Caring For Your Diabetic Cat
Your cat’s treatment regimen will include: medications to reduce its blood sugar level, dietary adjustments and exercise. Beyond these items, it will be very important that you establish an ongoing relationship with your primary care veterinarian, who will serve as a resource and expert on how you can best care for your feline pet.
Administering the Insulin
Controlling your cat’s diabetes will first require that a long-acting insulin be injected twice a day. The frequency and dose is determined on an individual basis. Your veterinarian will determine the dose and often initially administer it at his/her practice. It will then be important that you fine tune the dose over time, working closely with your veterinarian as you monitor your cat at home.
Your veterinarian or his/her technician can demonstrate how the injections should be given. There are also a lot of online resources that can guide you. Follow these tips for properly administering the insulin injection:
- You should always give the injection shortly after your cat eats and at the same time (AM and PM), every twelve hours.
- Do not reuse syringes
- Be sure you are using the syringes that came with the insulin product you are administering.
- Alternate injection sites (e.g., inject on the right in the morning and left side in the afternoon)
- Use petting, treats and praise to establish a trust with your cat
Monitoring your Diabetic Cat
The blood sugar level of some cats is harder to control than others and monitoring your diabetic cat is a key element of caring for your diabetic cat. This should be a collaborative effort between you and your veterinarian. Serial blood sugar curves performed at your veterinarian’s office enable the effect of insulin to be determined and dose adjustments made as necessary. Periodic blood fructosamine assays may also assist with regulation. Some cat owners are willing to take on the task of home blood glucose monitoring with a glucometer, but this requires you to regularly prick your pet’s paw or ear to get a blood sample. Your veterinarian can discuss with you whether this is appropriate for you and your cat.
Changes in dose are usually done by your veterinarian, and we recommend that you evaluate the change by checking blood sugars 3 to 7 days later and always before making further changes to dose.
Monitor your cat on a daily basis as to his/her appetite, weight, water consumption and urine output. Any significant variation in these things can be a sign that the diabetes is unregulated and veterinary care is needed. Be sure to keep your veterinarian informed of changes that you observe.
Some cats that are diagnosed early and respond well to treatment, can go into remission. This means that their diabetes resolves, and their pancreas recovers enough function for them to come off insulin shots. It occurs in 10-25% of cats, generally new diabetics; however the remission is often temporary and the diabetes can recur. Remission can be a reason some cats become hypoglycemic, where if they continue to receive insulin after they have achieved remission, they are at risk of insulin overdose.
In conjunction with the insulin, another key element of the treatment regimen is diet modification. If your cat is overweight, a program that is aimed at gradual weight loss should be employed. Two dietary approaches are commonly used in overweight and healthy weight diabetic cats. High fiber, lower calorie diets can be beneficial in two ways: weight loss and delayed absorption of glucose from the intestine. Another approach is to use low carbohydrate, high protein diets, but the caloric intake must be monitored because some of these diets are often high in calories. Canned food can be beneficial in preventing dehydration. Some patients may require special therapeutic (veterinary only) diets. Work closely with your primary care veterinarian to determine the best dietary program for your diabetic cat.
Because many diabetic cats are overweight, an intensive exercise program is not something you want to engage in without consulting your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can help you develop a basic exercise program that will build over time. Take 5-10 minutes several times a day to get your cat moving and active. For example, play with a string or a cat toy, play with a small ball or do things to get him/her to move around the house. You can place the daily meals around the house or use a food-dispensing interactive toy if your pet is food motivated. You can also move the litter box further away so that your cat will have to spend more time walking. Keep the exercise consistent as too much variation will disrupt the effectiveness of the insulin you are administering.
Caring for your diabetic cat will require some education and patience. Like with any chronic illness, it will be important to maintain ongoing communication with your primary veterinarian. Just as important…take the time to understand what you need to do to maintain the health and welfare of your feline companion.