No Longer a Death Sentence for Your Dog

New research offers hope for controlling diabetes in dogs.

By | Posted: Wed May 24 00:00:00 PDT 2000

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Diabetes is caused by inadequate production of the hormone insulin by the pancreas. Insulin allows glucose, a simple sugar generated by digesting food, to be used by the body as an energy source. Without insulin, body tissues can't access glucose in the bloodstream, and instead continue to be starved for energy. This is why diabetic animals may be ravenously hungry, despite eating normal amounts of food, and will lose weight and eventually starve if not treated. The excess glucose in the blood must be eliminated by the kidneys, requiring greatly increased water consumption by the dog to compensate for the increased water lost through urination. Owners tend to notice the excessive appetite, thirst and urination first.

No one knows why the pancreas stops working in some animals, but many factors come into play. "The pancreas in a dog that becomes diabetic is not normal in the first place, probably due to genetic factors," said Richard Nelson, DVM, diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and professor at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. "Then various stresses on the pancreas, such as inflammation, infection, toxic chemicals and medications, such as glucocorticoids, may have a role in the actual progression to clinical diabetes."

Diagnosis of diabetes is simple with blood or urine tests for increased glucose levels, but it's equally important that dogs be evaluated for other health problems. Treating concurrent illnesses, which may be as simple as giving ora l antibiotics for a bladder infection or cleaning the dog's teeth, can help insulin treatments be more effective. Any disease affects the way insulin is metabolized, which means the dog will need more insulin and it won't work as well.

Dogs diagnosed with diabetes require one or two insulin injections per day for the rest of their livesa daunting prospect. "It was really difficult at first," Prout said. "I was so afraid that if I did something wrong, I would kill my dog. But after a few days, it became easier. I think most people can handle it." Oral hypoglycemics, pills that can be taken by some people instead of insulin injections, don't work for dogs.

Several types of insulin are available, and one type may work better than another in an individual dog. Initially, blood tests help determine the dog's response and proper dose of insulin. The dose almost never remains constant because insulin requirements fluctuate. Periodic adjustments in dose or even type of insulin may be needed throughout life, and they require an ongoing commitment by the owner for follow-up veterinary care.

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