Diabetic pets receive regular insulin shots

Pets in the UAE with diabetes, where one in five people are living with the disease, are undergoing treatment to improve their quality of life.

United Arab Emirates- Abu Dhabi - January 20, 2010:

HEALTH: Parthenopi (cq-al) Tsinidou (cq-al), right, gets ready to give her 9-year-old Yorkshire Terrier, Peteroulis (cq-al), an insulin shot, as spouse Peter Karagianakis (cq-al), left, watches at their home in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday, January 20, 2010.  Amy Leang/The National

ABU DHABI // Peteroulis barked, wagged his tail and leapt into the air. But instead of getting a treat, the nine-year-old Yorkshire Terrier was about to have a daily insulin shot.

The Yorkie is one of a number of pets in the country with diabetes, a condition that already afflicts one in five people living in the UAE. "He was urinating a lot and drinking a lot of water, for no particular reason," said Peter Karagianakis, 47, a professor at the New York Institute of Technology in Abu Dhabi. "He became thinner but he was consuming the same amount of food. And he was very lethargic.

"It concerned us that he didn't have the energy he had in the past. He hadn't gotten that much older." A test at the vet's office confirmed the diagnoses of diabetes. The treatment was an injection twice a day, not a pleasant prospect for anyone, let alone a dog. "In the beginning it was difficult because I would have to grab him and hold him above my head, semi-hanging, so that my wife could inject him and not get bitten," said Mr Karagianakis.

He demonstrated, holding the dog under his arms so his stomach was exposed. Although Peteroulis did not look comfortable, he was not objecting. It took about a year before Mr Karagianakis' wife, Parthenopi, managed to convince Peteroulis that the injections would help to restore his health. "It was Pavlovian," he said. Although the insulin shots can extend his life, the Yorkie's quality of life will never be the same as a healthy dog. He does not have as much energy as he did before and he will not live as long as he otherwise would.

Two years after the diabetes was diagnosed Peteroulis became blind over the course of 48 hours. An operation replaced the lens in his eye, so now he has some sight, but his vision is still impaired. Diabetes affects one in 200 dogs and one in 400 cats across the world. There are no statistics on the numbers of pets in the UAE that have the disease. "It is not unusual," said Dr Martin Wyness, the owner of the British Veterinary Clinic UAE. "We see dogs and cats with diabetes fairly often."

Diabetes in animals has the same causes as in people. Sometimes the pancreas is damaged, or an underlying medical condition brings on the diabetes, but in other cases, it is a concequence of lifestyle - just as it is with people. When it comes to prevention, Dr Wyness stressed the importance of exercise. Dogs need about two walks a day, which is often difficult in Abu Dhabi. "There are few places where people can properly exercise dogs, and that's sad really," he said.

Although the city has developed places for people to walk, such as the Corniche, these spaces are often not dog-friendly. The summer can also be particularly uncomfortable for furry animals that do not sweat. A far easier problem to deal with is overfeeding, another common problem, said the vet. "Proper diet and weight control are the things that people find difficult to get right," he said. "When it does go wrong it increases the chances of diabetes appearing in pets."

Owners commonly believe the recommended amount of commercial pet food is inadequate, so double what goes in the bowl, and supplement that with treats throughout the day. And owners with big appetites tend to pass them on to their pets. "Fat people quite often have fat pets," said Dr Wyness. "People get a buzz out of animals eating. They quite often overfeed because they think they're being kind."

But Mr Karagianakis warns nothing could be further from the truth. "Owners have to realise not to feed dogs anything that comes off the table," he said. "Giving a dog a treat off the table is not doing the dog a favour, it is shortening his life." amcmeans@thenational.ae