A Sugar-Free Cat
By Trisha Gurley
By now the new year isn’t quite so new anymore, and myself, my husband and my ever-awesome cat Milton have settled in to 2012. I’m not one for New Year’s resolutions, but I have promised to look out for my health and the health of those I love. Milton the cat is no exception, of course.
As I’ve mentioned previously in this column, Milton has diabetes. Until his diagnosis, I’d never considered the possibility of animals getting such a disease. A few years ago, I’d noticed some gradual changes with Milton. Milton is an all-black cat, no traces of white whatsoever (aside from a few old man grays in his ears). Like most cats, Milton likes to bake himself in the sunbeams that spread across the floor in the afternoons. Over time I saw his coat fade from its usual inky black to a dark brown. Friends would come over and remark how Milton had gotten lighter. He was almost resembling a tortie in hue. I figured the sunbathing was the culprit and the fading was just one of those weird cat things that happens, or just a sign of aging.
He seemed fine with his brown self until I noticed he was getting lethargic. I know, I know…a cat? Lethargic? Most anyone would label any animal that sleeps up to 20 hours per day lethargic! But I could tell something wasn’t right. The cat that was normally prone to “night crazies”― the inexplicable dashing, zooming and meowing of cats that tends to happen while the humans are trying to sleep ― sat curled on the couch. Sometimes he’d find a space to hide in the closet. He lost interest in his toys (toys can range from a store-bought cat toy to a paper wad).
He seemed to eat normally, but I detected a bit of lightness when I’d scoop him off the floor. Despite the normal appetite, his water drinking dramatically increased. The cat mama instinct kicked in and I scheduled a vet appointment.
At that vet appointment, Milton’s blood sugar was 520. This is an extremely dangerous level for a human, let alone a cat. The reality hit me fast when my vet said that if I wanted Milton to live, he needed insulin immediately and on a constant basis for the rest of his life. I cried when the vet told me this; it was more than I expected. Milton was a rescue. He had already had life-saving surgery years ago for another medical condition, and I naively figured the poor guy been through all the hard times he was ever going to have.
I worried about the expense and stress too. Insulin would be $160 for a small bottle. We’d have to inject him with three units a day for the rest of his life. We had to buy the syringes and switch to special diabetic food. Thankfully we did not have to do blood testing with him, but we’d always have to be on alert for signs of blood sugar dropping and be ready to handle it immediately. (We’ve never had to bring Milton back from the brink, thank goodness, but we have a bottle of Karo syrup on hand to rub on his gums if it ever happens.) I am terribly needle-phobic, and it took getting past my own mental block to inject Milton ― who, by the way, purrs right through the shot, which takes all of three seconds. Still, my husband usually handles the task. I’m just too much of a wimp to do it.
It was not until Milton’s diagnosis that I put all the symptoms together as diabetes. These symptoms are the same as in humans ― unexplained weight loss, tiredness, increased thirst. Dogs can present with these symptoms as well and unlike cats, can get cataracts with the disease.
I am happy to report that Milton, while still on insulin and special food, has reverted to his old kitty self. Within weeks of starting insulin, his coat returned to its luxurious black. He resumed dodging around our feet as we walked by. He still sleeps most of the day and night (he’s still a cat, you know), but wakes up ready to hunt paper wads, chirp at birds, and demand our attention. He’s even been reduced to two units a day from three, lessening the financial stress. Yes, the vet visits, special food and insulin add up, and we are hardly rolling in extra cash. But to not do all we humanely could to save Milton’s life, or improve its quality, just wasn’t an option for us. It’s fine that he can only repay us with purrs and unbearable cuteness.
Just as in people, diabetes can strike young and old. But if you have an older (10 years and up) cat, double check for diabetic symptoms. Is your cat eating the same amount or more and still losing weight? Is she hiding in new places around the house (a sign of pain)? Is he drinking more water than normal? Do you feel in your gut that something just isn’t right? Call a vet and have your cat tested via a blood draw. If your cat indeed does have diabetes, be assured it is not a death sentence and your cat can live a productive, happy life, just as any person can. It just takes a little extra money and a lot of extra love.