How Do I Care for a Cat With Diabetes?
Q. My cat has been diagnosed as diabetic. How realistic is it for me to assume at-home care for him?
A. The thought of giving daily injections probably sounds scary, but the good news is that diabetes is a very manageable disease in cats. Diabetes occurs when the cat’s pancreas no longer produces the levels of insulin needed to permit the body’s cells to use glucose for energy, or when the cat's body becomes "insulin-resistant" and can't use the available insulin properly. Sugar builds up in the blood and urine, causing the kidneys to work overtime trying to rid the body of the excess sugar. The cat eats more and more, in an effort to get the fuel needed to survive.
However, with proper medical management, careful observation on your part and perhaps a change in diet, your cat can live a relatively normal life for many years. Your veterinarian is the best person to advise you about your own cat, but here’s some general information that can help you care for a diabetic cat at home.
We now know that a change in diet can positively affect the course of diabetes and, in some cases, even help send it into remission. Studies have shown that diabetic cats who eat high-protein, low-carbohydrate foods are easier to manage and may sometimes even go back to normal, meaning they no longer need insulin injections. However, a diet change isn't an option for every diabetic cat, so talk to your vet before changing your diabetic pet’s food.
Daily insulin injections replace the naturally occurring insulin that the body is no longer making or can't use effectively. There are several types of insulin available for cats, and your veterinarian or a technician can show you how to give the injection properly. The needles used are small and fine, so many cats seem to barely feel them. Most cats tolerate injections without a fuss, especially if they are given a treat afterward. Some cats will even remind you that it’s time for their injection because they want that treat.
Blood Glucose Monitoring
Testing the level of glucose in your cat’s blood allows you to help ensure that he gets an appropriate amount of insulin. Blood glucose meters for home testing are inexpensive, small and easy to use. A tiny prick of the ear with a lancet produces a drop of blood that is placed on a testing strip and put into the meter, which then measures the amount of glucose in the blood. Give him a nice ear rub first to make sure the blood is flowing well. Good control of blood glucose levels, especially in the early stages when the disease is first diagnosed, makes for better management and may increase the chances of remission at some point.
Your Own Observations
Paying attention to how much your cat is eating, drinking and peeing in the litter box can help you keep tabs on how well he’s doing. Learn to recognize unusual behavior such as seeming weak or appearing “lost” in a corner, which can indicate hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar. Rub some corn syrup on his gums and get him to the veterinarian ASAP. With good management, though, you can expect many more happy years of companionship with your cat.
Veterinarians are experienced in helping cat owners learn to care for diabetic cats, so whenever you need help or have a question, check in with your cat's doctor!