Pets with diabetes ... we haven't touched this subject since seven years ago, but recently decided it was time for a fresh look after a reader emailed us with a question about how to obtain extra insulin for her cat with diabetes. With the high cost of this life-sustaining liquid, it's no wonder that our feline friends with diabetes are in need some of some assistance too!
Who knows how many pets are living with diabetes? Stats just aren't kept on this the same way they are for humans. Reports do indicate that incidence of diabetes is rising in pets just as it is among humans, and some vets state that up to 1% of cats in their clinic's database may be diabetic.
Correspondent Mike Lawson did some legwork to find out what it's like when a diabetes diagnosis hits a pet owner, whether that owner is a fellow PWD or not...
Special to the 'Mine by Mr. Mike Lawson
Michelangelo, or Mikey to most of his friends, was living a pretty regular life when the normal signs of diabetes started to show up. When he finally went in to see someone, his glucose level was sky high and he was feeling terribly sluggish. All he wanted was a can of tuna and a scratch behind the ears.
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OK, Michelangelo is a tabby cat. Yes, a Cat with Diabetes.
Just like us people with diabetes, Michelangelo needs daily insulin injections and blood testing using a glucometer. He even has a low-carb diet that he must stick to each day.
While we're comparing humans and animals with diabetes here, many of the D-management tasks are similar between the two species. But animals aren't as easily diagnosed and they're not categorized into two diabetes types like humans are, plus apparently the type we consider type 1 is pretty rare in kittens and cats.
Michelangelo's owner, Kay Passa in Orange County, CA (she's not a PWD), knew something was wrong after she had Michelangelo fixed at the end of last year, because he never really seemed to recover from it. He had some form of the traditional signs of a diagnosis -- frequent urination, extreme thirst, weight loss, and appetite changes. A checkup with the veterinarian confirmed that he had diabetes.
Like many of us in the Diabetes Online Community (DOC) who "felt alone" and were searching for others like us, Kay turned to the Internet to find answers. She found an online community of people that owned pets with diabetes, and just like in the DOC, the support she found at Feline Diabetes was a godsend.
"It was an incredibly steep learning curve and the amount of information I consumed within two weeks of Michelangelo's diagnosis is more than they teach vets at all ever in veterinary school," Kay says.
She now tests Michelangelo's blood glucose every day. While checking blood sugars in pets daily isn't the norm for everyone, Kay believes it's the responsible thing to do.
"I feel that administering insulin without testing his blood is like driving on the freeway with a bag over my head," she says.
Kay uses a ReliOn Micro glucometer that's made for humans, instead of the AlphaTrak Pet Glucometer that is made specifically for pets. She says the accessibility to test strips for the human meters make them a better option.
"Some people might think that testing frequently is wasteful," she said. "But I think that testing will help me catch illness and other issues earlier before they become more costly to treat."
Michelangelo eats low-carb, wet cat food that costs about 50-cents per 5.5-oz can -- and since he consumes about two cans a day, that's about $1 per day for food alone. Kay also injects Michelangelo with the long-acting basal insulin Lantus.
Suzanne & China
Suzanne Watts has type 1 diabetes and was immediately suspicious when her 14-year-old cat China started urinating frequently -- sometimes in places other than the litter box. When she noticed that China's energy level was low, she took her cat to the vet and was told that China's blood sugar was in the 300s.
Suzanne, who has lived with diabetes for 26 years, said that her vet was aware that she had diabetes and when he told her that China also had diabetes, she started laughing.
"'Are you kidding?!' I asked him."
China is now on a low-carb diet and receives an insulin shot twice a day. Many veterinarians will prescribe Lantus or Levemir to animals with diabetes, since it's becoming increasingly less popular for pets to receive a prescription for Humulin N because that older insulin brand is less predictable than Lantus or Levemir.
She said the option was presented to her, but "I never considered putting China down... I figured that if I could manage my own diabetes, then I can mange a cat's."
That isn't what everyone thinks when confronted with a D-diagnosis in their pets, however.
It's a sad reality that many pet owners do put their pets down after receiving a diabetes diagnosis, according to Dr. Charles Wiedmeyer, an associate professor in veterinary clinical pathology at the University of Missouri. He says he understands why some pet owners choose this option -- since managing a pet with diabetes can be very costly and labor intensive, and many don't have pet health insurance -- but there are other options.
Instead of putting a pet down, there are places to get a cat or dog into the care of someone more able to help. For example, the website Diabetic Cats In Need helps place cats with diabetes into homes with people who feel equipped to take care of them. People with diabetes are especially great at adopting animals with diabetes since they already have much of the equipment and understand how to manage it, we're told.
That may seem like an overwhelming double-whammy, but according to Dr. Wiedmeyer, managing the diet of a pet with diabetes is easier than managing a human diabetes diet, because "dogs can eat at the same time every day and they can eat the same food day in and day out." Right!
Another reason that managing diabetes in pets is easier than humans is that blood glucose levels don't need to be regulated as closely as that of humans. "The consequences of hyperglycemia is not as bad in animals, and their life span is not generally as long as humans," he said.
Suzanne said that when China was first diagnosed, she tested her blood glucose level much like humans do. "We pricked her ear because her paws are dirty," she said. "And it was honestly more painful for me than it was for her." Now that her diet and insulin dosages have become routine, Suzanne doesn't test China's glucose levels regularly.
Because of the shorter life span, Dr. Widmeyer said that he doesn't normally suggest that pet owners test the glucose levels of their animals regularly. "Diabetes in animals usually doesn't lead to neuropathy or kidney problems," he said. For this reason he also rarely suggests that pet owners change the insulin dosages for their pets.
The bottom line is that: just like for us PWDs, with a little extra effort, pets with diabetes can live well.
"If managed properly, animals with diabetes can live long and healthy lives," Dr. Widmeyer assures.
This seems like a perfect opportunity to quote our friend, Dr. Bill Polonsky, who often says: "Well-controlled diabetes is the leading cause of nothing" -- whether you're human or not.