One Month of Feline Diabetes…

Around this time last month, Maui was diagnosed with feline diabetes. He was peeing outside of the litter box, which at first I attributed to a behavioral thing as I did recently change his cat litter and I assumed he just didn’t like the new litter. I changed it back to the old litter and as I was pouring the litter into the box he immediately ran over to it and peed…so much so that he flooded the litter box.

For half a second I breathed a sigh of relief thinking the fact that he peed upon seeing the old litter did indeed mean it was all behavioral, but once I realized it was a ton of pee, and then so much pee that it had formed a puddle on top of the litter in the box, I knew we had a problem.

COVID’s impact on staffing has made nearly every part of life unnecessarily difficult, and getting a vet appointment was no different. (To be clear, I support workers who have made the decision not to return to jobs that aren’t paying enough or aren’t fulfilling to them anymore after everything that’s happened over the past almost two years, but it’s still frustrating from a consumer standpoint.) Thankfully, I had a checkup already scheduled for my other cat, so I was able to switch their appointments and get Maui seen sooner. If it weren’t for that check up, I probably would have needed to find a different vet, which would be annoying since I really do like my vet.

He was tested for everything under the sun, and the vet did not seem too worried at all during our appointment. My wallet was probably the most concerned thing in the room. The next day, the doctor called back and told me that it was diabetes.

She was cheerful and positive on the phone, leading me to believe that it wasn’t serious and would be easy to manage. She prescribed glucose management cat food, that I picked up the following day (both dry food and wet food totaling out at $100) and scheduled my next appointment to come in and learn how to administer insulin.

At first I was relieved. Maui’s symptoms could easily have been kidney disease, which as far as I know would be much more serious than diabetes, especially if it isn’t caught earlier enough as that is how most cats would eventually die when they’re older. That coupled with the vet not seeming concerned, I was feeling okay with his diagnosis.

Then I Googled. You shouldn’t Google medical advice for yourself, and really you shouldn’t Google for your pets either. What I found was horrifying, and I obsessed over it for that full weekend when my vet’s office was closed and I had to wait until Monday to call them back. Immediately I found recommendations online discouraging the prescription cat food, as diabetic cats need a low carb diet, and the prescription food is 13% carbs while other non-prescription brands exist with 4% or even 0% carbs.

I read about recommendations that you should test your cat’s blood sugar at home before giving insulin, the same way a human with diabetes would. This makes sense from my understanding of diabetes in humans, as if the blood sugar is too low you don’t want to shoot insulin where that could be dangerous.

I immediately created a spreadsheet, bought new food, and purchased a blood glucose reader, lancelets, testing strips, and cotton to test him myself from home. According to other information I read, an untreated diabetic cat is basically starving themselves. Their cells don’t know how to retain fat I guess, so all the fat they eat gets burned off and they feel hungry as a result all the time. I felt horrible because we always thought Maui cried for food simply because he liked food. To remedy this while still saving our sanity, I also went out and bought a timed feeder.

On Monday, I called to tell my vet that I didn’t want to go right to insulin unless it was dangerous for him not to. That I had questions, and before making this commitment to sticking him with needles twice a day I wanted answers. I got sufficient answers except for my question on the food. The vet okayed the new food I had purchased but didn’t really provide a good reason for recommending the prescription food first.

When his numbers didn’t drop enough from the diet change, it was time to start insulin. I think I’m now known as the crazy cat lady at my local Walgreens because I feel like I’m always there buying new needles and telling them no, I don’t want my next refill of $320 insulin for my cat who is only on 1 unit twice a day. In fact I’m hoping my current vial lasts three months.

My vet discourages home testing and I’m not really sure why other than Maui obviously hates it (we have to prick his ear to get the blood). A feline diabetes Facebook group and forum I’ve been looking at (with a grain of salt) suggests everyone test twice a day, and I just think that’s unrealistic for Maui. For one, I can’t test him by myself, he moves and I don’t have enough hands to hold him and get the blood. I usually hold him while Josh pricks his ear. For another, he hates it. If his numbers get low enough that it seems like giving insulin could be risky, I guess I’d suck it up and test him more but I don’t think we’re there yet.

When he was diagnosed, his blood glucose level was at 491 (which is very high). At his last vet appointment he was 294 and he’s been up to 360 since then. It seems like this whole thing is going to be two steps forward and one step back for a little while. Aside from the high number, all of his other symptoms are gone, and he is a young, healthy cat otherwise.

I wish I knew more about diabetes in general. It feels overwhelming that I’m not very familiar with it and I’m now sticking a cat (basically my child) with needles in hopes of helping it. Nearly every adult human is at risk for developing diabetes…I think it’s something we should have covered in more detail in school honestly. I’m sure we covered what happens on the cellular level in biology, but for an illness that can happen to you later in life, it just seems like it would be useful for me to have already had some knowledge of it.

There are some real horror stories in that Facebook group I’m in, and I think because of that and my search history I’m now getting ads on social for ways to memorialize your pet and that is incredibly depressing. I think Maui will be okay, but I’m also afraid of being too optimistic. Aside from the diagnosis, we haven’t received bad news so far. His sugar is still high, but it’s almost 50% less than it was when he was diagnosed. He has a lot more vet visits coming up, so hopefully we’ll get better news soon.

In short, shooting insulin is actually very quick and easy, even in a cat. Mentally coming to terms with a diagnosis of any kind and logistically understanding a medical condition you have no familiarity with is not, and I hope it gets easier.

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