I’ve been stewing the last few days about a discussion that I became involved in on a veterinary blog. No point naming names. It’s a vet for whom I have a great deal of respect — which is why I read her site daily.
In this particular case, I felt that she had conflated canine and feline diabetes — which are very different — in an overly simplistic fashion, linking both to obesity. So I made what was, in turn, perhaps an overly simplistic comment: That canine diabetes is akin to Type 1 diabetes in humans, and thus not linked causally to obesity; whereas feline diabetes is similar to Type 2 in humans, which means that diet can be implicated as a source of the disease. I mentioned that I had a diabetic dog who was never fat and (more tangentially) that I had written on the topic.
Boy, did I get jumped on! I was accused of being an owner who extrapolates from a single sample (my dog) to a larger — and dangerous — principle, i.e., that I was letting people off the hook for letting their dogs become obese.
Two things I should make clear before I go further: I later got — and accepted — an apology for the tone, if not the content, of the vet’s comments. And as an unknown poster, there was no reason she should have recognized me as an authority on anything.
As it happens, though, I know a lot about the topic and from genuine authorities: world experts in canine diabetes whom I had consulted for a story that I wrote for Your Dog, the newsletter of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. It’s coming out in the upcoming (November) issue. I wrote a little about my research — mostly about a great study for owners of diabetic dog owners being conducted in the UK — at this post, which features the gorgeous (and not fat, as far as I can tell under all that fur) Miss Jasmine.
And I never, ever condone canine obesity. There’s no excuse for endangering your dog’s health by overfeeding her.
On the other hand, this being a guilt free zone for good dog owners and all, people should know that there is a genetic predisposition for canine diabetes (as well as for feline diabetes, although it manifests differently). Yes, obesity exacerbates the condition, but doesn’t cause it. So if you have a diabetic dog and you’ve fed him good food, given him plenty of exercise, and kept him trim, don’t beat yourself up.
The other issue, which I obscured by mentioning obesity, is that dogs and cats are different. This should be obvious, but the vet’s post lumped the species together. I can’t tell you how many times people have told me “Oh, I had a diabetic cat and she was cured by diet” or “My friend had a cat with diabetes and he never got cataracts.” Such comments initially, i.e., before I read more extensively on the topic, gave me false hope about Frankie’s potential for a cure — and nonpotential for cataracts.
So let me be clear: Dogs must be on insulin, twice a day, no matter what diets they’re put on. And no matter how well regulated they are, they may get cataracts. That’s part of the way the disease manifests in dogs, but not in cats.
The discussion ended reasonably amicably, with me making the final points about the difference in cats and dogs and being assured, on the site and in the back channel apology, that it “wasn’t personal.”
That’s actually what I’ve been stewing about. It wasn’t personal to the vet, who wasn’t insulted on a major site, having her integrity as a researcher assailed. And who isn’t the owner of a diabetic dog who gets subjected to a lot of misinformed comments about her dog’s weight — or lack thereof — and its correlation with diabetes, as well as with lots of comments about cats that don’t apply to her dog.
Two good things came out of this discussion, however. I became re-aware of k9diabetes.com because the creator of that site defended my position in the comments section of the vet’s blog. It’s a great site, which hadn’t been fully operational when Frankie was diagnosed. I highly recommend it to everyone whose dog has diabetes.
And (duh) I also realized that I have a forum too: This blog. It may not be as well trafficked as the one on which I posted my comments, but it has some loyal readers who know that I’m a thorough researcher and would never disseminate misinformation. And that it’s not my fault that Frankie has diabetes.
Update: Natalie, the creator of the k9diabetes.com site I mention above, weighed in on this discussion in the comments section; she had a similar experience with vets to the one that Susanne — the owner of the gorgeous pup pictured here — had. It’s hard to imagine that anyone would discourage home blood glucose testing — whatever helps monitor your dog’s health, I say! — and considered “not having accidents in the house” a criterion for being regulated. Yikes.
I also want to invite Natalie — and any owner of a diabetic dog who has a story that might help other owners cope — to write a guest blog. Early on, I posted that Frankie is a dog, not a disease, and that I don’t want to devote this site to illness. That’s still true. But I want others to know they’re not alone, especially when it comes to questioning the advice they get from “experts” who may not have expertise in this particular area.