Tuesday, August 24, 2010

"Your cat has diabetes."

Years ago, when I first heard that cats could have diabetes and could be required to have insulin injections, I hoped it would never happen to any of my cats, because I didn't think I could handle giving them a shot. Now, I can give an injection easily.

Indy was a skinny kitten when he and his mother and sister found their way to our rural home. Unable to turn away a hungry nursing mother, we began putting food out for them. Indy was the bravest, or maybe he just liked eating too much to be scared.

We kept a close eye on him because we knew that his weight put him at risk of diabetes. When we noticed him losing weight around his hips, drinking a lot of water, and making very large puddles in the litter box, we had him tested and confirmed that he had diabetes.

The vet showed us how to gently shake the bottle of insulin to insure it was well mixed, how to load the needle, how to create a little tent with the skin on his upper back to give the injection. My husband tried it at the vet's office, but I didn't want to jab Indy unnecessarily. That night at home it was my turn, and I botched it.

I forgot to brush the hair forward a little so that I could see Indy's skin a little as I inserted the needle. Tim had said I'd barely be able to feel it entering his skin, because the needle is so small. I tried to gently insert the needle, and I asked if he thought I had it in place, and he did, so I hit the plunger.  And squirted insulin all over his back, because the needle had not, in fact, entered his skin. Tim was a little mad, and I was upset, and we were both kind of nervous that maybe some of it had been injected but not all of it. We wiped his back dry with a paper towel and did not try again that night.

The next time, I was more careful about the procedure, and the needle went in just fine. We give the shot while he's eating a little Hill's W/D Prescription Diet canned food, and Indy usually doesn't seem to even notice the shot. Once in a great while it'll seem like there's a little problem with the needle or something and he'll flinch a bit, but he really doesn't seem to mind, and that makes the whole process easier.

We started with a very small dose twice a day, and we took him to the vet once a month to have his glucose checked. The levels were going down but were still high. Eventually, he was up to nine units twice daily. After just two or three days of that, we had trouble.

Shortly after Indy had his dinner and his shot, he began acting strange. He acted afraid of everything, hissed at Tim, then started stumbling around like he couldn't see.

The vet had not discussed what to expect from a hypoglycemic episode. That's where the body gets too much insulin and the blood sugar level dips dangerously low. Fortunately, right after Indy was diagnosed, I'd come home and read up on feline diabetes online. The site felinediabetes.com had described the situation perfectly. I didn't trust my memory entirely, though. I was pretty sure that we needed to feed him, though. When we put the food in front of him, he started trying to wolf it down, but he kept hitting the side of the bowl, whether because he couldn't see or was uncoordinated, I'm not sure. It might have been a combination of both.

I jumped online and quickly found the information on the site. I was right -- the site suggested offering maple syrup or Karo syrup, so I ran and got a tablespoon of it, and he lapped it up. As the sugar and food got into his system, he began to behave more normally, and we were able to relax.

As a precaution, we took him to the all-night emergency vet who confirmed that his blood sugar was extremely low. She said we'd done all the right things and to give him food every couple of hours throughout the night, then take him to our regular vet in the morning.

We ended up skipping a couple of doses of insulin, and with each successive glucose test over the next few months, his doses were reduced until he was able to go off insulin completely. Our vet had told us that in some cases, cats did recover from diabetes. Unfortunately, a few weeks later we noticed that Indy was losing weight again, and he's been on insulin ever since. His doses have remained fairly low, though, and he seems to be pretty well regulated.

  • Always keep an eye on how much your cat is drinking and going to the bathroom. Excessive thirst can indicate diabetes or kidney problems. 
  • Compare the prices of diabetes supplies from your vet and from other suppliers, such as American Diabetes Wholesale. We were paying 50 cents per needle from the vet, and it's about half that from ADW. Be sure to get the right needles; we use U40 veterinary syringes and were able to match the exact specs, such as the length and gauge of the needle against what the vet had sold us. When we received the shipment, we took one by the vet's office and had him look at it to make sure it was right and wouldn't affect his dosage. The vet has since started carrying the same brand, but ADW's prices are still a little better, and they ship very quickly.
  • Whenever your cat is diagnosed with any condition, it's a good idea to research it online. You can find very good information on websites, some of which have been created by veterinarians or universities and others by cat parents who have been through what you're going through now. 
  • Most important of all: keep loving and playing with your cat. Even though it's sometimes frustrating to have to set your schedule around the insulin shots, it's worth it to protect the life and health of your trusted companion.