Living with a Diabetic Cat

My beloved calico, California, was a transient diabetic for the last four years of her life. Nevertheless, as a result of treatment she lived to be a few months shy of her 20th birthday!

Seeing how many cat lovers we have in our Pet Health Central audience, I thought it befitting to share her story. Perhaps your own cats are facing similar issues. Don’t despair!

When my family and I moved to America from South Africa, our three cats, California, Muffin and Fudge, also made the move with us. There was never any question of leaving them behind. It was simply a question of what would be the easiest transition for them from one continent to another.

We decided that it would be best if the cats remained in our home in Cape Town with our former house keeper, Jane. They would only board a plane for their international journey when we had a home lined up, so that they wouldn’t face any further upheaval.

It took us two months to rent a home, fill it with some basic furniture and then send for them.

Back in Cape Town, a pet relocation company collected them and carefully monitored their 36-hour journey, which took them from Cape Town to Amsterdam and then on to Los Angeles. To say they were pleased to see us would be an understatement. They purred and head-butted us. They were probably wondering why I was crying!

They had been very well cared for in the two-month period. After all, they were in a home they knew, with a person they loved and who really cared for them. There was only one problem. Cali had really missed us and comfort ate to make up for her obvious anxiety. She arrived looking extremely plump!

My new veterinarian Dr. Jeff (we found a vet before a family doctor, I might add) was extremely concerned by her plumpness and instantly stressed the importance of trying to get her to lose weight.

But cats are very empathetic creatures, and Cali was particularly in tune with our emotional state, which bounced around as we tried to settle down to a new and very different life. Consequently, she continued to be an emotional eater.

Also, she had her own feline stresses to deal with — new surrounds and also the fact they were no longer allowed to go outside. In Cape Town, they had free reign of our large and very beautiful garden because it was completely safe. Here in California, we could hear the chilling howls of coyotes at night and were petrified to let them out. Cali simply couldn’t understand it and would sit and protest at the front door. And when that didn’t work, she would try the back door. And when that didn’t work, she’d attack the food bowl.

When I suddenly noticed that she’d lost weight but was drinking a lot, I became suspicious. To our dismay, Dr. Jeff confirmed our worst fear. She was showing signs of diabetes.

Apart from a change in her diet, we also had to administer daily insulin shots. The idea of sticking a needle into her twice a day was at first horrifying. I didn’t know if I could do it! But Dr. Jeff, very patiently, taught me how to lift the skin fold on her neck and pop the tiny needle in. It wasn’t long after the diabetes diagnoses that she also developed kidney problems, which necessitated giving her daily fluids under the skin.

I felt really guilty because I knew her problems stemmed from being overweight. But as hard as we tried, we were unable to really get her weight down significantly. And of course, she was well into her teens and age was also taking a toll on her ability to walk and generate circulation.

I would carry her to different parts of the house and make her walk back to her favorite snooze zone several times a day to ensure she got some exercise.

During the last few years of her life, the diabetes came and went and came back again. But with the fluids, I managed to keep her kidney values more or less under control.

She was truly a special cat. She seemed to understand the injections and the fluids were an effort to help her. Every evening I would put out a towel on the kitchen counter and give her the fluids and she would lie there and purr. It was as if she knew she and I were spending extra special quality time together –that’s how I viewed these sessions. Thus, giving her treatment was never a chore. It was our special time.

She knew when she was dying. She let me know by resisting her usual medication and treatment. That last visit to Dr. Jeff was undoubtedly one of the worst days of my life.

I miss her every day. Her beautiful face is my desktop photograph and every day she reminds me that I have made it a mission to try and educate other cat lovers about how serious the problem of feline obesity is in this country.

It is the cause of avoidable health issues that felines should never have to face, such as diabetes and kidney disease. These days, lots of information about feline nutrition and general health abounds. For starters, it’s right here on the Pet Health Central blog provided by wonderful veterinarians such as Dr. Tony and Dr. Rod Van Horn.

The recipe for good feline health is simple. Instead of equating love with food, equate love with lots of feline enrichment to keep cats happy and both mentally and physically fit.

Cali (October 3, 1990 – May 11, 2009), this blog to celebrate healthy cats everywhere is dedicated to you.

-Photo Credit: Image from flickr by Bubby

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