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Columbus family learns to handle pet's diabetes
By Patti Drapala
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Diabetes can be difficult to manage in animals, but one Columbus family learned to master the task with help from Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
When their pet dog Abby developed the disease four years ago, Terry and Dale Brewer were willing to do whatever possible to keep her happy and healthy. They knew their 12-year-old daughter, Sara, wanted that, too. That is why the family set out on a four-year journey with the staff of the college’s Animal Health Center to manage Abby’s Type 1 diabetes.
“The Brewers were unbelievable clients,” said Dr. Mark Russak, Abby’s primary care veterinarian at the center. “They followed every recommendation we made to stabilize Abby’s diabetes and maintain good blood sugar control, which is essential to minimize complications and maintain good health.”
Abby’s diabetes was still under control when she died last summer, and the disease played no part in her death. As part of her diabetic care routine, Abby went for checkups and blood glucose testing every four months. During an examination last June, MSU veterinarians found a large mass in her chest. Tests revealed cancer, and Abby began treatment for this new diagnosis.
During Abby’s various checkups and treatment at the Animal Health Center, a strong bond had developed between her family and the veterinary staff. The Brewers said they were touched by the love and affection everyone showed their beloved dog. After her death, the couple commissioned a portrait of their beloved dog for the veterinary staff who worked with them to manage her health care for so long.
“This gift symbolizes just how much people become attached to their pets,” said Dr. Kent Hoblet, dean of the college. “Perhaps it also shows the bond that many clients establish with the caregivers. We were thrilled to receive this wonderful portrait of a patient that everyone here loved so much.”
Columbus artist Judy Reeves used photos of Abby wearing her familiar blue-and-white scarf to capture her personality. She completed the portrait in three months.
“The doctors and the staff here were wonderful to Abby and to us,” Terry said, “We wanted to do something special for them that would remind them of Abby and show them how much we loved them, too.”
Abby was a stray when she walked up the driveway to Terry and Dale’s house nearly 15 years ago. Terry said she could not help but notice the dog had a Labrador-sized body on basset hound legs.
“We didn’t find Abby; Abby found us,” Terry Brewer said. “When people saw her for the first time, they kept waiting for her to get up because they expected her to have a Labrador’s legs.”
The little dog’s personality won over the Brewers, and she soon had a home. She also developed a maternal instinct as the family expanded. Their newborn daughter, Sara, became Abby’s baby. Abby also mothered the other three dogs and two cats that joined the family.
“Abby always came running when I called her,” said Sara. “She ran so fast that her paws would make a clopping sound on the floor. She was like my older sister.”
The Brewers enjoyed life with their menagerie as their daughter and their animals romped through the backyard. But about four years ago, Terry noticed Abby’s behavior had changed. She was drinking an unusual amount of water and frequently going to the bathroom outside. Her energy level had dropped, too.
Terry took Abby to the clinic for an examination, where blood and urine tests revealed the dog had developed Type 1 diabetes. The disease is life threatening because the body stops making insulin, a hormone needed by cells to use glucose.
Without insulin, blood glucose levels get dangerously high and damage healthy tissue. The only way to control blood glucose in patients with Type 1 diabetes is to inject insulin and match the dosage to the amount of food consumed.
The Brewers soon learned to do this. The staff taught them how to give injections and balance the dog’s food and water intake. Russak prescribed a type of insulin called Humulin N, which had a duration period that fit Abby’s needs.
Abby received insulin injections each day at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. The Brewers were careful to feed Abby before injecting the insulin to maintain her blood sugar within a reasonable range. They also learned to watch for behavior that might indicate a blood sugar problem.
“The Brewers made sure that she ate a healthy diet and had plenty of exercise, which helped maintain good blood sugar control,” Russak said.
Dogs that have diabetes often develop complications in their eyes that can lead to loss of vision. When Abby started to bump into objects, the Brewers booked an appointment with the Animal Health Center. An eye exam revealed diabetic cataracts in both eyes.
Faced with this situation, the Brewers decided to allow canine ophthalmologist Dr. Bill Miller to operate. The procedure was successful because the Brewers had taken great care to control Abby’s diabetes, thus lessening complications after surgery.
“Once Abby could see again, she was like a new puppy,” Sara said.
About one in 400 dogs will develop diabetes during their lifetime, and the same ratio is true for cats. Dogs are more prone than cats to develop Type 1, or insulin-dependent, diabetes. While insulin is used to manage diabetes in dogs and other animals, there is no cure for the disease.
Pets that experience sudden weight loss, increased thirst and dehydration, frequent urination, lethargy and loss of appetite may be showing symptoms of diabetes. Pet owners should promptly take their pet to a veterinarian.
“The Brewers were willing to do whatever it took to keep their dog healthy,” Russak said. “Pet owners would be wise to follow the example they set.”