Diabetes…in pets? Sure! It can happen!
Diabetes is one of those diseases that doesn’t just happen overnight. It creeps up on your pet slowly. Pets have a way of hiding their symptoms, hiding that they don’t feel good. Suddenly, you notice certain changes in your pet. You start thinking about it, put two and two together….
Or, as in the case of my 11 year old cat, the changes I was seeing I attributed to stress in the home. Plus, being a multi-cat home, it’s not always easy to see who is eating or drinking, who’s peeing and pooping….
In February, my oldest cat passed away after a battle with kidney failure. My focus had been on nursing her for a month. My other cat, 10 at the time, never cared for her housemate, but she felt my stress. Felt my stress and grief when the older cat passed. Then I bring home a new cat…more stress! A couple months later, a playmate for the new cat…more stress!! The changes I finally noticed-hiding more, unkempt appearance, weight loss (she’d not been overweight, but I noticed in picking her up that she felt lighter) I’d attributed to stress. I finally took a good, long look at my now 11 year old cat and said, “You’re going to the vet.”
My cat, Reina, had had senior blood work in the late fall (5-6 mos prior), and it was normal. I was expecting a kidney or thyroid issue. We did a CBC (complete blood count), Chemistry Profile (liver, kidneys, pancreas, heart, etc), thyroid, and urinalysis.
I was shocked when her urine was positive for glucose. My poor girl was likely a diabetic. We confirmed it with a test called Fructosamine, which gives an average of the blood sugar over the previous several weeks. It was high. Diagnosis confirmed. Luckily, her remaining blood work was all normal, and I was able to change her to a diabetic diet and start her insulin.
Just because I’m a technician, it doesn’t mean that treating my diabetic cat has been easy. The cat controls the house and routine. I switched her from a dental diet to a prescription diabetic diet that’s lower in carbs, which luckily, all of my cats like and will eat. I’ve had to try to go to semi-meal feeding my cats to control when Reina eats so I can give her her insulin appropriately (she refuses to eat in the morning on my schedule!). I’ve had to check blood work on her every 6-8 weeks to make sure her sugar levels are okay. She did well for awhile, until we’ve recently had to adjust her again.
Most (but not all) diabetic animals start out overweight, so owners may notice weight loss. Diabetic animals also may drink more and urinate more. Cats, especially, may hide more, lose interest in grooming themselves. It’s easy to miss, especially in a multi-cat home.
Diabetes is usually a lifelong issue. With a diet change and insulin, most become regulated and do well with periodic blood work. That blood work may include a day long stay for a glucose curve (we check blood sugars during the day-this can also be done at home if you are comfortable with it and want to purchase the machine), Fructosamine as mentioned above, and chemistry profiles to monitor other organs. Urine samples are also checked routinely for glucose and ketones (chemical made in the liver that’s released when the body doesn’t have enough insulin-can signal a very serious complication of diabetes). Diabetic pets are also more susceptible to infections such as urinary tract infections.
Believe it or not, most diabetic pets accept the insulin injections without fuss (very tiny needle). It’s often harder on the pet parent than the pet, with careful diet schedules (including fewer treats), giving the right amount of insulin at the right times, frequent veterinary visits. Diabetes is also not cheap to treat, between food, insulin, syringes, and vet visits. Since becoming the pet parent of a diabetic cat, I have a whole new respect for other pet parents going through the same thing!
The take home message is to watch your pets carefully for any changes in habit, diet, behavior, potty habits, weight. Make sure to visit your veterinarian at least yearly, or twice yearly for pets over 7 years of age. Older pets should have blood work and a urinalysis at least yearly. Be prepared for the unexpected.
Diabetic pets can live many happy years with careful monitoring and proper diet and insulin. Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s advice and visit schedule for your diabetic pet.