Gwen, our Border Collie, has Dog Diabetes

Gwen - border collie with dog diabetes at Pistyll Gwyn
Action Gwennie – watching the sheep on Caerthan’s birthday, April 2015

It’s been quite a week here: last Friday I noticed Gwen walk into the fence rather than go through the gate; this friday she is almost totally blind, on insulin injections and a special diet.

How on earth did we get here?

A few months back we noticed Gwen was eating and drinking more – we were actually pleased she was eating more as she has never had much of an appetite, but without much thought we treated her for various types of worms. We hadn’t connected the times when she misjudged the stairs, or bumped into a half-closed door. Easy with hindsight. I’m feeling guilty that we hadn’t returned to the vets sooner after the second worming hadn’t improved the situation, as we may have been able to save Gwen’s sight, but again – easy with hindsight. It is not as if she exhibited any signs of discomfort or distress.

The previous weekend, in Brecon, I had taken her on a long walk through Priory Wood, which was no different to usual – Gwen running off through the bluebells and ferns, or down to the river, then catching me up, and disappearing off again – the normal full-on dog stuff. It is so hard to believe that the cataracts have developed so quickly since then. Thinking about it, there were signs her vision was impaired, but she could see – five days later, she couldn’t. Apparently the diabetes is exacerbated by her hormones as she has come into season.

Two trips to the vets later and we have started stabilising her with small amounts of insulin. Actually, it’s more about stabilising us at this stage – getting us used to the twice daily routine whilst safely finding the correct dose for Gwen. We’ve also started preparing her food ourselves. I read something on the net which compared feeding a dog with commercial dog foods to feeding a child on McDonalds and Haribo – I felt like a really bad parent! She now gets a mix of brown rice, lentils, oats, some veg, tinned fish and eggs. We may need to get her some other meat protein, but as a long-term vegetarian I am struggling with the thought of directly handling meat. I’ll get over it if need be.

So we are coping with the injections and the food, all three of us. With the blindness, not so much. She can tell light from dark, and perhaps a little detail when the light is very good, but that is all. Herbert the cat seems to be aware of it, and is more forgiving of the times when he gets trampled, or is sent flying by a still over-enthusiastic dog. The alpacas are enjoying the fact that Gwen will spend more time sitting with them, rather than trying to round them up, (although she still has a go). But there’s no more dashing about the wood, exploring the fox holes and mysterious scents. We still do our full walks in the morning and afternoon, but once the light starts to go she struggles to stay on the path and would rather head for the open field. I’m hoping that when we have the diabetes under control,  a bit more of her adventurousness will return and we can resume our night time walks, which surely must have been done on smell and hearing alone in the past? (It can be pitch black up there, and she would never walk in the light of my torch.) She is obviously more subdued, and at times disorientated. She rubs at her muzzle with her paws as if she is trying to clear away the cataracts herself. For Caerthan and I this is heartbreaking. I don’t know is Gwen is directly grieving the loss of her sight, but we are.

And the future? It looks like this – we get the diabetes under control over the next couple of months. Gwen then has to be spayed to stop her seasonal hormones interfering with the insulin levels, which finally puts an end to those occasional puppy considerations. Then …

… we dream of giving her cataract surgery and restoring her sight. Out of the question right now, as it is hugely expensive, but I have stopped dreaming of a new roof for the barn. Who cares? Gwen is not quite seven years old, and despite the fact that the alpacas are not sheep, her heart is in the field. Her disposition is not for the hearth rug. 

We have a new mission – get Gwennie’s sight back!

There is a very informative wikipedia page on dog diabetes here: 


  1. O Rick, my heart just breaks for Gwen and you both. I HAVE been following Caerthan’s Facebook posts, so I knew about the diabetes, but of course I completely forgot about your blog. thanks for reminding me.
    I fly back to Morocco and the Berber tonight and today I’m in that strange limbo place of excited to be going and sad to be leaving. I have loved being in my house and garden but I miss Youss and Bandit. A year of uncertainty ahead, it looks like–for both of us. Take care of yourself dear boy.

  2. I have a soon to be 12 year old Border Collie who has been the love of my life since my husband died 12 10 years ago but realized she was wetting the bed and drinking mammoth amounts of water – this just in the last 10 days or so – anyway took her to the vet today and found out she has diabetes and a urinary tract infection – of course I cried and now am facing giving shots twice a day – pills twice a day for 10 days – no treats – special food, etc., etc. I’m just not so sure I can do all this. She is the love of my life and how can I deprive her of all the stuff she loves. Any words of wisdom will help.

    1. Rick Westhorpesays:

      Hi Kate,
      Sorry I missed your post when it first came in, and sorry to hear about your border collie – what’s her name? I don’t normally think of myself of having any words of wisdom to offer, but in this case I might have. And I can certainly give you some encouragement and hope.
      Most importantly – it’s over two years since Gwen was diagnosed and we are all, humans and dog, well adapted to the daily regime and Gwen is super healthy, fit and well. I believe this is not just because her diabetes is under control, but because her nutrition is far better than it was before. So hang in there with that – you’ll get used it, and you could improve your dogs life beyond just dealing with the diabetes.
      That doesn’t mean it is all easy. We had a very rough first year, and it is always there in the back of the mind, and the extra vets trips and bills are very unwelcome of course, but again, we have learned to take all that in our stride. Gwen is the priority – she is part of our lives, and we will always do our best for her no matter what, as I know you will for your dog.
      It is now a couple of weeks since you posted your comment – I would love to know how you are getting on and would be happy to answer any specific questions …
      I can also email you privately if your prefer, but putting stuff up here may be useful to others of course.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.