For People With Diabetes, Pets May Pose Unusual Hazards

MONDAY July 11, 2011 -- Pet owners are familiar with cats pouncing on their feet under the covers or a pooch who nibbles their toes in bed.

But if you have diabetes, this lighthearted play is off-limits: Your feet and hands should not be exposed when sleeping with a pet.

In the second case of its type reported in a medical journal, a woman plagued by diabetes-related numbness in her feet ended up losing her leg after a pet dog chewed on her infected toe while she slept.

Researchers said that the traumatic incident underscores how critical it is that people with diabetes monitor the onset of injuries and related threats posed by pets.

"Pets have a tendency to lick wounds, and that simple lick can turn into a bite, if there is no response from the owner," study author Lee C. Rogers, associate director of Valley Presbyterian Hospital's Amputation Prevention Center in Van Nuys, Calif., explained in a hospital news release.

"There have also been reports of dogs' saliva infecting diabetic patients with the antibiotic-resistant superbug MRSA [methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus], which can be deadly," Rogers continued. "This case illustrates the perils of pet ownership in diabetic patients who have numbness in their hands or feet caused by neuropathy."

Rogers and colleagues discuss the case in the June issue of Journal of the American Podiatric Medical Association.

The authors noted that nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes, and that the disease is the number one cause of amputations that result from something other than trauma.

The experience of the 48-year old woman began with the onset of "diabetic neuropathy," a degenerative disorder affecting the nervous system. The patient had already lost one leg to amputation, and the condition caused her to lose feeling in her remaining foot.

Compounding the problem was an infection in her big toe. Because she could feel no pain, it was not until she awoke one morning and saw blood that she realized that her 2-year old Jack Russell terrier had chewed off part of her infected toe during the night.

Initially, the patient underwent a partial toe amputation. But because of the spread of infection and skin lesions (which are common to diabetics), the woman ended up having to undergo a second amputation, losing the lower part of her remaining leg.

"People with diabetes and neuropathy must take special precautions to protect their feet from infections to avoid amputations and other complications," said Rogers.

More information

For more on diabetes and related foot complications, visit the American Dietetic Association.

Posted: July 2011


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