Social media exploded when fewer than a dozen pets contracted the novel H1N1 virus. But, this sensationalism overshadowed a pet health issue with bigger implications. Concern about a specific insulin product’s effectiveness and a general lack of trusted media information has brought back harsh memories of the pet food recall for thousands of pet owners.
On Facebook pages and across numerous Twitter accounts, social media users watched anxiously for the next report of the rare cat or dog diagnosed with H1N1. Sadly, at the same time, tens of thousands of pet owners may have missed vital information about their diabetic animal and the social networks were strangely quiet.
The makers of Vetsulin®, Intervet, along with the FDA, issued a product alert for their insulin after finding batches that did not meet certain stability specifications. Since this action did not initiate a general recall of the product, the alert message did not attract the attention of traditional media outlets, such as TV news, or even the “new news kid on the block” social media networks. Some pet owners only found out about the concerns when visiting their veterinarian for follow up visits with their diabetic pet. Upon learning of the alert, we notified each pet owner using this product by phone to discuss our plan for their pet.
As with humans, diabetes in pets is a condition where the animal is either insensitive to insulin or there is not enough insulin made to control blood glucose levels in the body. Pets with diabetes will show signs of excessive drinking, excessive urination and could even lose weight as the body tries to compensate by breaking down fat and protein.
It’s hard to say how prevalent diabetes is in our pets, but studies out of Great Britain, Sweden and Australia have estimated the incidence at anywhere from a low of one pet in a thousand to a high of eight or nine pets in a thousand. What is known is that obese pets are at higher risk and certain breeds, like Keeshonden dogs or Burmese cats, have shown a genetic predisposition. Some veterinarians have even theorized that dry, cereal based diets for cats or even inactivity could increase the chances of diabetes developing.
Like their human counterparts, diabetic animals need regulation in the form of diet, exercise and sometimes supplemental insulin injections to help control the blood glucose levels. Because each animal is an individual, there is no “set” formula to say how much insulin is needed on a daily basis to help that pet. Regulation is obtained through gradual changes in the amount of medication injected and by monitoring blood glucose levels on a routine basis.
The scary part for pet owners is that the Vetsulin® alert could not specify exactly what might happen to pets using the affected medication. Some pets might see drops in blood glucose, leading to hypoglycemia and others might see a lack of regulation resulting in high sugar levels. Some may see no effect at all. Couple this with the innate uncertainty of how individuals react to insulin and it’s easy to see a potential recipe for disaster.
There is good news though. Veterinarians have alternative insulin products and are working on transitioning their diabetic patients to those medications. And at least at this point, Intervet and veterinarians are not reporting any increase in adverse events associated with Vetsulin®.
All of this information underscores several key facts. First, if you have a diabetic pet or any pet with a chronic illness, understand your pet’s normal routine. Noticing those tiny variations to in regular habits could get your pet on the road to recovery sooner.
Next, be aware of pet related stories in the news or on websites, but avoid panic until you can speak to your veterinarian about your concerns. Too often, unsubstantiated rumors, like Febreeze products killing pets, cause unnecessary worry and fear among otherwise rational people.
Communicate with your veterinarian and veterinary health care team about pet stories you are hearing in the news or through social media. You might ask if your veterinarian has a website that they update with animal health news or even if they have a Facebook page or Twitter account. Join the community at www.PetDocsOnCall.com for both news and information. The “new” media of social networks has proven itself very successful at perpetuating information and many veterinarians are now using social media to communicate with their clients.
There will always be an abundance of bad information on the Internet. Like diabetes, it’s a disease that has no cure. Thankfully, just as you can manage your pet’s diabetes with proper blood sugar regulation, you can also limit the potential damage Internet rumors can do by keeping an open channel with your veterinarian. For information on diabetes, visit www.caninediabetes.org. To learn more about a variety of pet health issues, bookmark www.gardneranimalcarecenter.com, become a fan at www.facebook.com/gardneranimalcarecenter, or follow me at www.twitter.com/drbhurley.