Miles’ corpulence is no longer a laughing matter.
One year ago, Miles tipped the scale at 100 pounds (not a high score of which to be proud, considering his ideal weight is about 70). We cut back on food, increased exercise and limited processed dog treats (giving an overweight dog Milk Bones is like giving a fat kid Snickers; it’s fuel for health problems associated with obesity).
In recent months, Miles appeared noticeably slimmer, and his energy spiked. He was able to resume hikes, he began retrieving his beloved tug-of-war tire on a regular basis, and he was back to bounding after rabbits and neighboring dogs. Last week, however, it all came crashing down.
Miles suddenly became lethargic, preferring to move only to drink, eat and go to the bathroom. Enthusiastic, brisk walks turned into forced, epic slogs that required frequent stops. This morning, after the short-lived victory note that Miles dropped nearly 12 pounds since his last visit, the veterinarian confirmed our fear: Miles has diabetes. “His glucose,” the vet confided, “is literally off the scale.”
Though often treatable, diabetes is rarely reversible in dogs. And even treating canine diabetes, as Dr. Shauna S. Roberts points out in an excellent article on The Bark, “is as much an art as a science.”
Caring for a dog with diabetes, I am learning, entails an odd mix of regimented consistency and trial-and-error. The goal is to keep the dog’s blood-glucose levels close to normal, but “normal” varies by dog, as does the amount of insulin required to achieve results and the time it takes for the insulin to do its job.
As seems to be the case when misfortune strikes, Miles’ diagnosis arrived with terrible timing. I am without a full-time job and just emptied my meager savings to pay bills, rent and impending canine medical expenses; the reports this week that nearly 40 percent of Americans have nothing saved for retirement came as no surprise. Who can save when wages have stagnated, the cost of living has skyrocketed, and the wealth gap has become a canyon?
While there are resources for pet owners who need financial assistance to cope with their pets’ medical problems, the truly wonderful organizations that provide them are hamstrung by tight budgets and strict requirements (such as an owner receiving unemployment assistance or food stamps, or being disabled, none of which, alas, applies to our situation). America is like that brash demi-friend everyone has at some point in life who promises to get your back, but turns tail when you need help most (see also our compromised healthcare system and tax code as they apply to people who are slightly above abject poverty).
Miles has proven himself more loyal than that, and after nine years of steadfast companionship, I owe it to him to sugarcoat personal problems and do my best to ensure his remaining time on this planet is sweet in nature, if not diet. In two days, we return to the vet so the humans can learn how to administer insulin shots and check blood-sugar levels, and Miles’ initial day of treatment can be monitored by his doctor. While the vet believes Miles’ outlook is good with medication and proper care, the fact that I didn’t do enough to avert this entirely preventable health problem leaves a plump, bitter pit in my soul.
Our pets can’t always exercise themselves or help not eating every scrap of food (or what they think may be food) they find; it’s our job as their caretakers to be aware of their health and respond accordingly. A fellow dog enthusiast recently forwarded me a list of 10 Canine Commandments (there are variations of this floating around the interweb); the final two are “take care of my well-being” and “stay with me on difficult journeys.” I failed on the former, but I will abide the last. For all our pets give us, this is the bare minimum we can offer in return.