The basics of feline diabetes (as poorly guessed at by Lisa and Gorb)...note, this document in no way has the info that the FAQ's, glossaries, etc have and is really just a "week one primer". This is basically the questions are friends and family asked us when we told them Gorb was diabetic. We'll continue to add to this page as we get more questions.
Disclaimer: the information on this page is from our own personal experience with Gorb. We are not vets - we are not even experts on feline diabetes. Please do not use our history to necessarily advise you in the care of your sugarcat.
There is a wonderful FAQ on feline diabetes that was created by Janet (of Janet & Binky GA) and is updated regularly. Here's the link! The info in the FAQ is pretty comprehensive and there's a ton of links there too. Also consult Melissa and Popcorn (GA)'s glossary for definitions of the terms used below.
Feline diabetes? You mean cats can get diabetes?
Why yes they can - dogs too. There's a lot of thought on the reasons...sometimes medication (especially steroids) can cause short-term periods of diabetes (similar to gestational diabetes in humans)...others think that the poor quality of most pet food is a big contributing factor (fyi - Gorb and his buds never really ate store food...always the ultra-premium brands or a whole food diet)...obesity can often be a contributing factor...like I said - I'm no expert.
So what do you do for a sugarcat?
The same thing you do for a sugar-person...blood tests are done to check the glucose levels, insulin is provided via an injection, food is monitored closely (Gorb is on a low-carb diet, as carbs turn into sugar this is of great import)...of course little or no sugar in the diet (most store brands of treats and even food have sugar added).
How do you take blood from a cat?
Very carefully (ha-ha)! Initially "curves" are done, usually in a vets office. A curve is basically taking a blood sample every 2 hours after injection to see how effective the insulin is in lowering the blood glucose (BG) numbers and also to determine how long the insulin works to keep the BG numbers down. Many people do curves at home after the first diagnosis with a glucometer - the same ones you buy at your drugstore for humans. The glucometer results do vary from the vet methods (usually around a 10% margin of error though) but do effectively tell you around where the BG is at any moment in time. Popular sites for blood-letting are the ear or the paw. For more info on home blood testing, see Gorb's home testing primer for more info and links.
Just like a human would, people usually test their kitties before every shot. As BG numbers can vary greatly depending on food, infection, cats activity...its important to know if your cats numbers are lower than usual so that you can adjust the insulin dosage or skip it entirely. If you do not check your cats numbers before a shot its possible that your cat can get more insulin than necessary which leads to hypoglycemia.
What else do you do at home to monitor your cat?
Well we do urine testing - and its as much fun as it sounds :) We use "ketodiastix" that need to be held in the urine stream for a few seconds and then change color accordingly. The sticks we use are combo's that monitor presence of ketones as well as tell you how much glucose has spilled into the urine. A non-diabetic person or cat would not have glucose in their urine. What happens is the body produces enough insulin to make the glucose work...when you are diabetic, the insulin injections help the body use the glucose but sometimes not all the glucose is used (not enough insulin or too much food leads to higher numbers) and it "spills over" into the urine. The glucose in urine is not an effective way to tell where your cat is BG-wise as it merely shows how high the glucose may have been since the last time the cat pee'd. It doesn't tell you how low the BG was so there's no way to tell how effective the insulin is. We use the sticks mainly to make sure that the ketones don't come back.
Where does your cat go for his insulin injections?
Where does he go? Usually to the kitchen...(ha ha). We give Gorb his injections twice daily, most caregivers give the shots themselves with no problem at all. Its not as bad as it sounds, honestly. If you've ever pet a cat you know their skin is a little "loose". All we have to do is pull up a little tent of skin and inject him subcutaneously. It only takes seconds and once I got over the "are you sure I'm not hurting him?" phase it was really no big deal. Most people like to use short needles, again the same needles people use, so that you don't have to worry about poking too far and hitting muscle - that would hurt a little bit (same as us getting a shot basically).
So does diabetes mean he'll die sooner?
Absolutely not, once a sugarcat is regulated (meaning that the insulin is in the exact dose he needs and is keeping his blood glucose in optimum range for the day) he's just as healthy - if not more - than the rest of our cats. There are of course complications that Gorb would be more prone to because of the diabetes (like neuropathy, infections, etc) but as long as we keep him regulated we just need to watch for the signs. Because we watch him so closely - chances are we would see the signs of a problem much faster than we would with one of our other cats. I can't say it loudly enough - FELINE DIABETES IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE! Unfortunately, because there are so many vets that aren't familiar with treating FD, many people are advised that they should just "end their cats suffering" and loved ones are put down every day :(
Is it expensive to take care of him?
Because Gorb had complications at diagnosis and spent time in the hospital - we did run up a few bills. Usually though people (or their vets) recognize the symptoms and a simple blood test can confirm diagnosis. A bottle of insulin runs around $20-25 (for the standard types) and is usually used for about 1 month to 6 weeks (after a while the insulin will lose its effectiveness). We do 2x daily injections and buy our needles by the 100, usually between $20 and $30 for the lot (we get generics at Walgreen's that run us $15 and change). So the 100 needles usually lasts us just under 2 months. If people do home BG testing your vet bills will be reduced considerably as you can do home curves and spot checks as you start to regulate.
What does a diabetic cat eat?
There's a lot of ways to go with this. I'll tell you what we provide Gorb and what we know works for him...remember every cat is different! Gorb is on a high protein, low carbohydrate diet. We feed him a low-carb canned food (Wellness brand but there's others available, see the food charts at Janet's site) for breakfast and dinner. Gorb also gets snacks at around +3 in the daytime (usually via timed feeder) and the evening (via timed caregiver). It is important that Gorb have these snacks so that his numbers don't get too low when we're not around (or awake). Gorb is very sensitive to carb's and as dry food is much higher than wet in carbs, Gorb's on a no dry food diet.
Gorb and his roommies also get "whole food" meals. This means we cook organic chicken/turkey, organic green beans or broccoli, and brown rice and put it all in the food processor with a few vitamin supplements. All of the cats love this - and most of our friends think it smells pretty good too! The cats all get the same diet for the most part. Gorb and his pals lived exclusively on whole food for years, right now our schedules are tough so we're relying more on canned food with whole food treats.
What are the symptoms to look for if I think my cat (or dog) might be diabetic?
There's a lot too look for -- some of it conflicting...again, every animal is different. Here's a couple of basics:
- excessive drinking / excessive urination...Gorb started to drink from glasses we'd leave on the nightstand - that was definitely "weird"
- weight gain: usually a cat will gain weight when first diabetic as they are unable to process the glucose effectively and it turns to fat
- weight loss: if a cat has been unregulated too long, the body isn't able to use the glucose it produces to power the muscles and organs and they all have to work harder, leading to weight loss...if ketoacidosis sets in the weight loss is significant as DKA means the body is starting to try to utilize stored fat and the body's muscle to give the cells energy, and produces the ketones (acid basically) as a by product
And here's what we say when folks tell us "I'm sorry you're cat is so sick".
First, I take a deep breath and remind myself that they mean well - and there's a ton of vets that don't understand feline diabetes, so how could Friend X know that FELINE DIABETES IS NOT A DEATH SENTENCE. "Actually, Friend X, Gorb isn't sick at all. He's an insulin dependent diabetic and like most diabetics, he regulates himself with diet and regular insulin injections...He's probably the healthiest darn cat I know right now!" And then I whip out a picture like this one and say "see how good he looks?"