An Introduction to Feline Diabetes
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You were just told your pet has diabetes.

The initial shock and fear you feel when the vet tells you that your pet has diabetes can be overwhelming. Yet diabetes is a treatable condition and your pet can live a normal, happy, healthy life. Diabetes is not a death sentence for your pet! You can manage this condition, maintaining your own sanity and budget.

You are likely wondering, "How long will my pet live?" Every pet is different, but very often your pet can live a normal life span. If you own an older cat, no doubt you've wondered if it's "better" to put it to sleep. This is a very complicated issue and depends on the overall health of your pet. But age alone should not be the deciding factor in determining whether to treat your diabetic pet or whether to euthanize it. Many older pets have been diagnosed with diabetes, and with commitment and loving care have lived many more years. Our cat was diagnosed at age 14, and for years was still very healthy and dominating the household. We've heard of many diabetic cats that are quite elderly (18 years old or more) who are in very good health.

You Can Get Through This.

Caring for a diabetic pet, just like a non-diabetic pet, does involve commitment from both the caregiver and the vet. You must provide a consistent level of care for your pet on a daily basis. Gone are the days of putting out food and water, giving a quick pat on the head, and hurrying out the door. Every day you will have to give your pet medication, feed a proper diet, and watch his behavior. Don't get the impression that you are now a aren't, but you will have to pay much closer attention to your pet's needs and behavior, and you will have to make arrangements for someone to care for your pet if you leave for an extended period of time. Your hard work and commitment will be reflected in your pet's continuing good health, and you should be able to enjoy the love and companionship of your pet for many more years.

With a disease like diabetes, it is very important that you have a good working relationship with your vet. Your vet does not have to be an "expert" but he or she should be experienced in treating diabetic patients. If your vet does not know something or is not sure how to treat your pet, he should consult with a specialist or refer you to a vet more experienced with diabetic treatment. Communication is absolutely essential. You will have a lot of questions about your pet, about diabetes, and about various treatment options. You must be able to ask the vet questions and get thorough, understandable answers. You may even find that you become more knowledgeable than your vet in current feline diabetes treatment! Make sure to be tactful but firm in relaying the information you have (and have references to back it up) so as not to be perceived as hostile. If your vet doesn't listen to you, that isn't a good doctor-patient relationship. Find a new vet.

At times, diabetes can be a very frustrating disease. The veterinary community is always expanding its knowledge about diseases and treatment options, and diabetes is no exception. Although there are standard treatment options for diabetes, diabetic animals can be difficult to treat and every animal responds differently to any given treatment plan. One thing that most vets or owners of diabetic pets will tell you is "every pet is different".

Educating yourself about diabetes is one of the best things you can do for you and your pet. There is a lot to learn about the various aspects of diabetes and its treatment, and all of this information can be intimidating. It is important to learn the very basics early on, but then you can take things a little slower and do more reading. Even after you've been doing this for many months or even years, there is always more to learn. Don't be afraid to ask questions. If you don't understand something, no matter how simple you think it is, you must ask. Knowing the correct answer could save your pet's life. There are many resources available here and in both human and pet health care books. With a basic understanding of diabetes, you will be better able to care for your pet and better able communicate effectively and participate in the decision making process with the vet.

You are highly encouraged to register for the Feline Diabetes Message Board , fondly called The FDMB, found on this site. Registration is free, you become eligible for free or low cost testing supplies, and you will become a member of a well-informed community that cares for you and your cat.

How much is this going to cost?

Cost is something owners think of when their pet is diagnosed with diabetes. The initial "sticker shock" can be overwhelming and the financial requirements of caring for a diabetic pet can be substantial if you don't prepare yourself. Unfortunately, none of us has unlimited resources, and reality is that money is a factor. If money is limited, many vets will work with you to limit expenses and will allow you to make payments on your bill. Please discuss this option with your vet. Also, you can do much of the regulation and testing at home plus find more reasonably priced food for your cat than prescription food.

- The First Few Weeks -
It is not unusual to spend $300 or more for the initial diagnosis. If you were not aware of your pet's condition and he is in critical condition, the costs can be significantly more. If your cat is otherwise healthy, the cat does NOT have to be hospitalized to be "regulated." Hospitalization is for the initial treatment is not only very expensive but it is no longer the standard of veterinary care. Do not fall into this money trap. You can manage your cat from home right from the start.

There are three things you must do from the start:
(1) change your cat to a wet, canned food. This does not have to be a prescription food but must be a low carbohydrate food. Purina DM is a prescription food. The canned variety is very good although expensive. The dry Purina DM is not recommended nor is any dry food. If you must feed dry food, absolutely do NOT feed Purina DM because it is poor quality for a diabetic and also quite expensive. Fancy Feasts TM CLASSICS are an inexpensive and excellent choice.
(2) Monitor your cats blood glucose levels and, preferably, the urine ketone levels. You may monitor the blood glucose by using an inexpensive human glucometer or with urine test strips. More about this later. Urine ketones are checked by using urine test strips you dip into the urine.
(3) You must NOT use Humulin N on your cat. This is an extremely poor choice for a cat and you will have a very limited chance of ever controlling your cat on Humulin N. This insulin is not part of the standard of care for a diabetic cat.

In the first few weeks or months, when you and the vet are trying to get your pet's diabetes regulated, the expenses may still be high. You will have to take you pet to the vet for a few check-ups during the early stages of diabetes. These check-ups are essential to determine how your pet is doing and to make any necessary changes to the medications.

In some pets, the diabetes is quickly brought under control (regulated). Other pets are not so lucky, and they require more frequent visits to the vet and adjustments to their medication.

- Typical Maintenance Expenses -
After the diabetes is reasonably well regulated, the costs decrease dramatically for several reasons. Vet visits will become less often and you will become much more knowledgeable and independent, Supplies costs vary depending on the type of insulin you will use and where you buy it. Monthly costs will include syringes, insulin, testing supplies, and a non-prescription diet that won't differ much in cost from your current food costs..

Many people monitor their pet's urine (not blood) glucose, and the test strips are relatively inexpensive (as of 2/2012, test strips testing both glucose and ketones in the urine cost about $15-$20 USD). Others use blood glucose testing at home using a human glucometer. Glucometers run the gamut from free to $150 while test strips cost $20-$80 USD for 50 strips, depending on the brand of glucometer. More information about both testing options is provided in the education section of the site.

Syringes can be quite inexpensive. WalMart sells ReliOn brand that are excellent syringes and cost less than $15 USD for 100 syringes. Online sources, including American Diabetes Wholesale and others can save you money.

Insulin costs vary widely and your best source for determining the best deals for the type of insulin you use can be found on the Feline Diabetes Message Board.

In summary, typical monthly costs can be very manageable if you are willing to educate yourself. As a benefit, doing the research to save costs can actually result in a healthier cat!

A blood glucose curve done in the vet's office may cost about substantially over $100 and curves are not currently recommended as the typical care. Some people may be able to afford them and want them but unless your cat is critically ill, they aren't recommended at the vet's office. If you do want one, you can learn to do them at home. If your pet is more difficult to regulate, more frequent blood testing may be required. Home blood glucose monitoring is an option that can significantly decrease your expenses and is currently recommended in the veterinary literature. There are many valid reasons why care-givers choose to do home blood glucose monitoring. A primary reason is that it may provide the most reliable and immediate information on your pet's blood glucose levels. Another reason is the cost savings. If you choose to do home blood glucose monitoring, it requires the support of your vet because the vet will help you interpret the results.

Another expense associated with diabetes is for vet visits for other suspected health problems. In a way, this is a strange benefit of diabetes. You become very aware of your pet's behavior and are usually able to detect any changes or problems very early. Also, the routine 6 month or annual check-up provides another opportunity to catch any new problems at an early stage.

Your Emotions Will Be Raw.

Caring for a diabetic pet can be frustrating and emotionally stressful for everyone involved. At first, you wonder how much you are upsetting or hurting your pet by giving pills or injections, feeding a new diet, and doing all the other things you will have to do. The changes can be difficult at first, and your pet may be upset or not acting as lovingly as usual. But these new activities are life-saving necessities and they soon become part of daily life, both for you and your pet. With all the extra attention and care that you give your pet, you will probably find that the bond between you and your pet becomes even stronger.

There may be times when your pet's diabetes is uncontrolled, or when other illnesses arise. The extra effort and commitment you give to your pet makes these set-backs even more heart-breaking and stressful. Every health crisis can be an emotional drain. Exhaustion, frustration, anger, sadness, fear, and guilt are all normal feelings that are part of caring for an animal with a chronic health condition. Don't ignore these feelings, but don't dwell on them either. Be sure to take some time for yourself and rely on your friends and family for emotional support. The bad times usually pass quickly and you learn to cherish the little things even more. And don't forget to celebrate the progress that you make, even if it is just a small step forward. I believe that animals are very perceptive of our emotions, and the healing power of love should not be underestimated. Never lose sight of the joy that your pet brings to your life.

Will people think I'm crazy?

Friends, relatives, and co-workers may make insensitive comments that you are crazy to care for a chronically ill pet. Although it is difficult, try to ignore the unsupportive people - they do not understand the special bond of love that you share with your pet. Their inability to have compassion for an animal means that they will never experience the pure and unconditional love that can be shared between a human and a companion animal. Only another pet lover will understand your choice to give such dedicated care to your pet. Your good friends will understand your choice and be supportive, and one of them may even be suitable to be a back-up caretaker. Try to find a group of other pet-lovers who will be supportive of your decisions. There are many internet mailing lists and web sites for care-givers of pets with chronic illnesses. The people there will understand and be supportive of your choices.

Your social life doesn't have to end!

Caring for a diabetic pet will place restrictions on your ability to spend time away from home. Your pet must be given insulin or other medications, fed properly, and observed every day. With some advance planning, diabetic dogs can often accompany you on weekend trips or extended vacations. Unfortunately, most cats don't travel well, so they usually require special arrangements. Before spending any extended period of time away from home, you must make arrangements with a well trained care-giver to take over the care of your pet. This is not a job for a neighborhood child or someone you don't completely trust. The care-giver must be able to properly administer medications, ensure feeding, observe your pet's behavior, and be able to call the vet or take your pet to the vet in case of emergency. A close friend or family member may be suited to this serious job. Another commonly used option is to check with the technicians at your veterinarian's office - they are well trained, and often available to do in-home care for a reasonable fee. Boarding your pet at a competent boarding facility, or the vet's office, is another option.

The Bottom Line.

By making the decision to care for a pet with diabetes you are taking on a large, but very rewarding challenge. There is a lot to learn and do, so be patient with yourself. Whatever decisions you make for the care of your pet, a decision based on love and the welfare of your pet is the best decision for everyone. We also highly recommend going on to read a personal account of making treatment decisions.

You now have a rough vignette of life with a diabetic cat. When you're ready, move on to DIABETES FOR BEGINNERS and the rest of our EDUCATION page. Please visit our FELINE DIABETES MESSAGE BOARD and introduce yourself. The people are very active and knowledgeable about feline diabetes, and when you have an emergency and need help quick, they'll likely be there.

Last updated February 2012
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