I have had type 1 diabetes since I was 12. My dad died from complications related to type 1 in 1975, and I was diagnosed in 1978, back in the day when we needed to boil glass syringes and store them in methylated spirits, and use beef or pork insulin. There was no such thing as blood glucose monitoring when I was diagnosed – you needed test tubes, urine and reagent tablets, and to compare the colour the solution turned on a chart to see how much sugar was in your body. Things have changed so much since then. I’m now on my new Tandem T:Slim pump and I do virtual clinic from my home in the Sunshine Coast with Amy Rush at the Family Centre!
I recently adopted a West Highland White Terrier (a 'Westie') call Felix, who also has type 1 diabetes. My wife and I had another Westie called Roger who died on 15 February, and we were very close. I think the universe was looking out for us when I saw an ad for another Westie looking for a home. Felix is 12 years old, and the advertisement said he had special circumstances.
I made an enquiry and found out that Felix had diabetes, and he’d been surrendered because his owner had dementia and forgot to give him his insulin. He’d been at the vet for a couple of months. My wife and I weren’t sure if we were ready for another dog, but I wanted to meet him and at least take him outside for a play so he wasn’t in his cage for a while.
He was just a delight. I immediately felt I had an obligation to him because anybody else would have thought he’s too complex to take home - but I’m a diabetic guy, and he’s a diabetic dog, so it couldn’t be a better fit. I went back in and told the vet I’d like to give him a permanent home, and I took him home that very day.
Felix is devoted to me and he follows me everywhere – he’s the best dog we’ve ever had. We name all our dogs after tennis players; we’ve had Westie Roger (Federer) and poodle Rafa (Nadal), and we now have a poodle called Jo-Wilfried (Tsonga) and a pug called Francesca (Schiavone). Felix is named after Felix Auger-Aliassime, an up-and-coming French Canadian tennis player who seems like a decent young man.
Having Felix has given me some insight into what it must be like to be a parent of a child with type 1. It’s a big responsibility. Dogs should have the same blood glucose levels as humans, but because dogs live short lives and tend to die before they develop major diabetes complications, it's standard practice to run dogs' blood glucose levels high to avoid hypoglycaemia. They might not get complications but knowing what it feels like to have high blood glucose myself, I reckon they wouldn't feel very good a lot of the time. Felix's vet told me that the majority of diabetic dogs actually develop cataracts as a result of poor blood glucose management. I took Felix in to get his eyes checked after he walked into the screen door, and it turned out he has early cataracts which I put down to poor management before we got him.
I don’t reward Felix with food because it might make his blood glucose level go up, so I give him emotional rewards instead. When I need to test his glucose levels, I prick his ears and then I always give him a big cuddle and a scratch and make sure he's ok. When he has his insulin he knows that straight afterwards it’s food time, so he's ok with the needle - he just gets really excited and talks a lot because the next thing coming is his dinner.
When I got Felix, he was on a 30/70 Humulin mix. I found that the rapid-acting part of the Humulin worked, but the long-acting wasn’t active for long enough – he’d be 23 mmol/L before dinner! I’m not ok with that - he deserves better.
I’m at home most of the time, so I can watch him. I decided to try Ryzodeg (ultra-long-acting combined with rapid acting insulin) for him, because the long-acting part of the insulin lasts longer than Humulin. When we started Ryzodeg, I stayed up and checked his blood every two hours because I didn’t want him to go low in the night. We’ve had much better numbers – nothing much above 13, and no hypos. It’s definitely been the answer for him.
There are things I’ve got to be careful with. I normally go for coffee every morning and people always want to give him treats, but he can’t have them. If I can’t take him for a walk some days I can’t just adjust his insulin because Ryzodeg lasts for more than 36 hours and it’ll affect him the following day, so he just has to run a bit higher on those days. Managing Felix's diabetes is just like managing my own - I have to make constant decisions about our food intake and activity levels to keep both of us healthy.
Felix is such a lovely boy, and I feel really blessed we’ve got each other. He's old, but I think that even if I only have him for a short time, it’ll be a good time. He’s really good company and we have a very special connection.
- Bryce McCarthy
*Editor's note: Ryzodeg has been tested on dogs and Bryce initiated Felix onto Ryzodeg with veterinarian support