10 Good Things About Owning a Diabetic Cat

When pet owners learn their cat has diabetes, many assume that owning a diabetic cat is a death sentence. This is not true. Don’t panic.

Owning a diabetic cat
Owning a diabetic cat can be a rewarding bonding experience.

Many people hear the news their cat is a diabetic and they think it’s a death sentence. This is not true. Don’t panic.

On the positive side:

1. It’s a treatable disease.

A diagnosis of diabetes means your cat can get treatment. When an older cat is presented to me with the common symptoms of  drinking lots of water, urinating tons and losing weight, a diagnosis of diabetes can actually be good news. It’s often better news than kidney or liver failure in many cases.

If your cat seems very thirsty, this is not normal. Get the cat to the vet. Early intervention with diabetes, as with so many other diseases, gives your cat the best chance of a better life, and possible remission.

2. Sometimes diabetes is reversible; it goes away.

With proper diet and the correct insulin therapy, a significant number of cats can go into remission, or have their diabetes reversed. We don’t completely understand this, but we are getting better treatment results with low-carb/high-protein diets and early insulin intervention.

Diabetes is more common in male cats, and the statistics show that males have a slightly better chance of reversing their diabetes.

3. Better diets are helping diabetics live healthier lives.

A poor diet may have brought on your cat’s diabetes in the first place. Now it’s time to get back on the right track.

Most experts recommend a diet with about 7% carb content. Fancy Feast Chunky Chicken or Turkey is a good choice for a diabetic. Friskies and 9 Lives have some options too. Evo95 Duck or Venison is great protein, low in carbs. Some of these “regular” cat foods are probably better than the prescription diets, in my opinion.

If your cat is addicted to dry foods, the Evo dry diets are probably the best. I still wish you could convert Mr. Mug to a wet diet.

4. Your cat may live for many years with proper treatment.

Many diabetic cats come in to me and the owner, and the cat, don’t think they’re that sick! The cat is eating well, but thinks his water bowl has turned into the best “open bar” in the world. The owner decides to take him to the vet when there’s urine floating on top of 20 pounds of soaked cat litter.  In other words, the cat is severely PU/PD (polyuric/polydipsic).

If Mr. Big Mug is still happy, eating, and his glucose hasn’t gotten too high or the diabetes hasn’t been going on for a long time, he is what we call a “happy diabetic.” These cats will usually respond to treatment quickly and you’ve caught the disease before lots of secondary problems set in (pancreatitis, neuropathy, cataracts, to name a few).

5. Insulin injections are not complicated. No needle panic!

Insulin injections for a cat with diabetesInjections are not that difficult to give, even when Mr. Mug is acting like Mr. Angrypants. Stick the furry face in some food and pop in the tiny amount of insulin, and it’s over. Pilling a cat is probably much more difficult on a daily basis than giving an injection.

Your veterinarian and staff should give you all the help you need when learning how to give insulin to your cat. My house cats serve as “practice” kitties if a client is really nervous about learning how to inject. Each of my cats probably offers his services three or four times a year. With his face in a very yummy snack, he doesn’t even notice when Mrs. Terrified injects him with a little sterile water.

6. Home monitoring is possible.

Home monitoring devices are available for pets, just like human diabetics use. These cut down on vet visits and are great for the cat who is anxious at the vet’s office.

Some cats won’t let you prick their ear for a drop of blood. Home monitoring is certainly not for everyone, or every cat. But it is worth discussing with your vet. I used to think this was a crazy idea until some of my clients got very good at it. Now it’s worth looking into with some owners.

7. The cost of insulin for a cat is fairly reasonable.

I begin all cats on an insulin called Lantus (glargine). Research has shown that early treatment with Lantus gives the best possibility of remission. The cost is about $100 per bottle $285 per bottle (updated Jan. 2018) and can last up to six months. It is labeled for human use for only 30 days, but veterinary experts believe it’s effective for several months past the expiration. This makes the cost possible for most clients.

I go to another insulin, PZI, when Lantus has not worked. Unfortunately, other, less expensive insulins out there don’t work well in cats.

8. Cats don’t act “sick” when their diabetes is well managed.

Proper diabetes care for a cat allows many patients to lead normal lives. There are certainly exceptions, and some diabetic cats have many problems. No two diabetics are the same.

If the illness is caught early, a diabetic cat will stop drinking tons of water, have a normal amount of energy and lead a happy life.

9. It’s relatively easy to find a pet sitter, friend or kennel to give injections when you’re away.

If you’re used to leaving your cat for long weekends with a big bowl of food and a “see you later,” your life is going to have to change. If your cat needs insulin injections, you’ll need to find a reliable pet sitter familiar with diabetics, a family member or a pleasant boarding situation.

If you travel constantly, caring for a diabetic cat will not be easy. But for most of us with average home/work situations, being home AM and PM for two kitty meals and two injections should not be that difficult.

10. Think of it as a bonding experience with your cat!

Bonding with a diabetic cat Caring for a diabetic cat is both a challenge and something to be proud of. Tons of information is available, and the owner of a diabetic cat should become as knowledgeable as possible.

If your friends hear the news and tell you horror stories about “other diabetic cats,” or think you’re crazy to give injections to Mr. Mug, here’s my advice: Stay calm. Smile serenely. And move on. You won’t know how this is going to go until you try. Remember, more and more cats are getting early treatment, and going into remission.

If your cat is not a diabetic yet, get on the healthy bandwagon and keep him at a normal weight, and feed him good-quality, canned food. There’s also a place for you raw-food and home-cooking fans out there. It just takes more work.

Obesity in cats, just like in Americans, is a huge problem. If I can leave you with one lasting image, it’s this:

Opening up a bag of Meow Mix is like sticking a bag of Doritos down your pie hole!

And they both stain your fingers. There’s something not right about that.

Stay healthy. Eat right. And do the same for Mr. Mug.

Photos (from top to bottom): Newtown grafitti, Mel B. and Phil Hawksworth/Flickr

Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD

View posts by Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD
Dr. Debora Lichtenberg, VMD, is a small animal and exotics veterinarian who has split her time between a veterinary practice in Pelham, Massachusetts, and her studio in New York City. Dr. Lichtenberg is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine with 30 years of experience. Her special interests are soft tissue surgery and oncology.

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