Learn about the how, when, where and who of managing feline diabetes.
Today at Paws and Effect HQ, we’re celebrating Bella’s two-year “remissioniversary!”
Bella came to us with insulin-dependent diabetes, and just a couple of weeks later she was in remission. If you have a diabetic cat, I hope you’ll take heart from our story and use some of the resources that helped me to help Bella.
I met Bella at HART of Maine, a no-kill cat shelter in southern Maine. She and several other diabetic cats had been under the care of HART’s former “diabetic den mother,” Margaret B. When Margaret learned that I wanted to adopt Bella, she took time to teach me to test her blood glucose and how to give insulin shots. She was just a phone call or text away as I learned how to care for a diabetic cat. Thanks to her and my vet, I got Bella into remission, and here’s how I did it.
1. Join a support community
Every caretaker of a diabetic cat should have a mentor. Margaret was a real blessing to me, and it would be awesome if everyone who lives with a “sugar kitty” had a Margaret of their own. But even if you don’t have a Margaret, you can find great information and support at FelineDiabetes.com. Through their Feline Diabetes Message Board, people with diabetic cats can learn and get emotional support as they get used to the idea of living with a diabetic kitty.
2. No kibble, ever
Food that is low in carbohydrates and high in protein is key to managing diabetes. I feed Bella and the rest of the Paws and Effect Gang a freeze-dried raw food that I rehydrate with warm water. But you don’t have to go raw — there are quite a few canned foods that meet the criteria for managing diabetes, including a few brands you can find in the grocery store. Check out Dr. Lisa Pierson’s cat food comparison chart and look for canned food whose calorie content is less than 10% total carbohydrates.
3. Home test daily
If your diabetic cat is on insulin, you absolutely must learn to home test. You’ll be able to track your cat’s blood glucose levels more accurately and you may avoid life-threatening situations like hypoglycemic crises or diabetic ketoacidosis. There are lots of glucose meters available, and many meters used by diabetic humans are appropriate for use in cats. FelineDiabetes.com has great info on how to home test and what glucometers work the best and are most cost-effective.
4. Work closely with your vet
Every vet knows the basics of diabetes, but some are willing to go the extra mile and really help you help your cat by learning all they can about the disease. A good vet who is a good communicator, who can help you understand what’s going on with your cat, is crucial.
5. Be prepared for emergencies
Have a bottle of corn syrup and an oral syringe on hand so that if your cat’s blood sugar goes too low, you can bring her back up before she goes into a crisis. Also, have your vet’s number and your closest emergency clinic on speed dial. I also recommend programming the address of the emergency clinic into your GPS, because few things suck more than getting lost while your cat is very sick.
6. Learn about the different types of insulin
There are different varieties of insulin, and some may work better than others for your cat. Bella did very well on Lantus when she was still insulin-dependent, and I’ve heard of other cats that do well on Levemir and Humulin. If you’re having trouble controlling your cat’s blood glucose, talk to your vet about trying a different type of insulin.
7. Even if your cat goes into remission, test occasionally
Bella hasn’t needed insulin since January 18, 2013, but I still have my blood glucose meter and testing strips (testing strips do “expire” after a while, so I have to go get a fresh batch). I also have my vet run a mini blood panel on her when she has her annual physical, just to make sure her blood glucose and other lab values are good. The peace of mind and proof of remission is more than worth the small extra cost.
Bella’s diabetes was uncomplicated, but some cats have secondary conditions like acromegaly that can make the disease hard to control. However, it’s common veterinary knowledge that a large majority of diabetic cats can be controlled and even brought into remission through diet alone. If you have a “sugar kitty” of your own, take heart: Bella and the diabetic kitties at HART of Maine are living proof that remission is possible!
Another organization that was crucial in saving Bella’s life was Diabetic Cats In Need. They provided free testing supplies and meters for anyone who adopted a diabetic cat from HART, and over the seven years they’ve been operating, DCIN has saved the lives of more than 600 diabetic cats in the US and Canada. I’ve tried to return the favor by donating and volunteering to assist the organization with my time and talents, and I hope after reading this post and learning about DCIN’s amazing work, you’ll make a donation to help them save other “sugar kitties.”
As always, please remember that this post is not prescriptive: I’m not a veterinarian and even if I were, I don’t know your cat. I’m simply sharing what worked for Bella and me.
Do you have a diabetic cat? What have you done to control her disease? Do you have any tips for other cat caretakers with extra-sweet kitties? Do you have any questions about diabetes? Ask away in the comments: if I don’t know, I’ll try to find someone who can answer your questions.
My female cat was diagnosed with diabetes in May 2011. After trying a few pet insulins, it was found that Lantus worked the best. The cost of Lantus is very expensive, and I worry that in the future, I will no longer be able to afford to pay for the Lantus as it is very expensive and getting worse. My cat will not eat only soft food and eats a combination of kibble and soft. The grain-free brand that were manufactured in USA still kept my cat’s numbers up. I am now feeding her a Canadian cat food called Orijen and wll continue feeding her Orijen as it has brought her number down.
FYI – grain free does not mean low carb. I had bought a grain free dry kibble for my sugar cat thinking it would be low carb and it wasn’t until later that I actually calculated the carb content.
how do I calculate to find out the carb content of my grain free food? My cats are eating Merrick Purrrfect bistro……thanks!
Natasha is right — grain-free doesn’t mean low-carb. A lot of grain-free dry foods have substitute carbs like potatoes, peas, tapioca and the like.
My family had a diabetic kitty for years. We found him on the side of the road when we was around 5 and he lived until his late teens. He was a brittle diabetic and required his sugar be checked 3 times a day. He was a miracle kitty and one day survived a blood sugar of 1! The vet said she had never seen a cat survive such severe diabetes as his as long as he did. In the end he ended up passing away of old age, not the diabetes! He fought that disease for 10+ years, but in the end he won.
Wow, Ryanne, that’s awesome! I’m so delighted that your cat lived a long and healthy life. Purrs!
Cheri Halda….you’re already getting your cat food from Canada…Get your Lantus there too! There’s lots of us that can’t afford Lantus here in the states that use a real pharmacy in Canada that’s been great!
You can get a box of 5 Lantus Solostar pens (1500 units) for $133,99 plus $25 shipping at Marks Marine Pharmacy. The pens are the best deal because they last until the expiration date on the box (usually at least 2 years) and they’re just like a vial…only instead of 10ml, they’re 3ml each. You just pull the cap off the pen and draw the insulin out of the pen.
Their website addy is http://www.rxcanada4less.com/
The FDMB is a life saver too! I’m so happy to see them mentioned here!
The price of insulin — particularly Lantus, which has been really successful in the vast majority of diabetic cats I’ve worked with — is one of the hardest things about caring for diabetic cats. I actually knew one person who was having such a hard time affording her cat’s insulin that the poor thing actually went into DKA (which is HUGELY expensive to treat). I was able to hook her up with Diabetic Cats in Need and tell her she could apply through their Compassionate Assistance Program to help cover the cost of her kitty’s insulin.
This is exactly how I got my foster into remission. Switched to high quality low carb canned food and used Lantus. After 8 days and only 4 doses of insulin, he achieved remission.
I have a 14 years old cat who has had diabetes for around 4 years. I use Lantus and feed him both dry kibble and soft food. I try giving him high protein soft food. He got lost 3 years ago and nearly died and went down to 5 lbs and was very skinny. After I found him I put him on this diet and now he is 19 pounds. He loves going outside so I put a harness and leash on him so he can visit with people walking by. Everyone loves him and stops to pet him. After reading this article I will now get a blood sugar meter and start checking his blood sugar myself. Where would I prick him to test his blood? I know that Lantus is very expensive and so are the needles. I would love to see Jolson be in remission for diabetes!
The easiest place to prick a cat for a blood glucose test is at the edge of the ear. There’s a vein that runs along the back edge of the ear, and if you poke right next to that vein, you should get a good drop of blood for a BG test. This page on the Feline Diabetes website will tell you all about home testing — and there are even links to videos showing how it’s done! http://www.felinediabetes.com/bg-test.htm
Would it be beneficial to switch to a food that is low in carbs and high in protein even if our cat does not have diabetes?
I’m a fan of any cat eating a low-carb, high-protein diet. Cats are obligate carnivores, and as a long-time cat caretaker (but not a veterinarian!) I’ve found that any cat, diabetic or not, is healthier on a species-appropriate diet.
Great info and super useful!!!
Thank you! I’m glad you found it helpful. :-)
Thank you for this excellant post. I am saving the link in case I ever need more information.
Bella is beautful! I am so happy for her and you, too, that she is in remission!
Best Wishes for her and Thomas to have many more happy days,
I hope you never need it, but I’m glad it’s here for anyone who does. And I hope Thomas and Bella have many happy years together, too. It is kind of a spring-autumn romance, so to speak: Thomas is 14 and Bella is 3,
Our kitty Eve was diagnosed with diabetes in February 2014. She was DKA and we almost lost her. After one week on low carb wet food and Lantus she was off the juice.
She did great until August 2014 when she was diagnosed with pancreatitis. It was so severe that we had to put her on prednisolone which ended her remission.
She is still on the Pred and getting insulin but as she has continued to feel better she has become impossible to test in the way I used to which was holding her on my lap and poking her ear. So I’ve started testing her while she eats. I get everything ready and as soon as I set the food dish down and she starts to eat (which is immediately if not 5 seconds in the past) I poke her ear. Sometimes I can get enough blood on the base of the lancet to test from there and if not I hold the strip to her ear.
I checked with both her vet and internist and they’ve assured me that this is fine. The food does not affect her BG that quickly. So if you’re having trouble testing an uncooperative kitty, you might try my method.
Don’t forget that other health issues – such as bad teeth – can also lead to high sugars.. Taking care of ‘low priority’ health issues when dealing with a diabetic cat with high glucose can often help and make things easier to get a handle on.
Good point, Connie. Dental disease and other health issues certainly can make it hard to regulate a diabetic cat’s glucose levels. And hopefully, once Jeannette’s kitty is off the pred, she’ll be able to go back into remission again.
When Big Buddy came to live with us I am sure he was on his way to being a sugar kitty. Kibble addicted and 22 pounds it took work to get him on a sensible meal plan but was worth the effort. Today he is happy and healthy. Thanks for the great reminder that with lots of support these cats can go into remission. We are now dealing with Rumpy’s Feline Asthma and find the same support is available to those in need. Pet bloggers are a wonderful community of caring!
Timmy and Dad
Obesity can play a large role in feline diabetes, just as it can with humans and type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, many fat cats (as well as many fat people) go through their whole lives and never develop diabetes. I hope someday we can pinpoint the risk factors that lead to diabetes that might make it appear proportionately more often in overweight mammals. On an unrelated subject, maybe that would help to end at least one aspect of the “fat shaming” that overweight and obese humans are subjected to.
A little late, but happy remissioniversary! My 2 sugar cats were lucky enough to become diet controlled shortly after I adopted them and got yhem on canned food. It’s been almost 4 years and they are still doing well.