So your cat has been diagnosed with feline diabetes: now what? For starters, you will need to feed your cat the proper type and amount of food, at the proper intervals. The ideal diet for a diabetic cat is one that has increased protein and decreased carbohydrates. Most quality canned cat foods are already high in protein and low in carbohydrates, but many of the dry cat foods are made with starch, making them higher in carbohydrates. Your veterinarian may wish you to switch your cat to an all canned-food diet or to a specially formulated cat food (such as a Science Diet or other prescription food). Every cat has their own dietary needs and preferences, and the same diet won’t work for all cats. The right diet for your diabetic cat depends on his health and weight, the type and severity of his diabetes, and his personal taste. Your veterinarian will guide you in choosing the right nutritional plan.
Your veterinarian will also advise you as to the best way to manage your cat’s weight. While many diabetic cats will be overweight at the time of diagnosis, some may be underweight if their diabetes went undiagnosed for awhile. Your cat may need to lose some weight, put on some weight, or stay the same weight. If you cat is overweight, you will need to help him lose weight gradually with a diabetic diet; an overweight cat that trims down will be able to more effectively use his own insulin and thus may decrease the amount of diabetic medications needed.
Timing is everything: after your veterinarian advises you as to the type and amount of food that your diabetic cat should be receiving, you will need to feed your cat in divided meals. Feeding your cat his entire daily ration of food in one meal is going to spike his blood sugar to unhealthy levels. NOT feeding your cat at the time of his insulin injection may cause him to be dangerously hypoglycemic.
Divide his daily amount of food into smaller meals as appropriate: cats on once-daily insulin should have half their food just after their injection (to ensure that they are eating – you don’t want to give the injection and then find that your cat does not want to eat for some reason). The rest of their daily ration of food can be fed at peak insulin activity (usually 8 to 12 hours later). With two injections daily, the ration can just be split in half and fed just before the time of the injections. Cats on oral medications should be given small meals throughout the day. Your veterinarian can also help you with this. If your cat hates his new prescription diet food or refuses to eat twice a day instead of his usual grazing, go back to his old dietary routine to make sure that your cat is eating, and contact your vet for further recommendations.
Feline diabetes can have serious complications, so it is very important that you keep track of your pet’s health. Check her blood sugar levels, either at home or by regularly taking her to the vet. At home, you can use special strips to check urine glucose, or you can use a kitty litter additive such as Purina Glucotest Feline Urinary Glucose Detection System, which changes color if there is glucose in the urine (how cool is THAT?!). Many owners of diabetic cats do home blood glucose monitoring using ear pricks and home glucose monitors made for humans.
Monitor your cat’s appetite, weight, and food and water consumption; keep track of what is going on in the litter box to make sure she is urinating the same amount. Call your veterinarian about any changes in her normal routine. If you're careful about monitoring your cat’s diet and insulin therapy, you may notice that you can start lowering your cat’s insulin dose. Some cats will even go into remission…but these cats can experience flare-ups and will still need to take insulin once in a while to control their diabetes. You need to regularly check the cat’s urine for glucose to assist in the early detection of this transient nondiabetic state to avoid insulin overdose.
Dietary management and daily injections of insulin can regulate most diabetic cats and enable them to lead normal lives. It is critically important for your veterinarian to determine the daily insulin requirement for your cat, and this may mean that the cat stay at the veterinary clinic for a day to track your pet’s response to insulin. Once the proper dose of insulin has been established, your veterinarian will show you how to give the injections. The needles are very tiny and very sharp, and most cats tolerate the subcutaneous (just-under-the-skin) injections with no problem. Periodic blood glucose tests should be done at the veterinary clinic to check monitor your cat’s ongoing response to therapy.
Even cats that are on oral medications may eventually need insulin injections. As insulin requirements vary with diet, it is important to keep your cat’s caloric intake constant from day to day, regardless of whether she is on oral meds or injections.
A diagnosis of feline diabetes is not a death sentence. It is a diagnosis that requires you and your cat to make some changes, but with veterinary guidance and some diligence on your part, the two of you will adjust and your cat can live a happy and healthy life.
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