Ladyguide: The Care and Feeding of A Diabetic Cat

In yesterday’s LTP, I asked all of you to share pictures of your fuzzy, feathered or adorably scaled friends, and you guys peppered the comments with some of the best-looking critters I’ve seen in the same place at the same time.  So I feel safe telling you about my diabetic cat.

Not everyone who learns that I have an insulin dependent kitty understands why I would invest so much cash in a pet.  Especially one as old as my beloved Artemis, who’s about to turn 19.  I think my Persephone friends and readers will get it, however.

Here's Artemis helping me write a West Wing recap.

Diabetes is actually very common in cats, and the main culprit behind it is the amount of empty carbohydrates in most dry (and even some wet) cat food brands.  The average bag of kitty kibble is loaded with gluten and other fillers, which cats’ bodies aren’t really built to process.

When cats develop diabetes, they show a lot of the same symptoms as humans.  When Artemis first got sick, I noticed that she was drinking much more than normal, she lost a lot of weight rapidly, she lost her energy and her urine began to smell sweet and unspeakably worse than the normal horrific smell of cat urine at the same time.  The smell results from a surplus of ketones, which are proteins made in the pancreas, to put it in the super-simple way I understand it, which are then released through the kidneys.

I took her to the vet, where they were able to diagnose her as diabetic fairly quickly.  After a brief stay in the hospital to get her stabilized and to determine her ideal insulin dose, I was sent home with a bag of stuff, a kitty with a shaved paw and a list of instructions as thick as my phone.   I was at a small advantage, after college I worked as a QMA and I’d had a lot of training in how to give an injection and acquire a blood sample to measure blood sugar.  Checking a human’s blood sugar is roughly 1000x easier than checking a cat’s, but there are some tricks to make it easier.  Artemis started on 1/2 unit of insulin twice a day, which was eventually increased to 2 units.  I check her blood sugar before an after each insulin shot, or any time she’s acting oddly.  Periodically, I do something I call a hell-a-thon, where I check her sugar each hour for a 24 hour period to make sure her sugar stays stable throughout the day and night.

To check her sugar, I can either stick her on a paw pad or or the outer edge of her ear.  Getting blood from the pad is easier, but I’m totally paranoid about her walking in the litter box with pinpricks in her paw pads, so I use the ear.  She hates it so much that I feel like the Worst Person In The World, but I know it’s necessary to keep her healthy.  I wrap her in a towel to prevent being shredded to death by her claws, and I’m able to rub her ear, get the sample and let her go within a few seconds now.  I don’t want to talk about the times before I got good at it. I learned the hard way that it’s necessary to use a corner of the towel pressed against the back of her ear before I stick it, as to not stick my own finger as well as her ear.  Terrible feeling: realizing after you’ve spent twenty minutes wresting with your cat so you can stick them in the ear with a lancet that you need to stick that poor cat again.  Artemis glared at me from deep under the furniture for a week after that one.

Giving her the insulin injection is nearly laughably simple next to testing her sugar.  Since insulin is given just under the skin, on both cats and dogs it’s injected in the scruff.  I pet the shit out of her, tell her she’s pretty, pinch, stick, then pet again until I’m forgiven.

Like humans, diabetic pets can experience numbness or lack of feeling in their paws or tail.  It’s important to check your pet all over once a day to make sure everything looks okay.  Diabetics cats are vulnerable to lots of infections, including bladder/urinary tract infections and wounds that become septic from a lack of proper circulation.

Artemis eats food I buy at the grocery store.  Fancy Feast in the unattractively named “puck” format has a minimal amount of gluten or empty carbohydrates.   There is food I can get from my vet, but they’ve never pressured me to buy it and approve of the Fancy Feast as a more reasonably priced alternative.  I used to free feed all the kitties, with a few bowls of dry food I left out and full all the time.  Switching to regular feeding times wasn’t a big deal for Artemis, but the other two were out of sorts for days.  As a solution, I put a bowl of dry food on a table the younger, sprier kitties can jump onto; but poor, old Artemis won’t.  As time has gone on, I’ve weaned them away from the dry and onto the same food as Artemis, and now they’re all three experts on when regular meal time is.

It’s been almost two years since Artemis was diagnosed, and she’s doing great.  She still pretty active for an old fart, and with her blood sugar regulated she’s healthy overall.  She’s had several UTIs, but they’ve been treatable with antibiotics and she bounces back quickly each time.

Her insulin and supplies run about $30 a month, and the glucometer cost about $100.  She’s had one test that measured her glucose levels for the previous three months with medical magic that was around $150, but keeping good records of her daily glucose levels means I don’t have to have it done again. To me it’s a pretty small price to pay to keep her around.  She’s been with me through every major event in my life, I owe it to her to make her old age as comfortable (and long) as I can.   Look at this face.  How could I not?

If you suspect your booboo is diabetic, it’s important to get them into the care of a vet as soon as possible.  The earlier it’s caught, the easier it is to get under control.  Some cats, after a change in diet and a period of time on insulin, can even stabilize to the point where they don’t need insulin anymore.

By [E] Selena MacIntosh*

Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.

9 replies on “Ladyguide: The Care and Feeding of A Diabetic Cat”

I totally get why you would go through that for a cat – those who question you clearly have no capacity to love. (maybe a bit overexaggerating, but it helps my point).
That said, I admire your dedication. I can’t imagine how hard a routine like that would be, especially poking the cat! I am glad she is doing well.
Related question: I’ve been told that cats aren’t supposed to eat a lot of grains, and lots of the food have rice in them, which is bad, so I’ve been feeding my cat the (more expensive) rice-free dry food. Is that supposed to help keep them from being diabetic, or is that for so mething else?

poor kitty!
my Snufkin (see below yesterday I only post her charmer brother picture) have chronic pancreatatis, which is sometime linked to diabetic but she’s not. it’s autoimmune. it’s started with her throwing up all day for a week, when she started vomiting blood I rushed her to the vet. they ultrasound her and x-ray her and took a lot of blood work. it was the x-ray that finalized the diagnosis. acute, chronic pancreatatis. she was in hospital for 3 days, I came to see her everyday and she was so happy to see me but gave me a look that says: I can’t believe you left me here with dogs. she needed a course of antibiotic (she’s a horrible patient and fought me to death on every pill) and special pricey food for the rest of her life. the vet said it’s the best option and I took it.
I tried to make meal time when her and her brother getting different food, but he got so anxious and destructive it was a nightmare. now they have their bowl with different food always full and they all most always eat from the right one. but it took month of teaching. they get tuna in the evening which i mix with dietary food for her (she would prefer just tuna of course).
she still have vomiting days, usually after she catch a fly and eat it (you think she’ll learn, but I guess she can’t help it – it’s in her nature). she’s super miserable and cry before she throw up (the most horrible sounds ever). but she’s young (shell be 4 this summer) and other that that she’s healthy and I don’t mind buying her pricey food if that what will keep her from feeling bad.
wow didn’t mean write so much, I’m just really relating to your story…
let’s raise a glass for happy healthy cats!

This was a very informative post. I can not fathom how hard it must be to test the blood of a cat so regularly. I can’t even manage to get my cats to hold still long enough to clip their nails. I can totally understand why you do it, though. I don’t think I would be willing to say goodbye to my babies when they have a disease that is manageable like diabetes.

I did want to point out that ketones are not actually proteins. (I’m a huge nerd, so I think the following is pretty cool.) Ketones are the only other thing, besides glucose, that the brain can use for energy. The liver needs insulin to be able to tell how much glucose is in the blood. If there is no insulin, it thinks there isn’t enough glucose, and produces ketones like crazy to keep the brain going. The problem with that, is that it doesn’t stop. Ketones are acidic, and too much acid in the blood is a very, very bad thing.

I completely agree. One of my kitties had to have a $1500 surgery a few years ago, due to urinary stones, and is now on prescription cat food for the rest of his life. To me, it is completely worth it because his quality of life is not diminished. Plus, I can objectively say he happens to be the awesomest cat ever. (Okay, maybe I’m a tad biased.)

I was just looking up information on diabetes in cats yesterday (our <1 year furball had a UTI but I was preparing in case), and nothing has been as concise/reassuring. I still worry because I have never had a cat get at UTI, especially at 9mo, but nothing was found in the blood/urine tests. Time will tell, but I am definitely bookmarking this in case!

Awesome post, and I’m glad to see an informative post about the experience of living with and caring for a diabetic cat. In the past few years two of my friends have gone through the same thing and it can be pretty overwhelming at first.

I will say however that ever since I read “Food Pets Die For” I’ve thought it worth investing some time and money into avoiding some of the scary things that can go into poor quality pet food. I can understand going for the cheaper stuff, especially when paying for expensive vet bills, but it’s a bit horrifying what sorts of rendered by-products have been allowed in pet food.

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