Hazel and Ginger - Diabetes Treatment

Hazel and Ginger were diagnosed with diabetes at 18 months of age [March 2000] when Hazel suddenly developed bilateral cataracts.

Ginger showed no signs of illness and was only diagnosed after I purchased a bottle of urine test strips and checked everyone in the house, piggie and human, for glucose levels. Ginger was the piggie most likely to have an accident during lap time, but we didn't realize until later that this was a symptom of illness. Hazel and Ginger are half-sisters, same father, different mother.

Medication:

We started giving Hazel insulin injections. It was such a tiny amount (1/4 of one unit) and Hazel is such a such a squirmy pig that this was a nightmare for me. I was always concerned that she wasn't getting enough or - worse! - that she'd get too much. I know of several people who have been successful in giving their piggie daily insulin injections, and Hazel's glucose levels were quickly regulated with the insulin, but I was very nervous working with it.

Another diabetic piggie owner contacted me with the name of an oral medication that many piggies respond very well to: in Canada it's called Glyburide, in the US it's Glipizide, and in the UK it's Glibenclamide. My vet got the starting dose from her vet, and Ginger began taking this oral med. Hazel was also switched from the insulin to the oral med. We have the glyburide compounded into a liquid suspension at a local pharmacy, currently flavoured with watermelon flavouring. Some people purchase pills and crush them into baby food to administer. Many (but not all) piggies I know of that have tried this oral med have responded very well to it.

The fact that piggies may respond well to this medication indicates that their diabetes is often Type II, non-insulin dependent. They still have functioning beta cells and just need a *boost*. Some people I've been in contact with treat their diabetic piggies with a combination of dietary restrictions (I'll get to that) and this oral med.

Ginger responded very well to the oral meds immediately. Hazel had to have her dose increased slightly but then her body kicked in and we brought her dose back down. After several months of consistently "low-normal" blood glucose readings while taking the oral drug, our WONDERFUL vet suggested cutting their meds in half to see if they could take over some of the glucose-regulation that the meds were providing.  Ginger did very well on this half-dose.

Remission:

After cutting her medication in half, Hazel's body kicked in so well that we had to take her off the meds altogether (she had a hypo incident) - she's been self-regulating since July of 2000. According to that informal survey I took, about 1/3 of diabetic piggies *do* regain the ability to regulate their glucose levels themselves, sometimes a year or more after diagnosis and treatment, sometimes sooner. Many others eventually learn to manage well with just a tiny drop of meds. Some piggies (including Ginger) need the ongoing support of the oral med. Ginger walks right over to suck back her meds every morning as she considers it to be a special treat - it's not a big deal. [Note that Ginger's diabetes also reversed after ~18 months on the oral hypoglycemic medication. She was self-regulating from Aug 2001 until her death in Nov 2003, with the exception of a brief 2-week long relapse in Feb. 2002.]

Ongoing Testing:

We took the girls to the vet every 7-10 days at first to have blood tests taken. This is the only sure way of knowing what's happening with their glucose levels. As piggies are generally too small for vein draws, taking blood involves clipping a toenail a bit too short and squeezing a drop out onto the glucometer strip. As our piggie's glucose levels became regulated, the blood test became less frequent -- every few weeks, and eventually down to every 3-4 months. I purchased a home glucometer kit in the summer of 2000, and began to take the blood tests myself at home, then faxed the results periodically to the vet for her records and for discussion.

I also frequently use the urine test strips at home, to get an indication of their levels. Urine collection is fairly easy - just put the piggie in a plastic tub until he/she wees.

Diet Changes:

Most will recommend eliminating sweets such as fruit and sweetened treats from your diabetic piggies diet. Equally important is to eliminate fats - corn and seeds are very high in fat and should be avoided. There was some research done at CCT [Cavy Cambridge Trust in the UK] that suggests food dyes can "cause" diabetes also, so make sure that your piggies food contains no artificial colors. But the most important dietary consideration is promoting consumption of lots of high-fiber hay. I had to reduce the amount of green food I was offering and instead "fluff up" their hay pile when the girls wheeked, and this has had the strongest effect in helping to regulate their glucose levels.

Questions? Comments? Want more information about guinea pigs and diabetes?  Email me! or check out the Guinea Pig Links page.

Hazel and Ginger were diagnosed with diabetes at 18 months of age [March 2000] when Hazel suddenly developed bilateral cataracts.

Ginger showed no signs of illness and was only diagnosed after I purchased a bottle of urine test strips and checked everyone in the house, piggie and human, for glucose levels.  Ginger was the piggie most likely to have an accident during lap time, but we didn't realize until later that this was a symptom of illness.  Hazel and Ginger are half-sisters, same father, different mother.