So you have a diabetic cat?

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Diabetes is a fairly common problem in cats. Some pet owners are daunted by the thought of managing this complex disease. The good news is that most cats do well with treatment if the owners pay attention to the details. The veterinary team is there to help and will guide you every step of the way.

The first question is, “Does my cat need insulin?” In most cases they do require insulin injections; however, there are some overweight cats that only eat dry food that can go into remission with a simple change to canned food. If the clinical signs (increased hunger and thirst) haven’t been going on for too long, then carbohydrate restriction may be enough to reduce hyperglycemia. By keeping a diabetic log and carefully documenting appetite and amount of urine clumps in the box an owner can get an idea if getting rid of the dry food is the ticket to success. Otherwise, we are on to insulin injections twice daily.

Your veterinarian will recommend the type of insulin she prefers and her team will give instructions on how to administer the injections. The needles are very fine gauge and most cats hardly notice the little pokes. It is especially easy to give the injections when they are happily eating. Client education is important and there will be discussions on: how insulin works, the signs of hypoglycemia and how to monitor water intake and output. 

There will also be the need for a blood glucose curve from time to time. Each cat metabolizes insulin differently and the curve will help make adjustments in insulin dosages. Most of the time the kitty comes into the hospital and the blood glucose is checked every two hours for the entire day. This valuable information helps the veterinarian fine tune the amount of insulin to be given. Spot checks can also be useful later on to determine if the patient is well regulated. Some owners even purchase their own little machine (called a glucometer) to check their cat’s blood glucose at home. This approach can be helpful for the timid cats that find the hospital setting too stressful. The extra stress can increase the blood glucose numbers and result in a poor understanding of the cat’s insulin requirement. Some cats do not “curve” properly and this can be a worry for owners. The best remedy is for the owners to keep a detailed diabetes journal that includes checking accurate weekly weight changes.

Feline diabetics do not need to be as tightly regulated as humans. Cats do just fine with less-than-perfect regulation and the goal should be to reduce the clinical signs. It is not necessary to overly worry about each little detail on a daily basis. It is best to work with broad brush strokes and make sure that quality of life for the cat (and the owner) is the important goal. Your veterinarian and her staff will help you keep your cat on the right track to managing diabetes.