Sunday, June 15, 2008

Diabetes in cats - an epidemic

In the last month, 2 cats that I pet sit for developed diabetes. Both were overweight and sadly, it caught up to them. One had to be put to sleep and the other is on insulin twice a day, probably for life.

Before I became a pet sitter, I had no idea that diabetes was so common. The first diabetic cat I cared for was overweight. I figure that in the almost 6 years I've been pet sitting, I've taken care of 20-30 diabetic cats. I can't think of a single cat that was at an optimum weight, or skinny. The common denominator? Dry food, usually free fed so the cat could eat as much as she wanted.

This is a disease that can be so easily prevented with proper nutrition. The cat is an obligate carnivore, yet almost all processed pet food is loaded with grain. It has nothing to do with nutrition and everything to do with maximum profit. Grain is cheap filler and costs much less than meat, which is essential in a cat's diet.

So what happens if a cat becomes diabetic? First, you'll probably notice enormous amounts of urine, both in and out of the litter box. Weight loss, lack of appetite, significant drop in energy, increase in thirst are all indicators of diabetes. Some cats eat more, but continue to lose weight. The first thing to do is get your cat to the vet for an exam, including bloodwork.

If your cat does become diabetic, you'll have a number of things to address. Are you afraid of needles? Can you commit to giving insulin twice a day, 12 hours apart, for the duration of the cat's life? Can you afford the extra trips to the vet, the cost of insulin and syringes? Do you have someone in place that can give insulin if you have to go away or have something to do outside the home when the shot is due?

All these things will come into play once there is a diagnosis. The good news is, many cats go into remission. It usually involves getting them on a low carb diet. In my mind, no diet is better suited to a cat - regardless of health - than a grainless, raw food diet.

Prevention is everything with this disease. I'm not saying that a cat can't live a good life as a diabetic, but many adjustments have to be made. But avoidance is the simplest, and this is one disease that is so easily preventable.

If your cat is already diabetic and you want to put her on a species appropriate, low carb diet, home testing is a necessity. With a newly diagnosed diabetic, you may see immediate effects once the low-carb food is consumed. Speak to your vet about home testing. Many vets have glucometers at their clinic and will train the cat owner on proper use. The reason this is so important is that you don't want your cat to become hypoglycemic. If your cat needs less insulin than she's been getting, hypoglycemia probably will take place. Testing the blood sugar before giving the shot will determine how much insulin is needed.

There are a number of excellent websites that can help people who want to get their cat on the right track:

Cat Info

This was put together by Lisa A. Pierson, DVM. Not only is there a great deal of info on diabetes, but on many other illnesses and problems cats face. It's a very detailed website but totally worth the read.

Feline Diabetes

This is the bible of sites for owners of diabetic cats. There is information that will help those who have newly diagnosed diabetics, complete with a forum where you can ask questions and offer support to others who are going through the same things you are going through.

Cat Nutrition

Not necessarily about diabetics but the information about raw food is invaluable. Not only is it well written, but there is a step by step pictorial that shows the reader how easy it is to make the food.

Your Diabetic Cat

This website is the work of Elizabeth M. Hodgkins, DVM, who has also written a book called "Your Cat: Simple new secrets to a longer, stronger life". It's not just about diabetics although there is a section about diabetes and a number of other common cat ailments.

There are many pet food companies that make raw food. I have been feeding these frozen foods for years after I had trouble sourcing rabbit for my cats. Most of these companies are regional; in the Toronto area the most common are Pets 4 Life, Healthy Paws and Tollden Farms. If you're outside of the GTA, check with high end pet food stores as they're usually the ones that carry raw food.

One last thing about processed food: Don't fall for words like "holistic" or "natural". Look beyond the marketability of these words and read the label. Natural food for a cat is prey, in an unaltered state. Not cooked, not baked, but raw.

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