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Diabetes in Dogs & Cats

Diabetes is not a Death Sentence

 

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It's hard to believe that we have had both a cat AND a dog with diabetes, but we have.

First off I want to tell you that I totally understand all emotions you may be feeling about your own pet's diabetes because I have experienced them all myself. You are not alone; there is a large network of diabetic pet owners out here on the Internet who are ready and willing to support you emotionally and help you learn how to deal with and treat this disease.

My biggest bit of advice for those of you with diabetic pets is do your own home blood testing. This is the single most important thing you can do to help regulate your pet. You use the same blood test meters that are used for humans. See Blood Testing (below) for more information about blood testing and also see the Links for sources of more information and instruction on how to do home blood testing.

My second bit of advice is to prepare your pet's meals yourself. Wholesome foods are key to good health. See Nutrition & Recipes & Feeding Diabetic Pets.

 

Woodpyle, a cat's story


Purknz, a "normal" sized cat, resting
with his "big brother" Woodrow Polk Pyle.

Woodpyle was a big sweetheart of a guy and we loved him dearly. He was the largest cat you ever met, but he was not fat, just big. When people had the opportunity to meet him, they would often ask if he was a wild cat of some sort? <smile> Nope, just 20 pounds of big sweet house cat.

Woodpyle fell from a window ledge when he was young, broke his hip, and had to have the ball & socket joint in the hip removed. He was never a great athlete after that, but recovered quite well and never even limped.

When Woodpyle was about 9 he had problems with his urinary tract getting blocked. We took him to the vet and the vet prescribed a special diet. At this same time we adopted a psychotic dog (we didn't know she was psychotic at the time). Even though WP was big, he was very much a Fraidy-cat and hid from the dog most of the time. We didn't see WP that much while we had the psychotic dog. When the psychotic dog left us a year later, we saw WP a lot more and noticed that he was beginning to limp. We assumed this was an old age response to the hip incident. His limping got worse and we decided to take him to the vet to see if we could get some pain medication.At that time, we were very much like everyone else; if we had a health problem with any of our animals, we took them to the vet. We trusted the vet and believed pretty much everything they told us. I took WP in to see the vet and we noticed that he had gained quite a bit of weight. It was only now that I was told that the special diet prescribed to him was much more fattening than a regular cat diet. The vet never told us this and so we didn't know that we need to keep a closer watch on his weight. He was up to 27 pounds (remember, he was a big cat: his correct weight was about 20 pounds)

The vet wanted to keep WP overnight so they could do X-rays on his hip. I thought nothing of this and pretty much expected it. I happily went to the vet the next day to collect WP. They took me in an exam room and brought in WP. The vet told me WP had a really bad case of diabetes and we might consider putting him down. He handed me a bottle of pills, a single sheet of paper that had a 1/2 page brief explanation of what diabetes was, a really expensive bag of "special" food and Woodpyle. Stunned, I went to the front desk, where they presented me with a bill for $350. In shock, I got to my truck and began to cry. What just happened?

I got home and explained the situation as best I could to my husband Larry. We had no idea what diabetes was or how to treat it and so, we put our trust in the vet. We followed his instructions. We fed WP the special food and gave him the little pills. The first problem was WP would not eat the food. His limp was getting worse. In desperation I turned to the Internet. I started researching and learning. I was determined to help WP in any way I could.

A week later I took WP back to the vet for another blood test. I had read on the Internet about home blood testing and asked the vet about it. He did not approve of the concept. The blood test at the vet cost $30 (plus vet visit) and all we learned from it was WP was still "over 600" and the pills were not working. We were instructed to start giving WP insulin shots.

I took the insulin the vet gave me and we gave him the shots once a day as instructed. I kept researching Feline Diabetes online and was surprised to find that this disease was more controllable than the vet gave me the impression it was and I was starting to find that the procedures and medicines the vet prescribed really were not the best for treating cats (such as those little pills, which pretty much never work for cats). The insulin he prescribed was not the most successfully used in cats, but better used for dogs. Also, shots twice a day were pretty much the way to go. The most important thing I learned was the home blood testing was essential for really controlling this disease. I decided that whether the vet liked it or not, I would begin doing blood tests at home.

The testing showed me a lot.... mostly the insulin we were using was not working for WP. WP's number were all over the place and usually "off the scale". I called the vet and told him my thoughts. I was learning more and the vet could see this. I went in to see the vet, this time armed with a one inch thick stack of information printed off the Internet and much more knowledge in my head. I had begun to chart WP's blood glucose curve and presented this as well. I was begriming to take WP's health care into my own hands; no longer blindly trusting what I was told, but instead researching and learning for myself. The vet suggested another type of insulin twice a day and we gave it a go.

WP's legs were so bad now he could hardly walk. It turns out that the loss of the use of the back legs is a symptom of diabetes in cats. It is called neuropathy. The vet never told us this. As the diabetes progressed, his legs got worse. Not only could he hardly walk, but when he had to pee, he could not get his poor feet out of the way and so peed on his feet. It was so sad and it became apparent that if we didn't get this under control soon, WP would probably die.

It was then that we quit taking WP to the vet totally and took his health care on ourselves. We chose an insulin that usually worked better in cats. We took blood tests three times a day and did "complete curves" once a week. We began feeding him a "natural" food designed for senior cats that we could buy for 50% less than the "special diet" from the vet, and guess what, he started to improve.

We changed the insulin one more time and believe it or not we finally got him regulated. WP's legs started working again. He lost weight and got back to his normal weight of 20 pounds. He began acting happy and "normal" again. We took blood tests less and less and got it down to only one a week. We still gave him his shots twice a day, but made it into a "mealtime routine" and it eventually hardly effected our lives at all.

We managed to give Woodpyle another full year of quality life until he was taken from us at age 11 by cancer. Woodpyle's diabetes was a very difficult case and was hard to get under control, but we persisted and managed. It took four months from him being diagnosed to being regulated. He taught us a lot. He taught us that we could take control of our own and our pets health care. We was a great guy and we loved him very much.

end note:

A couple years after WP passed away a neighbors's cat was diagnosed with diabetes. She took her cat to the same vet I used to go to. This same vet told her to get in contact with me; that I could probably help her and I could show her how to do home blood testing. <smile> I guess it wasn't just me who learned from WP. I taught her what I knew and did what I could to help her. Happily her cat was much easier to regulate then WP was.

second note:

Many people have written to ask what insulin I used for WP. First, be aware that every creature is different and what worked for us may not work for your situation. It was extremely difficult to regulate WP. We went through 4 different insulins before we found one that worked for WP.

The first two insulins we tried were what the vet suggested. These were Ilentin N and Humulin U. From reading on-line, we decided to try PZI, which seemed to work well for many cats and finally when PZI (two versions), didn't work as well as we wanted, we decided on our own to try Humulin L, which finally worked for our situation.

  • Ilentin N (no longer made; this is pork based)- We started with 2 units (twice a day) and eventually got up to 4 units before we decided it was not going to work for us.
  • Humulin U - We started with 4 units (twice a day) and got up to 6 and ended up going back down to 3.
  • PZI U40 - When Humulin U did not work well, we switched to PZI U40 (U40 in U100 syringes), which I had to have specially made and would drive one hour, each way to get. We started this at 7.5 units and worked our way up to 10 units.
  • PZI U-100 - I then started having the PZI made up as PZI U-100 (you can ask them to make it this way, which is easier to use in the U100 syringes and cheaper.) We started this at 2 units (twice a day)and worked up to 5 units
  • Humulin L - Finally I decided to try the last Insulin, which finally worked very well for WP's situation and we finally got him regulated. This was Humulin L which we started at 3 units (twice a day) and ended up giving 5.

 

Mable, a dog's story

In June of 2001, when she was 8 years old, Mable was diagnosed with diabetes. She lied to be over 11 (old for a Basset: life expectancy 10-12 years),and was happy, healthy and doing great up until the end. She is got two shots of Humulin"N" insulin a day and was enough regulated that we only had to blood test her once a week. I prepared all her meals myself, which is one of the reasons I think she is did so well. Mable became a full vegetarian in Oct of 2003 and ate Mable's Meal Veggie Loaf.

Mable's story:

At the age of 8, Mable started having trouble walking. It seemed like she was developing arthritis in her back legs that was causing her to limp. We just chalked this up to her getting old and "kept an eye on it". When she got so bad that she could hardly get up the two stairs from our bedroom, we built her a ramp and decided to take her to the vet to see if they could do something to make her more comfortable.

The vet x-rayed her and diagnosed arthritis and gave us some Rimadyl to give to her. We asked about starting her on Glucosamine; the vet was not enthusiastic about it. We brought her home and I got online to find out more about this drug, Rimadyl. I was shocked to read about it's side effects (one of which could be death). The vet had given us no information on this drug, they just said give it to her. They did not tell us about the dangers involved. Even though the drugs were quite expensive, I threw them out and started to research other things to try for Mable. Larry had had great response to his taking Glucosamine for his knees, so we started Mable on this despite the vet, and also got some dog aspirin. These things seemed to help Mable somewhat, but she continued to have trouble with her back legs. She no longer ran and played... she was getting old (or so we thought)

About a year later, when Mable was 8, she decided she would not eat commercial dog food (smart girl). No matter what we offered, she would not eat it. The only commercial pet food she would eat was canned cat food. We knew this was no solution, so took Mable to the vet (a different vet then the one that prescribed the Rimadyl). By this time, her "meaty", big, strong legs, seemed to be just wasting away.

The vet preformed all sorts of tests on Mable and diagnosed her with having diabetes. Our first response was how was it possible that we actually end up with a second pet with diabetes? Our next response was why didn't we see it sooner. I guess it was because we just didn't think is was possible, so we didn't even think of it. Mable used to be able to "hold it" for the whole night, but had been waking us up with her needing to go out to pee sometimes twice a night. A sign of diabetes. The loss of the use of her rear legs was another sign of diabetes. (Note- Mable was never overweight)

The vet knew we had a lot of pet diabetes experience (because of Woodpyle and my helping other people with their diabetic cats), and so prescribed some insulin and we took Mable home. The first thing I realized was the insulin the vet prescribed was the wrong type for dogs; she prescribed Humulin U. It was good for cats, but my research showed that Humulin N was better for dogs (at least to start with). We started doing blood test on Mable (inside lip stick method), I got some Humulin N insulin and I started making Mable's food myself (Mable's Meat Loaf).

Mable's improvement was wonderful. She ended up being much easier to regulate than Woodpyle was. The N insulin did the trick right off (as opposed to trying 4 different kinds to find what worked for Woodpyle). As the months went on, Mable regained all the use of her rear legs. It wasn't arthritis at all, but the diabetes that was causing her limping and wasting. We still continue to give Mable Glucosamine and MSM, because she is getting old and it can't hurt her (it can only help)

Mable, 3 years after being diagnosed with diabetes, at the age of 11 years old, was running, and playing (as much as she ever played). She acted like a 5 year old. Diabetes is not a death sentence by any means. It also does not have to consume your life. She was so well regulated that we only test her once a week. If she started acting "weird" or "paranoid" we would test her and usually it was a sign that she needed a sweet treat (like some dates) to raise her blood sugar. This has only happened a couple times, but we know to look for it. Mable has never had a seizure. I made her food for the entire week at once. She has never refused to eat since I started making her food myself.

Mable left us on Oct, 6, 2004 due to old age complicated by diabetes.

 

Important Diabetes Links
  • Pets with Diabetes.com - Information for both cat and dog diabetics.
    • Food and General Diabetes Information
    • Diabetes Chatroom
    • Home Testing
    • Eyes and Cataracts
    • Excerpts from Caroline Levin's Book
    • Pet Loss and Prayers
    • Diabetic Pet Stories, Database, Calendar,Email Lists etc.
    • Diabetic Links
    • Health Complications
  • Pets With Diabetes.org - Providing Educational Information, Internet Resources,
    Personal Experiences, and Support for Owners of Diabetic Pets
    • Diabetes Education
    • Resources for Information and Support
    • Personal Management Techniques and Surveys
    • Adoptable Diabetic Pets
  • Stupid Vet Tricks - A compilation of things that vets have told Diabetic Cat owners.
  • IMOM.org - Helping people help pets. To better the lives of sick, injured and abused companion animals. Dedicated to insure that no companion animal has to be euthanized simply because their caretaker is financially challenged.

 

Feeding Diabetic Pets

From our personal experiences we have found that the right food is a critical part to regulating a diabetic animal. But a "special diet" from the vet may not be the quick fix you are looking for. If you are looking for a special food that will act in the same manner of Modern Western Medicine, I doubt you are going to find it. Realistically, a special diet probably will not cure your pets diabetes. What you need to pursue is a wholesome natural diet that will work in a holistic manner with your pet. (click here for more info on holistic care).

If your pet has diabetes, you are probably going to have to give insulin shots. In this case, more important than your pet eating a "special diet" is that your pet eat what they are given, and consistently eat it all. The key to regulating is having control of what your pet is eating. If you know exactly what and when your pet is eating, you can adjust their insulin dose accordingly. If your pet refuses to eat, you have major problems. If your pet happily eats all the food he is given, each time he is given it, you can much more easily figure out the correct dose of insulin that your particular pet requires.

Woodpyle, the cat, hated the "special" food sold to us by the vet and would not eat it. Since he had to eat or could not be given his insulin shot, we fed him what he would eat: a popular commercial brand dry cat food. Knowing this brand was probably not the best food for a diabetic (too much sugar & fat, low quality ingredients), we pursued a better quality food (low sugar, low fat, more fiber, higher quality ingredients). Woodpyle was old and set in his ways. He was not receptive to homemade meals; he liked dry food only. We eventually found a good quality, more "natural" commercial dry food at PetSmart that he liked very much called Nature's Recipe Optimum Lite/Senior Feline. Interestingly, this food, even though it was one of the most expensive at PetSmart, was still 1/2 the cost of the "special" "prescription diet" from the vet (Hill’s Feline w/d). By comparing the labels (they don't list the nutritional info on the HIll's prescription food but I found the information via the Internet, I found that Nature's Recipe Optimum Lite/Senior Feline is almost exactly the same as the w/d "prescription diet" nutritionally.) Really, though vets won't tell you this, any high quality (I have to stress high quality) "senior" or "weight control" dry food will be just as good as the food sold to you by the vet. Once we found this good quality food that Woodpyle liked to eat, and ate consistently, we were able to regulate his diabetes and his life became pretty much "normal"

Around the same time that Mable, our Basset Hound, was diagnosed with diabetes she decided she would under no circumstances eat commercial dog food (we later found out this was a very intelligent decision on her part). The biggest problem with this was that she had to eat consistently because she had to have her insulin shots. If she didn't eat, that meant big trouble. We tried many different brands of commercial food and she would have nothing to do with any of them. The only thing we could get her to eat was cat food and we know this was not the proper diet for a diabetic dog (or healthy dog for that manner). Out of desperation I began researching homemade diets and preparing her food myself. I had heard that a raw food diet is supposed to be very good for animals, but Mable wasn't too thrilled with it. I needed something that was guaranteed that she would eat, was good for her, easy to make, and affordable. I worked on a meat loaf type food and happily she loved it. She now eats all her food and we have been able to adjust her insulin so that she is so well regulated we only test her once a week. Not only is the homemade diet helping her diabetes, but it is benefiting her health holistically as well. She is now over 10 years old (breed average life expectancy 10-12 years) and is acting like a healthy four year old. She has been living with diabetes for over 2 years now and seeing how much a homemade natural diet is benefiting Mable, I would never feed my pets anything else but a home prepared natural diet.

Special Diet Adjustments for Diabetic Pets

Dogs:
In general, diabetic dogs should be fed a diet high in complex carbohydrates (starch and dietary fiber that provide 50 to 55 percent of total energy) that containing no simple sugars such as sucrose. The diet should have restricted fat (providing less than 20 percent of energy) and moderate protein (providing 14 to 30 percent of energy).

I have made no special diabetic adjustment to the home prepared "Mable Loaf" I make for my dog. This recipe has been carefully adjusted to meet the complete and balanced needs of healthy dogs. Mable is doing great on it and I kinda feel "if it ain't broke; don't fix it".

Cats:
Cats are not designed to eat a diet containing 50 percent complex carbohydrates. There is little evidence that any special diet adjustment is a benefit in managing a cat with diabetes mellitus. Click here for home prepared meal reicpes

 

Home Blood Testing

When Woodpyle was diagnosed with diabetes and I was just learning about the subject, I asked my vet about home blood testing for glucose levels in the blood. He didn't like the idea, telling me I couldn't do it properly and that home tests were not accurate. I thought about it a bit and wondered, if I were using the exact same blood test meters that are marketed for use on humans, if they weren't acceptably accurate, there certainly would be lot of upset people, deaths and lawsuits. These meters are obviously accurate enough to be relied on to be used to aid in the treatment of diabetes.

I did my research on-line and found some good web sites with instructions on how to do the testing. I studied these carefully and started looking for a meter to use. There are better meters than others for use with pets and I chose the one that was most popular for use on pets at the time. Blood test meters can be expensive if you don't know the best places to purchase them (see links for where to purchase supplies). I learned that often, you can get a meter for free if you purchase a large amount of test strips. The test strips are how the meter companies really make their money. I purchased 100 strips on-line and got a free meter.

You do not have to draw a large amount of blood from a vein to do a glucose level test. By studying the instructions I found on-line, I learned how to draw the single drop of blood I needed from Woodpyle's ear. I was scared at first; worried I'd hurt him. It took a little while to get the knack and I will admit there was a learning curve. Luckily it really is not that painful and Woodpyle was a very good patient. After awhile I got quite good at it and it really was not so bad. There were days when I did full curves on WP that I tested him every two hours. It was wonderful to have control and know what was going on with WP's levels and be able to adjust his insulin accordingly.

I have thought more about testing at home as opposed to testing by the vet and came up with some interesting theories. First, blood glucose levels in the blood can rise for reasons other than food intake. They also rise due to stress and fear. What happens when your pet is taken to the vet for testing? Do you think they are a little afraid and stressed or do you think perhaps they are a lot afraid and stressed? And because of this fear and stress, the vet test results are probably going to be slightly "off".

When we first took Mable in to the vet, before we knew she had diabetes and thought maybe she had some other disease, the vet decided to do some blood work. The vet tech held Mable's head while the vet attempted to draw blood from a vein in her neck. The vet stuck in the needle, but missed the vein. OK, I understand, it can be hard to find and hit the vein. She tried again. Missed. She tried again, missed. She tried again and couldn't hit the vein. About this time I started to get sick to my stomach. Poor Mable. This had become equivalent to a form of torture. She tried again. I could no longer watch. After over five minutes of this horrible procedure, she still failed and finally asked another vet to come in and try. He succeeded. Mable was a trooper through it all, but surprise, she never really wanted to go to the vet again after that (neither did I).

I have a feeling Mable's blood results, which were "off the map" were probably elevated due to the dreadful experience of drawing of blood. In all probability, if we relied on only blood testing at the vet, we would never really know what Mable's real numbers were. If we gave her insulin in proportion to these stress elevated numbers, we could run the risk of giving her too much insulin; resulting in a seizure and possible death. Finally, it sure is much nicer to get an accurate blood glucose level reading for $0.65 a test than the $25+ a test paid at the vet (plus the cost and inconvenience of the vet visit).

How much blood is needed to do this testing?

The meters available nowadays need one small drop of blood. The blood dose not have to be drawn from a vein. All meters come with a lancet device. You use this lancet to prick the skin to draw the one drop of blood needed for the test

What meter do I recommend?

I very highly recommend using the One Touch Ultra Meter. It needs just a very small amount of blood, which makes life a lot easier, for you and your pet. It also gives the results much faster than other meters and does not give "false readings" when you don't get enough blood like many other meters do. Having used various meters, I like this one the best. This is what I currently use for Mable. Years ago, with Woodpyle, I used the Glucometer Elite Meter, which was the best meter for testing pets at that time but I definitely like the One Touch Ultra Meter better.

What methods do I use to test on my own animals?

On Woodpyle the cat, I used the ear stick method.
On Mable, we get the small drop of blood needed from the inside of her upper lip.

When I started doing this testing, I didn't really know if there was a right way or wrong way to get the needed drop of blood, and just did what I needed to do to get the blood I needed. Larry holds Mable. I flip up her lip and stick her on the inside of her lip with the lancet and get the blood I need. I'll take a photo the next time I do a test on her.

Where do I get my supplies?

I order all my diabetes supplies on-line at Hocks.Com On-Line Pharmacy. They have the best prices I have found.

More information on home blood testing:




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