September 26, 2001
Question from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA:
My 16 year old daughter is not doing well at all with her diabetes. She has essentially stopped checking her sugar and is on no schedule whatsoever. Her numbers are running very high, and her last hemoglobin A1c was over 14%. No matter what I do, I cannot get her motivated to take better care of herself, and I can't babysit her all day. Since my daughter absolutely loves animals, I asked her if getting a cat or dog with diabetes would help. I'm confident that she would take good care of this pet, and when she had to give the pet insulin, she would remember hers. She seemed very excited and seemed to think that this would help a lot. I think it would to, because, although she has stated that she doesn't care about the consequences of her actions on herself, she does care a lot if she is hurting another. Would this be a wise course of action to take? Our current living situation does not allow for pets unless they are service-pets. Would we be able to list this cat or dog under that category, as they would be doing a tremendous service to our family? Where would I be able to find a cat or dog specifically with diabetes?
This young woman already knows that diabetes is a lot of work most of which is not very much fun. Obviously, an animal with diabetes is an even bigger responsibility than an animal that doesn’t have diabetes animal. Because of the necessary commitment, there are lots of animals with diabetes up for adoption. A good place to start if you want to adopt on is IMOM. You can also post a message on the Feline Diabetes message board among others. There are transportation organizations that can get these animals to the new owners.
I would also suggest the Feline Diabetes Message Board as a forum for further exploring the feasibility of this suggestion. There are a number of humans with diabetes there who have animals with diabetes.
Unfortunately, I doubt any animal with diabetes animal can be classed as a service animal, but it is worth a try.
Additional comments from Dr. Matthew Brown:
I appreciate your creative attempt at a solution to such a difficult problem that so many families face. There are a minority of adolescents that give up on their diabetes and end up with exceedingly high hemoglobin A1cs, lack of motivation, and many struggles with diabetes — sometimes even with frequent episodes of DKA [diabetic ketoacidosis].
Despite what anyone tells you, there is no easy answer. Helping your daughter will be a difficult task that involves a supportive family, eliminating “negative reinforcement” of high or low blood sugars, and seeking professional counseling with someone familiar with the struggles of adolescence and having a chronic disease. Your daughter’s diabetes team should be able to help you.
I would suggest keeping communication lines open in the family and keeping scheduled appointments with your daughter’s diabetes care team. A compassionate physician and diabetes educator can be a huge asset in your struggle to help your daughter.
In the end, I think working to find a cat or dog with diabetes will result in more work for you, and is not a real solution to your daughter’s problems, but if you do get one and it helps, please let me know!
Additional comments from Craig Broadhurst:
I have to respond to this inquiry with a definite no. I personally have had a cat with diabetes, one that had been very healthy for 10 years prior to developing diabetes.
The experience was devastating. I thought I was so very smart since I had over 10 years of experience with diabetes — but it is not the same with animals. They cannot tell you that they are feeling hypoglycemic. They simply fall over and have seizures, and you have to pour syrup down their throats to revive them.
Then there is the exceptional difficulty of testing blood glucose levels. Cats have a tiny, tiny artery on the inside of their ears (that you cannot even see without a flashlight held behind the ear) where you must stick to get a blood drop. Even with the new meters and strips, it is virtually impossible to do in one try, and cats rarely offer you a second opportunity! They are gone under the bed for hours.
My cat and I fought a noble and gut-wrenching fight to manage the diabetes. I had an exceptional vet, a dedicated spirit, and I refused to give up, but ultimately, my sweet cat went into multi-system failure. My vet came, sat on the kitchen floor with me and put him to sleep while I held him in my arms.
I passionately believe that your daughter could not try harder than I did, as a diabetes professional, to take care of an animal with this condition. I implore you not to do this to inspire your child. It will perhaps only break her heart, and I know you don’t want to do that.
Additional comments from Dr. Jill Weissberg-Benchell:
I believe that the previous responses are absolutely correct. It would be a terrible idea to give this child a pet with diabetes. It will not in any way change her adherence to her own regimen. Your family needs to work with a mental health professional who has with experience in diabetes.