Sugar shock

Miles looks back fondly on thinner days. Although the extra pounds were delicious.
Miles looks back fondly on thinner days. Although the extra pounds were delicious.

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.

Reese consoles his diabetic bro.
Reese consoles his diabetic bro.

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.

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9 thoughts on “Sugar shock

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  1. I’ve really enjoyed catching up on your news here at Outward Hounds. Good times, but not without the hard times, I see, and I wish you and Miles the very best with this part of the journey. It sounds like you’re certainly making the days very sweet for him. Good wishes to you and your lovely friend. Btw, I once watched a good friend treat her very chubby, diabetic ginger-colored kitty, Tommy, with those daily shots. That came after too many Tommy-birthdays celebrated with tuna fish and whipped cream. Tommy was loved and he knew it.

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    1. Thanks much for the kind words. At times, I think experiences like these are more challenging for human than pets (not to diminish what they go through). Animals seem to handle this stuff so matter-of-factly; for Miles, the shots and blood checks have just become part of the routine–I’m the one who stresses out over them.

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  2. Earlier this week I watched a programme in a series called The Secret Life of Dogs. This one was about obesity. Very thought provoking. Although MasterB is not a dog, he needs to lose some weight, at the end of the programme I ended up searching for and ordering a Cat Catcher to slow down MasterB’s biscuit consumption having seen one used for an overweight dog. It came today, and MasterB’s reluctance to work hard to get his biscuits means he has consumed far less than usual. So initially it seems promising. I shall wait to see how it pans out.
    Miles is lucky to have you, as the rescue Labrador on the programme who was grossly overweight was lucky to have been adopted by some very dedicated people.
    I hope the diet goes well, and the diabetes gets easier to manage. Keep us updated.

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    1. As always, thanks for reading and for your kind words. I’ll have to do some research into The Secret Life of Dogs. I watched a documentary with that title last year, but it seems like it was shown as one nearly feature-film-length program here (maybe it’s a different show, although they did touch on obesity; there was a lot of great food for thought overall). It is a real challenge to get a pet to lose weight, especially if they are otherwise fairly active and just engaged in a constant quest for food. I’m not looking forward to administering daily shots and taking blood-sugar readings, but it’s part of the deal. I was shocked when our veterinarian told me that some people can’t handle it and end up giving up their pets; while I guess those pets end up in better homes with more willing caretakers, it’s unfair to the animals. I love that the biscuit device you mentioned seems to work through channeling an animal’s lazy side; I can picture a cat internally saying, “Eh, not worth it.”

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      1. http://news.liv.ac.uk/2014/08/18/vets-join-channel-four-team-to-reveal-secret-life-of-dogs/ may help. I have my fingers crossed for the feeder working some magic. I imagine I am in for a few days of loud complaint until MasterB gets the message that he either gets the biscuits himself or doesn’t have any. There was a great feeder for Chancer the overweight Cavalier King Charles and her weight loss was impressive. The Labrador, predictably, ate everything however gross that she found. How you let a dog like that run free is a mystery unless muzzled.
        BTW good wishes for finding well remunerated employment. It’s a pretty fallow patch here too. I am rather dreading the winter income…

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