So I Have A Diabetic Cat Now What?
So I have a diabetic cat now what, is an article I recently came across in a blog and is the real life experience of a cat owner whose cat has recently been diagnosed with cat diabetes.
The owner has written the post to help and educate other owners about the things they should have known and should have done.
I think this is a brilliant post because this is someone’s real life experience of nearly losing their cat and some of the points and messages are virtually the same we have been promoting in all our other posts.
“So I have a diabetic cat.
I didn’t learn this until it was almost too late.
Two weeks, a lot of vet bills, a lot of panic and tears and terror later, he’s doing pretty well. We’re working on stabilizing his blood sugar and finding the right dose of insulin for him … but it was very touch and go there for a little while, and there were multiple times I checked on him, afraid that I’d find him dead.
This isn’t about him, really. This is about me wanting other cat owners to know the things I needed to know before all this happened.
The Symptoms We Missed
- More hunger than usual. I completely missed this one because he wasn’t free fed and we didn’t allow him extra snacking.
- Drinking far more than usual. I noticed this, but didn’t think it was a problem.
- Urinating more than usual. This was masked by a VERY bad batch of kitty litter that happened to coincide with this problem – the litter was too dusty and caked up instead of clumping.Shortly after that, we moved into our new home. Our cat doesn’t do well with stress. At all. We attributed the following missed symptoms to extra stress from the new house, when in reality, the stress of moving simply accelerated the existing problem.
- Loss of appetite. We attributed this to not only the move, but also the fact that I was trying to switch him from his dry food to a wet food diet.
- Lethargy. We thought he was just hiding from all the new sounds in the new house.
After a few weeks of this, we made the decision to take him to the vet. Even the few wet foods I had been able to coax him into eating in the past were no longer tempting him, including Tiki Cat Ahi Tuna blend, which is what feral cats are fed when they stop eating.”
I have talked about symptoms many times before. Some of these symptoms maybe due to other problems but the secret is to know when something out of the norm is happening and then to keep a close eye.
“The Next Few Days In Hell
We took him to our vet (which is amazing and awesome and if you need a veterinary service for your pet in Madison Wisconsin, I cannot recommend Companion Animal Hospital more highly). They sprayed a towel with some feliway for us because we told them he was a stressed traveler. He was examined, given a kitty tree to play on (well, he mostly hid on it and looked miserable), and we talked with the vet about his symptoms and behavior.
They took enough blood to do two tests – one for FIV first, which was thankfully negative – and then one for a send-off full blood panel. They gave him Sub-Q (under the skin) fluids because he was dehydrated, and sent us home with some max-cal food (so that if he ate anything, it would pack a big punch) and an appetite stimulant.
The next day, he seemed fine. Better, actually. Pretty sure those Sub-Q fluids did him good. He ate on his own some.
Thursday, we get the call. His blood panel was back, and it was not happy news. His liver values were through the roof. We needed to take him to the Emergency Care clinic for an ultrasound asap. His blood sugar was also elevated higher than they liked to see, but the liver was the real worry for now.
We took him in and got an ultrasound, which showed enlarged liver, but nothing really terrifying. They sent us home after taking some more blood for a fructosamine panel to check his blood sugar over time, and some liver pills.
Saturday, we could barely coax him to stand up. We took him in because of the lethargy, and they decided to hold him overnight.
Overnight, he went from a lethargic cat who wasn’t eating much to a glassy-eyed wreck who didn’t move at all. He had a feeding tube and an IV, and a bunch of other unpleasant tests and things.
We took him home the next day, along with a prescription for insulin.
I won’t say much about his time at that Emergency Clinic, but I will say that they did not match up to Companion.
We kept up with all of his prescriptions and force-fed him wet food mixed with water using a baby food syringe. On Monday, he didn’t move much.
Tuesday, he purred for Steven, but his skin turned yellow and he didn’t have very good control over his back legs.
Wednesday, he purred for me, and we sent pictures of his skin in to the Companion Hospital, who agreed that bringing him in would do more harm than good. The doctor examined the photos, said it was definitely jaundice, and that it was Not A Good Sign.
We didn’t give up.
By Friday, his skin was back to normal color, he was eating on his own, able to jump up on the bed, complaining at me if I took too long refilling his food dish, and curling up in the crook of my arm to fall asleep with me.
The vet’s office gave us a donated glucose monitor to use. His blood sugar is still all over the place (and he doesn’t much like having his ears pricked twice a day) but things are better. Much, much better.
I really, really wish we’d noticed those symptoms ahead of time, though. The drinking and urinating alone (which was MONTHS ago) would have been enough to spark a diabetes blood check.
On the upside, he kind of looks like a zombie cat because of all the shaved bits on his belly, leg, and neck. The leg ring in particular strikes me as funny, because it looks like he needs to pull up his mitten.
So, now we have a diabetic cat. There are some rules for living with a diabetic cat that are quite interesting, and good to know even if you’re old hat at human or canine diabetes.
Blood and Insulin
First off, the obvious one. Blood testing and insulin.
Test your cat’s blood sugar.
Humans test their glucose levels before giving themselves a shot, and they KNOW what’s happening. If they start to feel wonky, they know it means hypoglycemia, and grab a bag of M&Ms or something.
Your cat cannot do this.
Furthermore, your cat is in danger if the blood sugar gets to high (please refer to The Next Few Days In Hell above if you’re not sure why) but your cat is actually in MORE danger if it goes too low. Like, coma and death danger. If you give insulin to a cat whose blood sugar is already low, you could spark an attack. If you don’t notice the danger signs (because you’re at work, not just because you’re not paying attention) and get some honey rubbed on your cat’s gums, you WILL lose your darling pet. Up is bad. Low is BADBAD.
So what are the key numbers?
- For humans, you want in the “under 100? range. Ish. This is pretty much the same for normal, non-diabetic cats, though they can go higher without harm.
- Neens cat shouldn’t be given insulin if his blood sugar is below 200.
- For diabetic cats, between 200 and 300 is pretty gosh-darned good.
- For reference, Neens tested above 600 before we found out he had diabetes.
I’m working closely with my vet to report his numbers to her. Together, we’re working on slowly increasing his dosage to find the sweet spot. I would never increase his dosage just because I thought it might help. I always, always, always talk to his doctor.
The actual insulin shot isn’t very traumatic. We tried the whole “neck ruff” thing, but we’re new at this and he’s got a shaved spot on his neck, so we’ve been using that. We can see the needle go in and make sure it’s seated properly under the skin.
The insulin, by the way, is expensive. Human medical insurance doesn’t cover the prescription like it would if it was for me, so I get the full brunt of the unbuffered cost of medicine. A little over $200 for a bottle that’s supposed to last 30 days. The vet said it could last 3 months, though we’ll still be throwing out the majority of the medicine in the bottle.
Also, an empty pickle jar works fine as a sharps container. It smells a little funky, but as long as you don’t have little kids with curious fingers, it’s safe.
Human glucose monitors are perfectly acceptable, but given how hard it is to get a good blood sample from Neens, it’s worth a few extra dollars to get one that requires a smaller blood dot. Walmart’s ReliOn monitors are not only some of the cheapest to purchase, their test strips (where the real cost comes in over time) are definitely the most affordable.
Diet has a HUGE (huge huge huge) impact on cat diabetes.
Cats, unlike both dogs and humans, do not process carbs. Humans and dogs actually do pretty well on a diet with rice and grains and whatnot in it.
Cats are straight-up carnivores. That “lamb and rice” cat food? The “and rice” is for YOUR human benefit (so it sounds tastier), not the cat’s. Some cat food companies actually list rice/blueberry/corn/whatever ingredients just so you will buy it, while still providing a good catfood because the ingredient is only there in very small doses.
All cats do better on a high protein/moderate fat/low carb diet, but for diabetic cats, it’s extra important. Every carb is like throwing gasoline on a raging diabetic fire.
You can actually manage a LOT of a cat’s diabetes through diet alone, for less than the cost of the insulin.
And by “manage” I mean that cats (again, unlike both humans and dogs) can actually heal themselves of diabetes.
That’s um. That’s huge. They will actually begin producing insulin again. Remember how I said above that you should keep testing your cat’s blood? Too many beloved pets are lost because the owner doesn’t realize the cat is making its own insulin, and they continue the previous dose of insulin without knowing any better.
So! First and absolutely most important thing about a cat’s diet?
No more dry food.
For a normal cat, it’s actually quite good to get them off dry food (though be aware that you may have to check for teeth problems, without the cleaning crunchiness from the kibble) but diabetic cats shouldn’t be fed dry food, period. The vet mentioned a single diabetic-prescription dry food, but said it wasn’t even as good as giving your cat a steady diet of fancy feast and cost a heckuva lot more.
Dry food doesn’t contain the moisture content a cat needs, and CANNOT contain the protein. It is also pretty much universally carby.
There are other arguments about dry food, including bacteria and fungus and chemical stuff that I won’t go into because I don’t think it’s pertinent here, but you’re free to look the stuff up yourself and make your own judgement call. There’s enough back and forthing on the dry food vs wet food debate to give political parties a run for their money. Any mommies out there who have done research on the whole “breast-feeding” vs “bottle-feeding” have an idea of what I’m talking about here.
For a diabetic cat, though, there’s no argument at all. No more dry food.
So what kind of wet food, then?
Low carb is king.
Thing is, protein is expensive. GOOD protein (muscle protein instead of “by-product” protein) is even more expensive.
To make a food cheap, the first thing a cat food company will do is add carbs and grains.
The next choice is to amp the fat content and lower the quality of the protein.
Finding a good quality wet food that has low carbs, high muscle meat protein, and moderate fat is like trying to ask a politician for money. Most cat food companies are very tight-lipped about their actual content percentages, measuring different things and not providing enough information to do comparisons. Can labels only specify the “minimum” which doesn’t do much when the “maximum” isn’t also stated.
All of that is farther than you really need to go, though.
- If you go wet food, you’re like 75% of the way there.
- If you go low carb wet food, you’re at 90%.
And for the record, there are a TON of low-carb fancy feasts – they’re just made from by-products instead of muscle meat to cut the costs so low. You don’t have to buy the fancypantsy expensive cat food in order to feel like you’re doing well by your diabetic cat. The insulin is expensive enough without making you spend a ton on food.
I’m feeding my cat Wellness brand cat food, and eyeballing a few others as possibilities, like Evo. DO stay away from anything Hill’s brand (sorry, vet offices, I know you sell them). Hill’s is very carby.
How Do I Know All This?
Research. Some was told to me by my vet, but in the darkest days, there were exactly two things I could do that made me feel like I had any power at all. I could keep forcing more food down his throat and I could research.
The best link I have was actually sent to me by a friend. It’s from CatInfo.org.
Everything else I learned by doing random google searches and reading a lot of forum posts. There’s a strong feline diabetes community out there, and I can’t be more grateful that we live in the internet age.
My hope is that someone might do a google search that will land them on this page and give them enough information to know what to do. I hope they find out what’s going on a lot sooner than we did.”