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diabetic cat

Diabetes and Your Cat
By Brian J. Lowney

There's good news for diabetic cats. With proper diet, medication and careful supervision, these animals can lead long and relatively normal lives.

But don't forget the ounce of prevention.

"The best way to avoid diabetes is to keep the cat's weight normal," says Dr. Tim Donovan, owner of Kindred Spirits Mobile Veterinary Services in Mattapoisett. "Any cat can develop diabetes, but obese cats are more at risk."

Like humans, most cats that develop the disorder suffer from Type 2 or adult onset diabetes, which is sometimes known as a lifestyle disease because those affected are overweight and often sedentary.

Donovan believes that a low-carbohydrate diet provides protection against the treatable disease.
"That means dry food should be avoided, and cats should eat a paté-style canned food," he advises.

"This food most closely resembles the cat's natural carnivorous diet."

While Donovan says there is no gender predisposition to diabetes, he treats more males than females, and adds that there is a high incidence of the disease in "orange ale" tabbies. This phenomenon has led Donovan to suspect that some felines might have a genetic predisposition to developing the condition.

Younger cats can get it, but it usually affects more middle-age cats, who have had more time to pack on the pounds.

The Rev. Fred Babiczuk of the Good Shepherd Church in Fall River notes that his cat, Gateway, was diagnosed with diabetes about three years ago. (The cat got his unusual name because, "He looks like a Gateway computer box," Babiczuk says, describing the large black-and-white cartons designed to resemble a Holstein cow. )

Gateway, a 9-year-old cat, is a "big boy," tipping the scales at 19 pounds, his owner says. He's much larger than the priest's other cats, Minnie and Orphan Annie. All three were adopted after they were found wandering near Babiczuk's family home in Taunton.

The priest became concerned when Gateway began losing weight and drinking lots of water, which resulted in frequent trips to the litter box.

Medical tests confirmed the priest's suspicions, and Gateway was immediately placed on human-grade insulin to control his diabetes.

"His sugar was very high," Babiczuk remembers, adding that he was taught by Gateway's veterinarian how to inject the medication without causing discomfort. The diabetic cat now receives 8 units of insulin in the morning, and 7 at night, into the scruff of the neck.

Babiczuk says it's a lot easier taking care of a diabetic cat than it is caring for a human with a similar condition.

"He gets treats after the injections," the pastor says. "If I forget to give him his shot, he comes running."

According to the priest, Gateway eats a regular diet and, like most cats, enjoys a small serving of baked fish as a special treat. His favorites are tuna and salmon.

"He's more prone to infections," the cat owner says, noting that owners of diabetic pets have to pay close attention to their animals. When infections develop, immediate veterinary intervention is required to prevent the illness from spreading and damaging organs.

Babiczuk has Gateway's blood glucose level tested every two months.

"His numbers have been very good," the priest says.

Normal blood glucose values for non-diabetic cats and dogs range from 80 to 150, as measured on a vet's glucometer.

When Gateway was first tested three years ago, his blood glucose level was almost 400 — which could have caused serious complications if left untreated.

"Having a diabetic cat is not that difficult," Babiczuk stresses. With a presciption, he spends about $220 annually on needles and insulin from a retail pharmacy. He spends an additional $100 a year for bi-monthly glucose tests.

"He's very easy-going," Babiczuk says of his feline friend. "If someone comes into the rectory, he just sits there. He's the king — he's not going to be put out by anyone."

Swansea resident Brian J. Lowney has been writing about pets for more than a decade. He is a past president of the Wampanoag Kennel Club, an active dog show judge and shares his home with two shelter-adopted cats. All of Brian's columns are available online in our new pet section.

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