Unleashed: Diabetes, pets in bed can be dangerous combination as shown by familiar dog eats owner’s toe story

Got diabetes? Got a Jack Russell terrier[1], too? Watch your toes!

I could hardly believe my eyes when a press release came into my inbox from Valley Presbyterian Hospital[2] in Van Nuys, Calif. It said that a Jack Russell terrier had chewed off the toe of a diabetic woman as she slept. The woman, from Iowa, figured out the dog had done it when she awoke because of the blood on the dog’s facial fur. Doctors amputated part of her toe and, later, the lower portion of her leg because she developed other infections. Her other leg already had been amputated because of her disease, so she was left a double amputee.

To readers in West Michigan, it’s a familiar story. Press columnist Tom Rademacher wrote an eerily similar tale last August[3], when a Jack Russell named Kiko gnawed off the toe of his owner, Jerry Douthette, of Rockford. Kiko sensed an infection festering in his master’s right big toe and chewed most of it off after Douthette passed out in a drunken stupor, Rademacher wrote.

Douthette had the toe amputated and the dog was credited with making his owner aware that he had been suffering from Type 2 diabetes. The story, as gross as it is, went viral[4] on the Internet.

The press release from California was promoting the publication of a case study by Dr. Lee C. Rogers and Dr. Nicholas J. Bevilacqua of Valley Presbyterian Hospital to highlight the need for diabetic patients with neuropathy to avoid having their feet or wounds exposed when sleeping with pets. The findings were published in the Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association[5].

“Pets have a tendency to lick wounds, and that lick can turn into a bite, if there’s no response from the owner (because of numbness in the feet),” Rogers told me in a phone interview. “Some people like to have their wounds air out and take their dressings or Band-Aids[6] off. That’s not really recommended medical advice, it’s common folklore. A dog has a superior sniffer, and they’ll start to lick and bite the wound, and the owner doesn’t notice.”

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