FELINE DIABETES: a Common Disease in Cats

Most people don’t know that diabetes is the fastest growing disease afflicting the American population, and that the number one cause is obesity. Nor do most people know that their cat or dog is as likely as a human being to develop diabetes if he or she is overweight.

If your cat or dog is overweight and exhibits any of the following behaviors – drinking copious amounts of water, excessive urination,  unusual fatigue or listlessness – a visit to the veterinarian is in order. While these symptoms may indicate a variety of illnesses, a few simple blood tests can generally pinpoint the cause and thus define the treatment.

When I returned from a vacation in Chile in March of 2000 to learn that Basil, my 12-year-old Siamese-Himalayan, was at the animal hospital I was both alarmed and thankful. Thankful that my very responsible housesitter had taken him to the emergency clinic when he appeared to be passing out on top of his water dish. The symptoms she described could have indicated kidney failure, liver failure, hyperthyroidism, or diabetes. The presence of a very high level of glucose in his blood immediately indicated that he was diabetic, and he responded quickly to a dose of insulin.

What everyone should know is that feline diabetes is a very treatable disease. Once the dosage is established a cat can live a very long and happy life with diabetes. Generally this requires that the caretaker inject insulin twice daily. Follow-up examinations and more blood tests are required to achieve the right dosage, which also can vary depending upon other conditions such as stress level.

It is with horror that I learned that many people simply put a pet to sleep when confronted with a diagnosis of diabetes. I personally find the injections easier and less costly to administer than cleaning the kitty litter and buying a fresh supply of litter. Nonetheless, whenever I tell people about giving insulin injections to my cat I get mixed reactions, but mostly surprise.

I have also learned to test Basil’s glucose level at home. This takes a bit of practice, but my veterinarian is supportive of home testing. It is not within the scope of this article to describe the techniques for blood testing; however, I must state that my first resort was to visit the wonderful Feline Diabetes web site. This one link can answer every question you might want to ask about feline diabetes – plus provide you with the most incredible support from all the other folks who are treating their own diabetic cats. Within minutes of posting my first question on the message board I had half a dozen informative and supportive responses. With the help of these people I was able to purchase the right supplies and equipment for home glucose monitoring and to learn to sample my cat’s blood.

In short, living with a diabetic pet is a very small challenge compared with other conditions that are sometimes fatal and more difficult to treat. If anything, the human-animal bond grows stronger through this simple act of giving insulin shots. I believe Basil knows that the injection makes him feel better as he patiently waits for his daily ritual.

Update: Basil went to kitty heaven in August of 2003. He succumbed to liver disease.

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