The signs we missed: The story of how a lump saved our diabetic dog’s life

Did you ever think that an animal, a non-human animal, could be diagnosed with diabetes? I didn’t have a clue. What are the signs of diabetes anyhow? There were just so many things that I took for granted and that our vet took for granted. If nothing more comes out of this story but the fact that no one should ever doubt her instinct, then telling part of Sunny’s story is worth the read. Let me start from the beginning. Well, the beginning of this particular chapter of Sunny’s life.

About 4 years ago my husband and I needed to travel out of the country a lot so we had our 8 1/2 year-old, blonde Lhasa Apso, named Sunny, stay with my mother for the fall/winter through spring. Whenever we would call to check in with my mother, she would mention how Sunny would sleep a lot, became sluggish during her walks, started to walk “funny”, and was also drinking a lot of water. When Sunny was taken to the vet, the vet gave her a once-over and said she was fine and that she was just slow because of lack of exercise while we were away and her “old age”. Old age?! She was barely 9 years old. But okay. My husband and I had doubts about our dog’s “old age” but we figured that the vet would know better than us. A few months later, after Sunny turned 9 years old, we started noticing that when we called her she was a lot slower to get up from the floor and come over to us. We also noticed that as we walked Sunny, she was a lot slower than usual, losing all her vitality. There just wasn’t any pep in her step anymore. There were even a couple of times as we walked her outside when she would actually start relieving herself as she was walking, long before we ever made it down the block to the park. That was a huge sign that something was wrong if ever I saw one. So off we went back to the vet only to be told that sometimes smaller dogs can’t hold it like they used to due to “old age” and that we should either walk her more throughout the day, or not have her walk too far before allowing her to relieve herself. Okay. Still stunned that my 9-year old dog was being considered oh so old, I brushed my concern aside. Another visit where no actual tests were done and just the assumption that old age was the culprit. The vet knows best, right? I knew I didn’t have a degree in veterinary medicine. I only lived with the dog for all 9 years of her life.  But what did I know? So Sunny and I went back home. I was heartbroken to think she was aging so quickly. I kept having this nagging feeling that the vet was wrong but I kept sitting on my hands, trusting in what the vet said and was just plain old happy to hear that it wasn’t anything serious. My husband and I started to adjust to living with an “old” dog. We would carry Sunny up the stairs, keep pads around the house for accidents, kept more water around the house for her, allotted more time for our walks and purchased more dog beds to put around so that Sunny always had a comfy place to rest when she was tuckered out. We even tried to exercise her more by going on more frequent walks throughout the day, hoping she’d get her strength back. My husband even decided to take her along with him and his friends to a lake house one weekend so Sunny could play with other dogs. We hoped being around other dogs would get her up and going again. You know, revitalize her in a way.

It was August at this point and I chose not to go to the lake house with my husband. I can’t remember if I went to visit family in New Jersey or opted to just stay back and have some alone time. Either way, that weekend, my husband noticed that Sunny refused to leave his side and just stayed sleeping under his chair whenever they were out on the deck. Sunny didn’t play with the other dogs. At one point, she even stopped getting up to follow my husband and remained lying down under his chair or next to where he was seated.

Sunny at the lake house 2011 4Sunny at the lake house_2011 3

A week after returning home from the lake house, my husband and I noticed a lump on her chest. It was difficult to see because of all of her fur but, it was there. Sunny has been known to develop fat deposits that appeared out of nowhere so I wasn’t too concerned. She had two small lumps throughout her life that were all tested and ruled to simply be fatty deposits. They never grew but they never went away either. So I decided to keep an eye on it but wasn’t worried. By the following morning, Sunny refused to leave a corner of the room to eat, drink, go for a walk, or even come for a belly rub. Absolutely nothing could entice her out of that corner she was balled up in. We were wondering if this was just another “old age” thing but something in me kept nagging. I went over to her and notice that the lump had almost tripled in size. Tripled! Overnight! This was definitely not a fat deposit. We rushed over to the vet’s office, and even though we didn’t have our regular vet, we still had someone who gave a diagnosis without tests. Just a quick look over and the vet said, “She has cancer.” WHAT?! The vet advised that the lump, based on size and feel, felt like a cancerous tumor. I questioned it considering this grew overnight and mentioned that she had been at a lake house a week prior so maybe got bit by a bug, maybe a splinter that was infected. But no, it was cancer. The vet also advised that Sunny’s body seemed to already be shutting down. I was panicking. The vet ran some tests, took an aspirate from the lump, and kept her over the remainder of the weekend.

I couldn’t believe it. Could my 9-year old dog really be dying? After being with the vet for 3 days and two aspirates later, the vet advised that Sunny’s liver had been failing, she had a severe UTI, had acute pancreatitis and a ton more horrifying things. Fortunate for us all, we brought Sunny to the vet in time and they were able to treat her and get everything under control. While the results from the two aspirates came back inconclusive, the vet was able to correctly diagnose Sunny as being diabetic. We were advised that she would need regular treatment of insulin shots twice a day, every day, for the rest of her life. I was speechless. Sunny staying hidden in that corner was a huge red sign that she was getting ready to let go of life because we failed to see and act on all of the other signs appropriately. Apparently, animals go off to be alone in a corner when they are preparing to die or are in tremendous pain. At least that’s what I’ve been told. But in any event, diabetes is definitely not cancer. Sunny’s failing body and organs would make a full recovery and this horrific roller coaster ride finally seemed to have an end. A bonus was that a few days after bringing Sunny home (she had been with the vet for almost a full week), the lump on Sunny’s chest disappeared, never to be thought of again.

Sunny was back to normal. She was now a diabetic but, she had all of her energy back. She was able to go for walks, run around like a puppy again and just be her old self. Well, her healthy self. Clearly she was not that old at all. It’s been 4 years and we definitely had our ups and downs adjusting to giving her the insulin shots. That definitely wasn’t easy for my husband and me in the beginning but, all three of us got to a good place. After being diagnosed with diabetes, we three had to eventually deal with other illness that are commonly associated with diabetes – especially diabetes in a dog. But I tell you this now, that was the absolute last time I ever doubted myself when it came to Sunny’s health. How could I doubt my instincts? How could I not trust a person who lived day in and day out with this dog for 9 years (me) and instead trust a stranger regardless of how much more educated? Never again.

I found my strength because of the love I have for that beautiful dog. And she continues to teach me what it means to be strong to this day. But those are all stories for next time.

Sunny - 2yrs of being a diabetic.

Sunny – 2 years of being a diabetic.

2 thoughts on “The signs we missed: The story of how a lump saved our diabetic dog’s life

  1. That’s a hard lesson isn’t it? We should never doubt our instincts (dogs don’t!) but we have been taught, and we believe, that “experts” know better than us. Time to take back our personal power. I’m so glad Sunny recovered and you have your dog back.


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