How to recognize and manage this common disease in cats
By Kim Campbell Thornton
When my cat Peter the Gray was diagnosed with diabetes some 25 years ago, the only treatment for the disease was regular insulin injections. Although Peter lived for another 10 years, it was difficult to regulate his condition.
We'd have an easier time of it these days. Veterinarians now know a lot more about how to treat the disease. New information suggests that more than 50 percent of cats initially diagnosed with diabetes mellitus will go into remission after a short period of intensive treatment.
"We can't cure every patient, but many go into remission and are maintained solely on a special diet," says Michael Stone, DVM, an internal medicine specialist and assistant clinical professor at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Massachusetts.
Diabetes mellitus -- the name is Latin and means honey-sweet -- is an endocrine disorder that occurs when the islet cells in the pancreas don't produce enough insulin. The decrease in insulin means that body tissues are unable to use glucose for energy. Instead, the glucose builds up in the blood and urine.
A low-carbohydrate, high-protein "Catkins" diet helps to control swings in blood sugar. Diabetic cats who eat this type of diet often need less insulin and may go into remission -- meaning insulin is no longer needed to control the disease -- within weeks or months of diagnosis.
Commercial diets specifically formulated for cats with diabetes are now available, but other canned or dry foods can also meet the needs of a cat with diabetes. Appropriate diets usually contain less than 20 percent of calories from carbohydrates. Be sure to talk to your veterinarian about which food to give. A low-carb diet may not be suited to cats with kidney, liver or cardiovascular disease.
Better types of insulin and home-testing methods for blood glucose levels also make it easier to manage the disease. A synthetic human insulin called Lantus, or glargine, is readily available, cost-effective and long-lasting. Research shows that using it in combination with a low-carb diet in cats recently diagnosed with diabetes results in a high remission rate.
The idea of sticking a needle into a cat seems like an invitation to a mauling, but the reality is that most cats find injections much easier and less stressful than being given a pill.
Checking a cat's blood glucose level at home is made easier with small, relatively inexpensive monitors that require only a tiny drop of blood. Most cats tolerate the simple prick of the ear without too much fuss. Home testing is much less stressful for cats than the old method, which required a 12-hour stay at the veterinary clinic with blood checks every two hours. Home measurements are more accurate because the cat isn't affected by the stress of hospitalization.
Cats at risk for diabetes tend to be older and overweight. The typical cat diagnosed with diabetes is a middle-aged, obese, neutered male. The incidence of diabetes in cats seems to be increasing, possibly because more cats are overweight. Depending on which study you look at, the rate of diabetes in cats varies from 1 in 50 to 1 in 400, says Dr. Stone.
Signs of the disease are increased thirst, increased appetite and weight loss even though the cat is eating more food. Cats with diabetes eat ravenously because their bodies need fuel, but they lose weight because the body can't use the food. In later stages of the disease, cats may appear listless, have little appetite and walk unsteadily.
Take your cat to the veterinarian right away if you suspect he has diabetes. The earlier treatment begins, the more successful it is.
Put pet care
plans in writing
Q: My wife and I are in our 50s and are starting to think seriously about estate planning. One thing that concerns us is how to make sure our pets are cared for if something happens to both of us. Do you have any advice? -- via email
A: That's a great question no matter how old you are. You never know when you could be in an accident or develop a serious illness. You should have a written plan so your pets don't end up on the street.
Ask a pet-loving friend, neighbor or relative if he or she would be willing to care for your pets in the event of an emergency or your death (you can agree to do the same for his or her pets). Put in writing that this person is authorized to care for your pet, and give copies to your veterinarian and the executor of your estate. In the event of your death, you can make the decision legally binding by including a simple statement in your will: "I leave my dog Gemma to my friend MaryAnne Dell."
List a second person who is willing to care for your pets in case the first one is unavailable. Carry a card that lists emergency contact information, including the names of people who are authorized to care for your pets if you are injured or killed.
If possible, leave a sum in trust to help cover your pets expenses. Your attorney can help you set up an appropriate type of trust, depending on the laws of your state.
To assist caretakers, make sure they have a key to your home or know how to access one. You should also write down instructions on how and what to feed your pets, information on regular medications and how to give them, commands or tricks they know, and contact information for your veterinarian. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Simple changes improve
shelter cat health
-- Increasing the size and configuration of cages can improve the health and well-being of the cats kept in them, according to two research studies conducted by the University of California, Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program and funded in part by the Morris Animal Foundation. Cats kept in traditional 2-by-2-foot cages have a higher incidence of upper respiratory infections. But keeping them in two connected cages that give them more space allows them to be handled less frequently because they can be in one side while the other side is being cleaned. That reduces stress levels that contribute to URIs. Dr. Danae Wagner of the Shelter Medicine Program has helped dozens of animal shelters design new cat housing areas based on the findings.
-- Tennis balls are not chew toys. Put them away after every game of fetch. Dogs have been known to compress tennis balls in their throats and then die when the ball springs back to full size in the back of the mouth, cutting off the dog's air supply. The other thing to remember is that the materials in a tennis ball aren't meant for dogs to chew or swallow.
-- Scientists using GPS technology now have a better understanding of how sheepdogs gather and herd livestock. According to research published in the Journal of the Royal Society, Interface, the dogs appear to use two simple rules: 1. Collect the sheep when they're dispersed; and 2. Drive them forward once they're collected. Dr. Andrew King of Swansea University in Wales fitted a flock of sheep and a sheepdog with backpacks containing GPS devices. The data collected, together with computer simulations, was used to develop a mathematical shepherding model. Potential applications for the information include crowd control, cleaning up the environment and keeping animals away from sensitive areas. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
CAPTIONS AND CREDITS
Caption 01: Your veterinarian can show you how to give your cat a simple and painless insulin injection. Position: Main Story
Caption 02: Tennis balls are great for retrieving but not for chewing. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 2