West Highland White Terrier diabetes diagnosis

Riley is 7 years old and is epileptic. He was diagnosed at just 18 months old with idiopathic epilepsy which has proved increasingly difficult to control. Despite taking a plethora of medication Riley still suffers with clusters of fits every few weeks.

Early Signs of Westie Diabetes

When Riley became unwell a few weeks ago we thought it may be the start of an epileptic episode. It quickly became evident that this was something different and whatever it was Riley was deteriorating quite quickly. We took him to the vets who suspected an infection. He was started on antibiotics, anti-sickness, and other medications whilst blood and urine tests were sent for analysis. The tests were repeated the following week to check that the antibiotics were working but instead of getting better Riley’s condition worsened, he became unsteady on his feet, was very lethargic and continued to lose weight. To make matters worse he started to have a cluster of fits which lasted a couple of days.

We returned to the vet for urgent blood and urine testing. We were shocked when the vet advised us that Riley had really high glucose in both his blood and urine, combined with his physical symptoms the clinical signs were pointing towards him being diabetic. All his previous tests were compared including those taken a few days prior. All were clear. The prognosis was that he was experiencing the early symptoms and side effects of diabetes mellitus.

When Riley’s blood glucose was tested again the next morning it was still high so we needed to start injecting insulin twice a day. We were taught how to inject him and given a very quick lesson in what to expect and how to treat hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia. Diabetes is not particularly common in Westies but can develop in any breed at any time.

Coping with a diabetes diagnosis

This was another massive learning curve for us to ensure that we understood the symptoms and implications of diabetes and how we could help Riley. Just as we started insulin treatment Riley started to have another cluster of fits, over three days he had a dozen fits. We had a dreadful weekend not knowing if his lethargy and difficulty walking was due to the fits or diabetes. We visited the vet again on the Monday. The vet repeated the fructosamine tests which confirmed the diabetes diagnosis. What a roller coaster!

We have now been treating Riley for a few weeks and thankfully he has had no further fits. At this stage he is on a very low dose of insulin and we are watching him carefully while we learn how his body needs the insulin to help him getting nourishment from his food. We have only once had to use rescue glucose due to hypoglycemia but diabetes, we are learning, is quite complex. Factors such as a longer walk, increased activity, being sick or unwell can all have an affect on how the insulin works. Riley was an average size Westie and over a few weeks his weight has plummeted due to the Diabetes. He is constantly hungry and thirsty.

What caused a 7 year old Westie to become diabetic?

What we know at the moment is that his body is not producing enough insulin. He had pancreatitis just over a year ago and this may have caused some damage that stopped the pancreas working properly.

As for Riley as always he has taken this in his stride! He waits patiently for his injections which don’t seem to bother him and just carries on. At the moment he is not regaining weight despite an increase in his meals.

What is Diabetes and what are the symptoms?

Diabetes Mellitus is a condition where the pancreas either fails to produce insulin or where cells are no longer able to use the insulin that is being produced. There are two types of canine diabetes Type 1 is insulin dependant, this is where the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin. Type 2 is insulin resistant, where cells respond incorrectly to the insulin that is produced. Both types of diabetes results in the muscles and organs being starved of energy as the the glucose present which has been metabolised from food, can not be converted. In both types of diabetes excessive amounts of glucose will be found in the blood.

The symptoms of both types of diabetes are the same. A Westie with diabetes will be hungry a lot of the time as the body can not convert the glucose into energy. They will become lethargic and often loose weight despite maintaining a normal or increased diet. Blood glucose will be high and will also often be found in the urine. Diabetes causes increased thirst leading a dog to drink more. Due to the change in urine concentration dogs will often need to urinate more frequently or may start to have ‘accidents’. The increased urination can lead to the dog becoming dehydrated which places them at greater risk of an infection. Diabetes can also affect the liver and the eyes.

What are the different types of Diabetes?

Insulin dependant diabetes mellitus, Type 1 where the pancreas no longer produces sufficient insulin, can occur at any age. Type 2 diabetes which is insulin resistant diabetes is often seen in older dogs, particularly if they are overweight.

Diabetes is a serious illness which needs to be identified and treated rapidly to avoid damage to organs. Unfortunately there is no cure but both types of diabetes can be managed. Insulin dependant diabetes, Type 1, will require twice daily doses of insulin to be administered. Insulin resistant diabetes, type 2, can often be managed by a change in diet.

It is a good idea to keep a daily diary to record of symptoms and diet. We have kept a record of medication doses, time given, meals, drinking, mobility and mood.

Monitoring Diabetes at home

You can buy urine-dip sticks for daily testing to keep an eye our for excessive glucose and ketones.  Urine tests don’t help with dosing but will warn you if large quantities of glucose are passing through the system.

Ask your vet about using a blood glucose testing kit at home. The kits come complete with lances and testing strips for you to test a tiny blood sample each day. The advantage with this system is that you can share the results with your vet and quickly alter the insulin dose. Devices are readily available from major pet stores.

Follow Riley’s story and Westie Life on our Facebook page