VetFilter: What is quality of life for a cat with diabetes?
September 13, 2008 11:20 PM   Subscribe

After digging through the previous posts and everything on Google related to feline diabetes, my biggest question remains: what is quality of life for a cat with this diagnosis?

I ask because it's starting to look extremely likely that my not-quite-12yr old kitty has diabetes. Not sure yet, will be finding out Monday. Before I go in and deal with whatever they may find, I'd like to know the bare truth about this possibility...I don't want to put him through suffering or an eked-out existence just for my own comfort. I already feel like a terrible kitty mom for not realising how unwell he's been sooner, and I'd rather know ahead of time what we can expect so that my guilty feelings don't complicate things further. Don't spare me any details - I have a feeling we'll be making a difficult choice or two as it is, and I'd like to be as informed as can be.
posted by batmonkey to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My mother gave a beloved cat insulin shots for 2 years. Kitty quality of life was good, and she was so cute and cooperative about getting her shots, as she seemed to know somehow it was for her own good. Eventually the cat had to be put to sleep, but that was because of a different problem.
posted by gudrun at 11:29 PM on September 13, 2008

Best answer: If you're able to give him his insulin and take care of his diet, he'll have a perfectly okay quality of life until he dies a natural death (same as human diabetes). If you feel like you're going to be unable to handle his medical needs, see if your veterinarian knows of a good home who can adopt him. Feline diabetes is a manageable medical condition (albeit one that requires extra care), not a death sentence, but it can be overwhelming for people who are not prepared to deal with the intensive care/maintenance that it requires.

Good luck to you, and to your kitty.
posted by amyms at 11:32 PM on September 13, 2008

Just seconding what has already been said. Feline diabetes is controllable and your kitty can live a long, quality life.
posted by little miss s at 11:41 PM on September 13, 2008

Like gudrun's mom, my friend had a diabetic cat who obediently jumped up on the kitchen table every morning for his insulin shot. Kitty lived to a pretty ripe old age.
posted by Oriole Adams at 11:41 PM on September 13, 2008

Response by poster: Okay, that all looks doable - if he'll be a happy man again and all I have to do is woman up and give some shots, I'm down with that. We're open to changing feeding plans and all that, and I'll just have to figure out some novel way to get more money coming in to cover the costs.

For those still willing to chime in: we have two other cats - a 9yr old and a 6mo old. If this does end up being the diagnosis, will we be having to do separated feedings or any other kind of activities to ensure his recovery?

Are there any other warnings, cautions, or just general advice I may want to have going into the vet's office?

Thanks so much for the reassurance thus far. It's a potential bright spot in a time when it's sorely lacking.
posted by batmonkey at 11:59 PM on September 13, 2008

Your cats shouldn't be eating the same food anyway, with that range of ages they have very different dietary needs. Your youngest is still a kitten and should be on kitten food, this lasts until one year old. The 9 and 12 yo's are both old enough to be on mature food, although we didn't switch until about 11 yo with no problem, so the middle one could still be on normal 'adult' food or could be eating mature food with the oldest. Either way now that the oldest has diabetes he'll need different food yet again and it won't be suitable for the other two. Tracking your oldest kitties diet (both what he eats and how much) is going to become very important, so no food left out unsupervised.

So yeah, you're going to need three food bowls, set meal times and a bit of time to watch them eat each meal (no swapping bowls!). Less convenient just than leaving it out for them to graze and will take a bit of time for them to adjust but makes zero difference to their health or well being. I had a cat with liver failure where eating even a few mouthfuls of his sister's food could kill him and we just watched them eat, steered him back with a foot if he strayed and it was never stressful or a big deal. This is something you'll need to give a small amount of thought to at the beginning but then it will be easy.
posted by shelleycat at 12:59 AM on September 14, 2008

Response by poster: They're all on Natural Balance cat/kitten kibble and Avoderm plain chicken wet, which is fine for all ages - multiple vet recommended and approved. We supplement for the 6mo old and the senior, playing at Food Guardians to protect them from each other during the supplementary feedings.

We've already figured we'll have to go back to timed feedings for everything (a recent vet asked us to stop doing that with the kibble, as she didn't see the benefit, the older one was losing more weight than he could stand...and her tests didn't turn up diabetes or anything else - she diagnosed an upset picky tummy), and we gathered from the original replies that a new food was likely in the cards.

I guess my secondary question was more along the lines of <>strong>"how extreme is the diabetic diet for cats?", and I didn't do a very good job of phrasing that. I forget how specific things need to be here, at times, particularly when it's about something with emotional components.
posted by batmonkey at 3:12 AM on September 14, 2008

Best answer: My cat had 1.5 great years after his diabetes was regulated - he did not seem to be in any distress, didn't mind his shots at all, and was a happy, healthy guy. The adjustment to set meal times was a little difficult - I'd tried it before, but it was such a pain in the ass that I'd given up and gone back to free-feeding, but this time I had to stick with it for their help. Ultimately it worked out, though. He hated the special prescription diabetic food, and my vet said that was fine - just to feed him a high-quality regular cat food, which I was already doing. (They get Innova Evo, canned and dry.)

The first couple of months were a little rough because it took a while to get his insulin dosage right, so he didn't like going to the vet all the time for blood tests, but then it was fine. And if that's a problem for you, and you're willing, your vet may be able to teach you to do blood-sugar checks at home. She didn't mention that to me as a possibility until shortly before my cat died, or I would have started doing it a lot sooner and saved him all that car travel.

Ultimately, he died, probably of an accidental insulin overdose from a pet-sitting service while I was out of town. So my one huge regret about the whole thing is that I did not have him boarded, even though he hated it - if my other cats become diabetic, I will be boarding them if I have to leave town. But he had a really good year and some change, would have had more if it hadn't been for a horrible accident, and I have no regrets at all about giving him that extra time.

If by any chance you have him insured, pet insurance will generally cover a good chunk of feline diabetes costs. If not, I've been told that AAA memberships include a prescription medicine plan that actually will help defray pet medication costs as well as human. I haven't looked into that yet for my other sick cat, but if you have an AAA membership already it might be worth seeing if it does you any good.
posted by Stacey at 5:50 AM on September 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

When my cat was diagnosed with diabetes, we switched to Wellness brand cat food, and moved to feeding canned food as much as possible instead of dry food.

As others have said, feline diabetes is perfectly manageable.
posted by at 6:06 AM on September 14, 2008

Best answer: As long as you follow dietary recommendations (and make sure your vet is giving you the most up to date info - here is a site which is a good jumping-off point), and can handle the insulin shots AND the regular need for blood testing, the quality of life should not suffer at all. Keep in mind that cats can actually recover from diabetes sometimes (my sister's cat did).
posted by biscotti at 7:03 AM on September 14, 2008

Best answer: My cat lived five years with diabetes, and died of something else. He didn't mind the shots, and we became very good at giving them. We gave him high-protein catfood.

The only down-side was that we had to live orderly lives in order to give him shots every 12 hours, so we couldn't spontaneously take off and do stuff. You'll need to find a good kennel for yours so you can go on vacation. Good luck. We have no regrets.
posted by acrasis at 7:49 AM on September 14, 2008

Best answer: My great old guy was diagnosed with diabetes and we had to change very little overall. We already used free feeding for kibble, and since we had no set mealtimes the vet told us that all we needed to do was feed him a spoonful of wet food while we gave him his shot.
The shot seemed painless to my eye, and he was just delighted to have his wet food treat. His quality of life really improved after his diagnosis and he lived for about four more years, and died of something unrelated to his diabetes.

Also, the insulin and the needles and the wet food didn't add much money at all to my weekly budget. I think you'll find things to be much easier than you were expecting.

On the other hand, this was about 10 years ago. Maybe vets recommend a totally different course of treatment for diabetic beasties these days.
posted by Brody's chum at 9:59 AM on September 14, 2008

Best answer: I have a diabetic cat--the insulins are so good now that many cats actually go into remission--mine did.

It will require changing to a grain-free diet (look for rice, gluten, wheat, etc on the labels) but you can still use dry or wet. I switched to Fancy Feast canned varieties with no grain (most have "gourmet" in the name of the flavor).

One thing that really helped me was checking the cat's blood sugar via the ear. It's not an exact science yet but it helps you maintain good sugar levels if you aren't left to guess how the cat is feeling.

As for the cat, once they are feeling better it is amazing to see the difference in them. I'd dare say it's a second kittenhood for them!

The real hardship will be on you for a while while you figure out insulin dosing, feeding schedules, etc.

Good luck to you and the cat!
posted by agentwills at 12:16 PM on September 14, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all - so many great and helpful answers, I guess you're all "best answer"!

I'm a bit worried about his accepting the foods that look like likely (if, indeed, this is diabetes), as they are already foods he's rejected even after patient, slow intro periods mixed in with the food we were trying to phase out. I guess we'll figure that out, one way or another.

Sincerely, you guys rock. I feel much more settled about that possibility. I'll update here when I've got a diagnosis in hand.
posted by batmonkey at 1:08 PM on September 14, 2008

Response by poster: I am here to sadly report that it wasn't diabetes. Cancer. There was nothing that could be done and he's now out of pain.

Rest assured that your kind advice will be put into place if either of our remaining kitties needs it, and I'll pass it on to anyone else who made need this information.

Thank you all again.
posted by batmonkey at 2:50 PM on September 15, 2008

My condolences, batmonkey.
posted by Brody's chum at 8:57 PM on September 15, 2008

Aww, so sorry to hear that, batmonkey. I hope you are comforted by lots of happy memories of your kitty.
posted by amyms at 9:37 PM on September 15, 2008

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