Before you think – ‘oh – that’s a lot’, a rare few cats are OK with insulin once a day, and all cats would rather have an injection (especially from a tiny little insulin needle) than a pill!
Whatever the insulin injection requirement, this can be either a truly bonding experience or it can create great social torment.
Hence my comment that diabetes is not a death sentence but it can be a goal term.
Are you committed enough for feline home care?
About 60% of my clients are prepared to embark on the commitment of a diabetic maintenance program (remember to include holiday plans and irregular work vs. weekend hours in your calculations). I think it is better to assess the cost and commitment realistically at the start rather than put the cat through a stabilization program only to find the maintenance needs are impossible.
I make no judgment on a person’s willingness or not to attempt treatment, as I have a sneaky feeling that I, myself, wouldn’t have the time to make good metabolic control of a feline with diabetes possible.
What problems can occur once Fluffy is stable?
The stabilization process depends on the state in which the cat is first presented.
There is the “happy” diabetic feline who is only drinking a lot of water and losing weight, and there is the “unhappy” feline whose diabetes has caused their metabolism to be in real trouble with ketoacidosis or even progressed to the “really critical” diabetic cat in a coma, or with pancreatitis or other major complication.
The clinical needs and variations that you, your feline friend and your vet will live through to find the appropriate amount, type and frequency of insulin needed, or whether to try controlling it with tablets (Glipizide /oral hypoglycaemics), plus attempting a dietary adjustment, can be a real bonding experience with your vet!
Sometimes it is straightforward, frequently not.
Let’s assume normal! What needs to be done?
Assuming the cat is on the “standard’ (i.e. most common) program of twice daily injections of insulin followed by a measured amount of designer diabetic cat food and a strictly measured intake, what else needs to be done?
Although daily urine glucose measurements are no longer de rigeur, regular monitoring is helpful, so that if the diabetes starts to accelerate again (more glucose in the urine or even ketones), then blood tests can be started early so as to define where the problem is.
There are plenty of possibilities that interfere with good diabetic control – including wrong dose or wrong type of insulin for your cat, wrong food and poor injection technique.
The list goes on! Then you can correct them and Fluffy can re-stabilize.
Many owners are even prepared to do blood tests on a regular basis to keep their diabetic feline as closely regulated as possible, but as I have said, at any level, this is a big commitment.
Traps and pitfalls
At the other end of the scale, after treatment has been started, and maybe Fluffy has even stabilized, if there is no glucose in the urine, it may indicate that she is restoring her own insulin production and the treatment is no longer required.
The danger of having insulin administered by an owner when the cat no longer needs it is that the cat can be pushed into a “hypo” coma which can be fatal, especially if the early symptoms go unnoticed.
Basically the brain slows down from lack of glucose so the cat gets sleepier until it goes into a coma or fit or seizure.
Giving the cat liquid glucose will counteract the problem, and most cats don’t go as deeply into a coma as to have their life threatened, but it can be a bit of a fright for all concerned, and often does involve an overnight stay in the vet hospital while the cat’s metabolism sorts itself out again.
I had a cat killed by having too many people administering the insulin, without communicating, and one morning the cat got 3 doses within an hour. Another succumbed to being given a human dose of insulin by a well-meaning nurse friend who minded the cat while the owner was away and reverted to a routine human dose instead of reading the instructions.
These are rare problems of course, but the possibilities must be borne in mind. Some disease problems can be resolved with just a bit of help, but not this one.
Fluffy the diabetic feline is now completely dependent on your skills of observation (of her behavior, feeding, drinking, sleeping and urination habits). Plus, there’s management of your time so you can give insulin and food routinely, and your clinical skills with injections (the easiest part actually!) and delivering Fluffy to the vet for the regular checkups she will need.
Life becomes very ‘Fluffy Centered’ – as of course it should be!
Learn more about care with diabetic feline cat food