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Taking a road trip with a diabetic dog

You’ll know best what your diabetic dog can handle, and whether he would enjoy traveling. If you think he might like to take a road trip with you, the logistics of caring for him needn’t stop you, as I’ve learned from this guest post written by Natalie Karst.

When not tending to a dog, Natalie is a freelance publication assistant in Northern California. Chris, who was diagnosed with diabetes in 2003 and passed away in 2008, was a local ambassador for dogs with diabetes and the inspiration for Natalie’s website and forum,

Chris and Jeff in Twin Falls, ID

The first thing that came to my mind when asked about traveling with a diabetic dog was that it would work better if the people involved didn’t need to bring any luggage! Or had a bigger vehicle than we did when we traveled 1,200 miles from California to Montana to attend my father’s funeral. We had long ago promised our dog Chris that we would never ever leave him home with a pet sitter again and his unusual regimen of four insulin injections a day, every six hours, meant it was practically impossible even if we hadn’t promised. So we packed up his stuff—he had a lot of stuff—and tucked in as much of ours as would fit and hit the road.

Chris at the time was 12 and about halfway through his 5 years as a diabetic. He had been blind for almost 2 years by then (thanks to diabetes-induced cataracts) so he was used to navigating in foreign places. He knew we would guide him around obstacles outdoors and was willing to find his way around indoors.

Chris’ luggage consisted of an ice chest for his insulin and food and two containers for all of his other supplies. Insulin being a delicate substance, we put the box containing his insulin in a heavy-duty plastic food container with a watertight seal and then put that inside a sealed plastic bag and always kept it above the level of any ice or water in the cooler so it stayed cool, but not cold, and dry.

One of the containers for his other supplies was a freestanding Sterilite plastic drawer, which not only gave us easy access at roadside stops but functioned as a work surface for mixing his food and for him to eat from, thus saving a lot of wiping bits of his food off of motel carpets.

Inside the containers were his food and water dishes, insulin syringes, his many medications (for arthritis, cataracts, and heart disease), a measuring cup so we could give him the same amount of food at every meal, spoons for scooping and mixing, a syringe for his Metacam, his fish oil supplement, his mini Milkbone injection rewards, dish soap, paper towels, wet wipes, and bottles of water. And lots of trash bags for dealing with whatever messes we made.

Then there were his testing supplies. Chris’ blood sugar was tested using a OneTouch Ultra blood glucose meter, once before three of his four meals and injections and any other time we were concerned. Chris got food and insulin at 4 a.m., 10 a.m., 4 p.m., and 10 p.m. and we usually skipped testing him at 4 a.m. So we had a meter (two actually, just in case), test strips, lancets, and a lancing device, plus paper towels for drying his lip before each test. And a bottle of pancake syrup in case of low blood sugar. With extras of everything—more food, syringes, lancets, and test strips than we could possibly need.

Chris polishing off a meal

When meal and injection time rolled around on the two-day drive each way, we would find a roadside stop, preferably with water for washing dishes, but always with a trash can. Over the course of that trip we stopped at a couple of parks, one cemetery, and a few gas stations.

First I’d test his blood sugar—usually with him lying down in the SUV—and then I’d mix up his canned dog food and lowfat cottage cheese in his bowl on top of the Sterilite drawer. He’d eat and get all of his meds and then my husband would take him for a little walk so Chris could do his business while I cleaned up his dishes. We collected all of his used syringes in a container and disposed of them when we got home.

At the motel, we would go through the same routine, just in warmer and more comfortable surroundings. Well, at least his meals were in more comfortable surroundings. Definitely one of the main challenges of traveling with a blind dog was finding an appropriate potty spot. In some cases we had to scrounge around among snow and weeds that were not easy for a blind dog to navigate. Like a lot of dogs, he had his rest area preferences and the motel did not always provide what he liked. Having a motel in a secure area was important as he liked to go out after each meal, including the ones at 10 p.m. and 4 a.m.

The main things, I think, are protecting the insulin, planning carefully for all meals and injections, and, most important, planning for the unexpected. Take enough insulin that you don’t have to worry if you drop a bottle. Take enough syringes that you can throw a few away. Take an extra meter or bottle of urine test strips (most people who test blood sugar wind up owning several meters) in case something happens to the main one. Take a ton of food and be absolutely sure you have syrup for low blood sugar. Which is why we had no room for our luggage!

Chris did wonderfully on that trip. Though I was freezing cold the entire time and whined to anyone who would listen (you’d never know I was from Montana), the temperature was just about right for him to be able to spend time in the car when we had family duties to attend to. And he enjoyed playing in the snow and exploring during our roadside stops. I would give anything to have him here with us to take another road trip.


  • Edie

    I can’t believe I’m so behind in weighing in on this post. This is a great story and Natalie runs a wonderful forum that I often look at for information on diabetes for Frankie. I thought I had it tough with Frankie who only gets insulin shots twice a day and is tested with urine strips, but it’s nothing compared to what Chris required!

    Thanks again for all you do for owners of diabetic dogs, Natalie, and for sharing this tale.

  • pat b.

    was your dog not a candidate for cataract surgery? Just curious why you did not get that done.

  • Jeralyn Lash-Sands

    Chris surely had your love and your commitment. WOW. What a lucky dog, for sure.
    It’s inspiring to read how much both you and Chris were able to overcome. I’m a wreck caring for my best friend – a 13 year old, diabetic and almost blind Shih Tzu Thanks for sharing your story – it helps.

  • Debbie

    Thank you so much for setting up your website. My rotti who is only 3 has been diagnosed with diabetes and the information you provide is so helpful.

  • Jen

    Thank You so much for sharing Chris’ story. My 7 year old boy Buster Brown was diagnosed with diabetes 3 months ago and has been one of the challenging cases….he has also just got blind in both eyes…he is already deaf from chronic ear infections (even though they were treated, he is a cocker spaniel with an immune deficiency brought on by Lyme which he had when I adopted him from the Humane Society at 1 yr old). My poor boy has everything from Dry Eye Disease to Pancreatitis to severe skin allergies. He eats a prescription Hydrolyzed protein food that costs $40 for a 7lb bag of dry and $4 a can of wet. He has 2 eye ointments applied 2 x daily, 11 units of U-100 Humulin insulin 2 x daily (currently but probably will be increased soon or split into more frequent doses because we have not been able to regulate him), his syringes which I haven’t been able to find a place to dispose of properly yet so that some junkie doesn’t reuse them, so they are collecting in a sharps container in my cabinet… an Alphatrak2 glucose meter and test strips and lancets which I test at either his ear or the underside of his lip just before he eats, at mid-day (6 hrs after insulin injection) and any other time I’m concerned), his ear cleaning solution and wips, eye saline wash, benadryl for skin allergies when he is itchy or red, medicated chorhexydine shampoo for skin, tramadol for pain from Lyme Disease. You could say he is a special needs case! I paid $6 for him at the shelter (they waived the reg adoption fees because he had Lyme and I still wanted him) but I have spent thousands on his veterinary care. He was misdiagnosed at first with the diabetes. His vet told me he was in heart failure. I prepared to say goodbye to him. They gave him tests and meds he didn’t need. He got MUCH MUCH sicker when he should have improved. I took him to the Emergency hospital because it was a weekend and they realized he was not having heart problems at all but was severely hyperglygemic! He had to stay in the hospital for a week just to get regulated enough where he could stand, walk and eat. It has made me so sad to see him lose his eye sight on top of everything else. I love my boy so very much and he is only 7 and has healthy organs….he should live to be 12-15 years old! It gives me hope reading abt Chris living and traveling with you 2 years after losing his eye sight to diabetes….I have been a little on the fence about whether I should let him go or not….I don’t want to keep him here selfishly if he is not having any kind of quality of life….but if he can still function and work around the blindness/deafness and enjoy himself I would do anything to care for this beautiful dog who has brought so much joy and love to my life.

  • Natalie Karst

    It’s been a while since I got back to this page!

    pat b., in answer to your question, he wasn’t a good candidate for cataract surgery and did so well blind that we never really felt the need to risk it. He had suffered from numerous corneal ulcers, even before blind, and had a condition in which his corneas were poorly cemented and had difficulty healing after any kind of scratch or incision.

    Not that we saved any money by not having it! We just paid it on a long installment plan of eye drops and ophthalmologist visits. 🙂

  • Natalie Karst

    Jen! You must be one of those medically-needy-dog magnets… 🙂 Chris came from a shelter with a congenital heart defect that required surgery just a couple of months after my husband adopted him. And the last five years he was one expensive mutt. But worth every penny. I was glad we had the resources to give him the care he needed.

  • Barbi Flint

    I am in tears reading such sad yet wonderful stories. My little poodle Lola was diagnosed as diabetic 6 mths ago at then age 5. These stories are helping me so much because I feel so in the dark, alone and helpless. My daughter wants. to take me on a short road trip for my birthday. I will be 79. I will not go without Lola. I don’t know if its wiser to invest in a car refrigerator or carry the insulin wrapped in a towel in a cooler. When we get there the hotel has a fridge, but I hope to take her along with my other poodle Lucy and go camping in a tent that does have elec. Lucy has crystals in her urine and also is on a rx diet and had bladder stone surgery. I just havent as of yet found a small car fridge (I do want one that is AC and DC) Does anyone know of a site that I could look on or have any info to help me. Ive noticed her licking n scratching lately n I found that a slice of apple seems to stop the licking. She nibbles on her paws,is that common with diabetes.I am. A survivor of colon cancer for 41yrs now(have an ileostomy) lupus, crohns, IC, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis,osteoarthritis etc., but I can speak up when I don’t feel well. My heart goes out to my little girls and all other dogs out their with diabetes or whatever. Thank you for listening to me.

  • Giveawag

    Barbi, I am crying too. We both love animals so much and rightfully so! My little chiweenie Toby is 9 years led and was just diagnosed about two months ago. I am having so much double regulating his blood glucose levels. I think I will get another meter. This one reads high when compared to the vet, and having two would mean I don’t have to panic if one doesn’t work. My vet has commented that I need to stop checking his levels every day but he isn’t regulated and I know NO other way to actually know how he’s doing and I don’t want to lose him by not knowing! He is a real trooper with the lancets….I use his pad on his front paw that is not used for walking – up his leg a bit – know what I mean? I saw that on YouTube and he hated me stabbing his ear and I could hardly keep him still enough to poke his gums and not have them get saliva on them before I could get it tested. I am willing to spend whatever I need to spend as he’s such a wonderful sweet active fairly young dog really! But, I also would like to know any way to get insulin cheaper or any of the supplies in bulk cheaper, etc. I am hopeful this forum will really help!!!!!! Any advice is welcome and I hope I can figure out how to check for comments!!! You ladies are wonderful and I’m so happy to have found you!

  • Giveawag

    I meant to make a plea for help. Suddenly Toby is wincing and crying when I give him his insulin shot. I have tried to give it on the left side in am and right side in pm and have tried to move the spot around, but when you give it twice a day you run out of fresh new spots on either side! I’m wondering if the insulin was too cold once or twice and now he’s afraid of it! What do you think? Can I give it to him any other place than between or around his shoulder area? What do YOU do over long term? He is so so so tolerant and such a sweet dog – I know it must be hurting NOW… what would be the cause and what can I do about it? Thanks so much for your help!! I’m giving 5-6 units of vetsulin every 12 hours. I’d also like to switch to Novalin-N? Or Humulin-N? As most people seem to be using one of those, and I hear they are a lot cheaper…if they are just as good that would be great with me. Vetsulin is usually around $60 a vial. It is pig durivitive so some vets think it is probably better for dogs….but I’m not sure. Another question — I can’t get him regulated below about 400-500 at teh 12 hours marks and sometimes never gets below 400 any time of the day, even at peak insulin time. Maybe I need to give it every6 hours but vetsulin is every 12….I’ll have to visit with a vet about this, but it’s so nice to hear what other people have needed to do. Thank you for reading all my questions! They are MANY!!!

  • Debbie Oppermann

    I have a rotti who has had diabetes for nearly 2 years. We still check her levels every morning and occasionally we check them in the afternoon. Bella has become so used to having these checks that she waits on the sofa to have them done. I am in Australia and I buy my test strips direct from VetQuip (importers). The vet originally put Bella on insulin I could buy from the chemist. She is on Lantus Solostar slow release insulin and has injections twice a day. At first it was a nightmare and it took us a little while to come to terms with how the body works. We have found that as long as you keep her in a routine – She has breakfast at 6am and dinner at 5.30 to 5.45pm, everything seems to be ok. Don’t worry too much about the increases in her levels as long as they aren’t constantly high. Bella has a wave effect with her levels, she will be normal, then gradually over a few days it climbs and then it starts to come back to normal. We spoke to 2 people we know that are type 1 diabetics and they also told us that it is a constant roller coaster ride and you will never keep the levels the same all the time.

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