traveling with a diabetic dog

Four things to keep in mind — or in your suitcase — when traveling with a diabetic dog.

My husband and I love to travel. So does our dog, Berkeley. Thing is, Berkeley is diabetic. In the days before her diagnosis, travel was much simpler. We would pack some of her food in the car and hit the road. Nowadays, her large duffle bag is full to bursting; Berkeley’s “diabetes accoutrements” or “diabetes paraphernalia”, as we often call her travel supplies, leave little if any room for our own luggage.

Yet year after year, the three of us still set out in our sedan to traverse the vast web of roads spreading across our home state of California. Berkeley has galloped along the breathtaking beaches of Big Sur, pranced through the emerald meadows in Yosemite Valley, and hiked the bison-speckled circumference of Catalina Island, to name just a few of her many adventures.

We’ve been able to continue traveling with Berekley by taking the time to properly understand and monitor her diabetes. If you have a diabetic dog of your own, this article presents some practical tips and remedies so you too can travel with your pooch. It’s a learning curve, and not always easy. And it’s certainly not without its frustrations and perils. But once you know what you’re doing, it’s always rewarding, for both you and your dog.

1. Heat and thirst

We quickly discovered with Berkeley that her diabetes makes her hot and thirsty. As a black dog, we were already accustomed to her panting on the trails, and this increased when she became diabetic.

“A diabetic dog exhibits signs of Yin deficiency, excessive thirst being one of those signs,” explains veterinarian and certified acupuncturist Dr. Robert Rizzitano. Carrying copious amounts of water for your diabetic dog when participating in any type of outdoor activity is paramount to his safety and comfort, regardless of the time of year.

In addition to water, Dr. Rizzitano recommends “a formula called Xia Ke Fang as an adjunct to insulin usage” in order to further cool down a diabetic dog. (Editor’s note: when using Chinese herbs, you need to work with a veterinarian who is knowledgeable and experienced in this form of therapy.)

In preparation for exercise in warm climates, Dr. Rizzitano suggests seeing a veterinarian certified in acupuncture to work at points Bladder 23, Spleen 6 and Kidney 3, which all act to nourish Yin and cool down the internal temperature of your pooch.

2. Low blood sugar

As a guardian of a diabetic dog, you no doubt worry about hypoglycemic seizures, which are caused by extremely low blood sugar. Exercise contributes to low blood sugar, so when traveling with your dog, you should pack healthy treats loaded with simple carbohydrates.

Dr. Rizzitano suggests baking a dog cookie with basic, wholesome ingredients and topping it off with pure maple syrup. The simple carbohydrates in maple syrup can provide an increase in blood glucose when your pooch appears sluggish out on the trail.

However, if you miss the signals that his sugar levels are decreasing, and he starts seizing, this constitutes a diabetic emergency and a sugary snack will not suffice. He must receive rapid-acting glucose immediately or he will die. So if you remember only one item to pack when traveling with a diabetic dog, I suggest a rapidly absorbed carbohydrate gel, which is sold over the counter at drug stores, or Karo Syrup. Dr. Rizzitano also recommends the paste Nutrical, which also serves to rapidly increase blood glucose. Any one of these items is ideal for releasing your dog from the fatal clutches of a hypoglycemic seizure. Berkeley has sometimes shown signs of pre-seizure (wobbly knees and facial twitching) on our outings over the years, and without having carbohydrate gel on hand to rub into her gums and squeeze into her mouth, she would undoubtedly not be with us today.

When the seizing stops, wait a few minutes to make sure the episode is truly over, then test the dog’s glucose levels with your testing kit to ensure they are on the rise. Then call your veterinarian as soon as you are able to explain the situation. He or she should give you a revised regime of diet, natural supplements and insulin for regulating the inevitable high that follows rapid carbohydrate digestion.

3. Cataracts and vision

Diabetic dogs have a propensity for poor vision and optical discomfort due to cataracts. Dogs with diabetes mellitus will inevitably form cataracts, which will impair their vision. Keep him well away from cliffs, sudden drops, and uneven terrain. In some rare cases, a cataract will cause eye inflammation, discomfort and pain. Optical irritation will without fail take the pleasure away from any excursion. For eye inflammation, Dr. Rizzitano suggests the traditional Chinese herbal topical, Bo Yun San.

4. Wounds and bites

Also be aware that a dog with diabetes is prone to infection, which means a simple scratch or bug bite could spell trouble if not quickly and effectively tended to. In addition to flushing with abundant amounts of water or saline, Dr. Rizzitano suggests traveling with Golden Yellow Salve, an herbal topical that is “quite effective in preventing infection and to speed healing. Manuka honey is also a widely accepted topical for treating infected wounds.”

Packing checklist

To decrease diabetic symptoms, including excess heat and thirst:

  • The Chinese herbal formula Xia Ke Fang
  • Insulin, and icepack to keep it fresh
  • Water and water bowl

For diabetic emergencies and preventing hypoglycemia:

    • A rapid acting glucose gel
    • Natural homemade dog cookies with pure maple syrup
    • Blood glucose testing kit

For treating wounds:

    • Golden Yellow Salve or Manuka honey

For optical health:

  • The topical Chinese herbal remedy Bo Yun San for eye inflammation

While traveling with a diabetic dog requires extra care and vigilance, it’s well worth it. My husband and I are rewarded for our efforts ten times over every time we watch Berkeley reach the summit of a rise with a wild, toothy smile and a joyful sneeze, her long nose tilted upwards as she tests the gentle wind atop the Santa Monica Mountains.