As a dog parent and animal lover, I appreciate the opportunity to tell my story about growing up with a dog with diabetes. As many of you know, I am a NASCAR Xfinity Series driver that also happens to be a T1D.
Growing up in central California, I came from a racing and animal loving family. Our favorite animal from my childhood was a Chihuahua named Tank. During the weekdays in between school and racing, Tank and I would play for hours and grew extremely close. Fast forward to 2011, I was a 17 year old kid with a contract to race for a prestigious NASCAR team and thought I was invincible. After suffering from weight loss and a severe sense of thirst, I was quickly diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. I was then immediately told I would never drive a race car again. Just like that, my lifelong dream had been taken away and I was devastated.
A few months later, I had a new doctor that had experience working with professional athletes with T1D and she had a whole different outlook on me following my racing career dreams. Around the same time, my parents mentioned to me that they were concerned about Tank. He had been losing weight and drinking an abnormal amount of water. Unbelievably, after a visit to the vet, Tank was diagnosed with diabetes within months of my own diagnosis! Tank’s diagnosis affected me greatly. As anyone with diabetes will tell you, knowing you’re not alone is huge and Tank and I grew even closer through his diagnosis.
The first hurdle I faced with taking care of Tank was learning as much as possible about managing his diabetes. Managing a dog’s diabetes is a little bit different than managing my own. There are a lot of variables that go into my own personal diabetes management such as workouts, travel, stress, race day, diet, etc. I am able to manage my diabetes with a typical BG meter and my Dexcom CGM. Obviously, there is no easy way to check a dog’s blood sugar! To manage Tank’s diabetes, I would give him a base amount of insulin and keep his diet as consistent as possible. By taking these simple steps, I was successfully able to manage Tank’s diabetes.
The biggest thing I learned after Tank’s diagnosis was that taking care of an animal with diabetes is no different than making sure it has enough food or water throughout the day. Many people believe there are several complicated daily factors needed to take care of an animal with diabetes. The only factor an owner has to remember is to give the animal the medication it needs; that’s it!
I am grateful that I had a friend like Tank to share my journey with. In my opinion, having a friend and animal you love to share in your diabetes management is hugely beneficial. If you are a T1D and are considering adopting an animal living with diabetes, please do it!
Thank you for reading my story and please always remember that diabetes will not hold us back from reaching our goals and dreams.
Editor's note: Lilly Diabetes, who Ryan races for, is a corporate partner of the College Diabetes Network. For more information on this partnership and Lilly Diabetes, click here.