Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Life with a Diabetic Cat

Cats do get diabetes. I knew this, I've read it, and I've met people with diabetic cats. Okay, fine - it just wasn't going to happen to one of my cats.

OJ first showed up on my patio back when we had our old deck. Here's one of the first pictures I took of him, back in the summer of 1999. He was probably 1-2 years old. He had been coming around the stray cat feeding station I have in the backyard, and after a few weeks of being shy, he decided that humans were okay and that he would stay. "Okay," I told him, "but you have to go to the vet first and have something taken care of." I was not about to have him creating baby kittens that would be homeless, or worse, wind up on my doorstep. He reluctantly agreed and soon he was back in my yard where he had his own food bowl and his own special house.

Fast forward ten-plus years.... OJ and his buddy Smokey (subject of a future post) rule the backyard. Life has been sweet and easy but things were beginning to change regarding the dear Orange One's appearance. He was getting bony, something this tubby tabby had never been. His hearty appetite was fading and the motorboat purr he rumbled every time I saw him wasn't being heard as often. Having lost cats to renal failure, I sadly assumed that it was just his time to go. He spent what I thought was going to be his last night on this planet in a box in my den, huddle up on a blanket, almost too weak to move. (During the night, he actually used the small litterbox I had in the room for him - amazing).

I barely remember driving him to the vet, barely remember her suggesting that we should probably do a basic blood panel to make sure that it was indeed renal failure. It had been over 3 years since I lost a cat to this, but the outward symptoms were identical.

"Good news!" My vet rushed into the waiting room where I was blubbering into orange fur. "It's not his kidneys! However - he's diabetic. He's MAJOR diabetic." OJ was in a state of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), and needed intensive care. There was a chance he wouldn't make it. I decided to go for it, and he was at the vet's for 4 days. Let's just say that people can take very nice vacations for what it cost.
OJ indeed survived and now takes insulin twice a day. I have to be fairly regular on this, and so he gets his shots at 8am and 8pm. He needs access to water and food 24/7. He used to be outdoors all the time, but I don't leave food out overnight because of oppossums and raccoons. That meant he had to start coming in at night. (Which led to the cabinet explorations!) He started out on 2 units of insulin twice a day, but we dropped to one, and now he only gets a half-unit twice a day. It's important to work with your vet on this to get your cat regulated on a dose that works for him. Luckily for me, OJ got on track fast. OJ's syringes and insulin are all human-grade, purchased at Walgreens. He has his own Walgreens savers card.

I know I titled this post "Life with a Diabetic Cat," but to be honest, not all that much has changed. I have a schedule to keep -he needs those shots. If I'm off by an hour or so, he's okay. But as teeny, tiny as a half-unit of insulin is, he needs it to stay alive. He's put on nearly all his weight of year ago, which is fine because truth be told he was a bit chubby. His somewhat wobbly back legs are now normal. (Some cats show wobbly back legs as they're going into a pre-diabetic state. I had him tested for this about 5 months before the DKA episode. His blood sugar did not show anything out of the ordinary - go figure). OJ loves his fresh water and diabetic cats drink more than non-diabetic cats. Keep bowls clean, fresh and full. Another good thing with him is that he does fine on Hills Science Diet Mature formula, what I feed all my cats. He did not require a diabetic food, thank goodness.

As for checking his blood sugar, I have all the regular equipment - meter, test strips, etc. For the first month, he was fine about me pricking his ear every day for a test. Today, well, let's just say he's not wild about it. A cat only needs to be checked about once per month after reaching a stable state. But again - work with your vet. Every cat is different.

Here's OJ enjoying a morning siesta about 5 months after coming home from intensive care. Life for this diabetic cat is quite nice, indeed.

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