be very glad you moved forward with his diabetes treatments. I have many happy patients who have been dealing with diabetes for several years, and in practically every case, the clients are so grateful to have their beloved pet with them living a happy life. I hope this information has helped, and that Woody will do very well in the future. – Dr. F