Diabetes and the dog – Our crash course in managing chronic illness

Bringing up Dolce

Dolce at 6 weeks

My husband’s theory is, “always name your pet the character you wish it to have.” For example, my first pet was an orange tabby named Giuseppe. He was super feisty. Allan named his cat, Hazel, “A nice grandma name.” For the entire time I knew her, Hazel was content to lay on your lap all day.

We wanted our Keeshond puppy to grow up to be sweet and loving. So, we named her Dolce, the Italian word for sweet. In her early years she was definitely playful, sweet and loving. Now, approaching her 9th birthday, we’ve learned that our beloved puppy is diabetic. There is too much sugar in her blood and she is insulin dependent. She is sweet in more ways than we hoped.

Young Life and Early signs

Dolce during her hiking days


The average Keeshond is between 30 to 40 lbs. In her first years, Dolce was always in the mid to high 30s. We would give her extra treats. We didn’t think this was a problem at the time. For her first 5 years, she would go on 3 to 5 mile expeditions with me almost every day.
One hot summer day when she was 5 and a half, I took her on a long run. Halfway home, she stopped, looked at me and sat down and refused to move. I had to call Allan to bring the car. When he opened the door, Dolce perked right up and took a running leap into the back seat. After that day, she refused to go on walks with me again unless it was absolutely necessary. She also steadily began to gain weight.
Dolce was always a food motivated dog. While some puppies respond well to joyful praise during training, Dolce responded best to treats. As her sweet face looked up at you when at the table, it was almost impossible to deny her a nibble of food. One holiday, my mother even baked a whole turkey. When I asked why, pointing out that no one in our family liked turkey she said, “Dolce does.”
A couple years ago, we asked the vet to test her thyroid. It seemed that Dolce had been on a constant diet – only about one cup of food per day, but she wasn’t losing any weight. The blood test confirmed she had underactive thyroid, an endocrine system disorder. We started giving her a thyroid hormone twice a day. Dolce started getting her energy back. She even joined me for some longer walks!
After a while, Allan lessened the dosage based on her constant panting and hunger. Reading on the internet, he felt that she was getting too much. He lessened the dosage without getting her blood and hormones tested again.
Whenever I asked, I was brushed aside given assurances that it was all ok. I did not push the issue. At that time, our daughter, SB was just under a year old. We were both working from home without extra help. I feel guilty now that I did not have the capacity to take the dog myself.

Making excuses – Delaying the inevitable just makes things worse

Over the past year, we saw an increase in panting and hunger, even though she was not getting as much exercise as she had in her younger life. In addition, she began drinking a lot more water.

The excuses we made for all the drinking and panting was that she was hot. In the summer, it was just plain hot. In the winter, the fire was hot. In our defense she is super fluffy and she is often hot.

Why was she hungry all the time? Well, she just likes food. She is food motivated.
At age 5 she stopped walking with me. But at ages 7 and 8 she stopped wanting to go with Allan, her main person. When she did, she would slowly heft herself up and limp out. The excuse there was that she hurt her paws or her nails were long.

Allan takes pride in grooming Dolce. However about a year ago, we did not have time and we took her to a groomer. She was surprised at the dermatitis in Dolce’s skin especially based on the quality of food we gave her.

In hindsight, I realize that all of these things are classic symptoms of diabetes in dogs.

The Diagnosis

SB and Dolce, 2 months before the diagnosis

About two months ago, we left Dolce with our best friend to take my brother to Manhattan for the weekend. After the second night, she called to say something was definitely wrong. Though her house was a steamy 80 degrees, Dolce was drinking a lot more water than usual. She drank to the point of vomiting. In addition, Dolce was aggressive to the other dogs and to my friend when the water bowl was taken away. Dolce was panting, whining, and would not move from her spot, even to go into an air conditioned room.
When we brought Dolce home that weekend, she seemed normal. Allan said she was fine and she just missed us. This time I did not take his word for it. I called the vet myself to make the appointment.


Blood tests showed that Dolce had high sugar levels in her blood. Further tests of her pee showed that it was leaking into her urine.

When they called with the results, I anticipated what Allan would ask knowing that he is skeptical of medicine and doctors. “Can this be controlled with diet and exercise?” The answer was no. Dogs are different. Once they have diabetes they can’t get rid of it. They need insulin every 12 hours.

The timing of the diagnosis was unfortunate. Two days after the second test, we were leaving for an extended road trip to Tennessee and Texas.

We were supposed to start giving Dolce insulin. The brand on the script cost $380 and our pharmacy did not carry it. They said it would take a week to get the drug.
We kept driving. That night in Western PA we tried a Walmart pharmacy. They had a Novolin. They said it was the same thing that our vet prescribed and it was a fraction of the price. We decided to wait until Monday to call our vet and make sure we could give her the cheaper version.

Once she started taking insulin, we noticed her perk up immediately. Her smile was almost back. Her initial dose was 5 cc.
Sadly Dolce went blind within the week of her diagnosis.
We were able to find a good vet in Texas to do follow up bloodwork on our Dolce. He told us about a dog’s sugar cycle. The blood glucose levels spike at meal time. 6 hours later, should be the low point. In a dog, this should be between 80 to 120.

At 5 cc of insulin, Dolce’s blood glucose was still about 400 mg at the 6 hour mark. We were instructed to stay at the current dose for one week. Then we should increase the dosage by 2 cc, let her adjust and see how her body responds. Currently we are at 9cc of insulin per meal. Dolce’s blood glucose level is now consistently around 90 to 100 at the 6 hour mark.

Regarding her eyes, she cannot see at all. There is a program out of Cornell in Ithaca, NY that can test to see if Dolce would be a good candidate for eye surgery. We are considering it. Dolce is only 9 years old this year and the average lifespan of a Keeshond is between 13 to 15 years. That is still a lot of time.

In Conclusion

Our life has changed dramatically with Dolce’s diagnosis. We now give her shots twice a day.

We can’t be spontaneous anymore. This hampers our travel. We can’t just leave her with anyone. We need to carefully monitor her food. Had I been more forceful, there is a chance that the condition would not have gotten this far.
This episode has inspired me to be more adamant and relentlessly persistent about following up early with chronic conditions.
Does someone in your family have a persistent cough that they swear is just allergies? Get that checked!!
Do you know someone who had elevated blood sugars during pregnancy but now they are fine? Continue to monitor that glucose levels once yearly at minimum.
It is important to establish a baseline for your health and to continue careful monitoring for fluctuations.Know the conditions you have so they do not develop into bigger challenges later in life.

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