Joey, My Diabetic Cat

November 22, 2010

Joey has diabetes

For more than three years, twice a day, our blond tabby, Joey, has taken insulin injections. He has diabetes. His disease altered our schedule greatly–no more spontaneous late nights out because the cat needs a shot. But he’s the one who endures the needle sticks and wobbly hind legs that are part of the deal. Quite nobly, in fact.

I didn’t know cats could get diabetes. My first clue something was wrong was after returning from a two-day writers conference and finding puddles in the litter box. I’d cleaned it before I left, and I cleaned it again, but the puddles kept forming. We have two cats (Bailey is the younger), so I didn’t know who was peeing so fiercely. Then I noticed Joey, age 14, lapping up large quantities of water. I took him to see Dr. Kerry Lancaster at Wheaton Animal Hospital. The veterinarian suspected diabetes, ran tests and confirmed the diagnosis the next day.

I cried. My husband, Arnie, and I lost another cat to pancreatic and liver issues two years earlier, and I dreaded going through that pain again so soon. Dr. Lancaster assured us that, with care, diabetic cats can live full, contented lives. He prescribed Lantus, a long-lasting insulin used by humans. I thought “long-lasting” might mean “several months,” but I was wrong. It means “12 hours.” What about pills? I couldn’t stick Joey with pins.

“It’s much easier to give a cat injections than pills,” Dr. Lancaster said.

He was right. The injections are simple to administer. Each morning and evening, usually between 7 and 9, either Arnie or I load a super-fine, short-needled syringe and entice Joey with food. While his face is in the bowl, we grasp a bit of scruff, insert the needle and squirt. The deed is over in seconds. Joey doesn’t flinch, not unless my hand inadvertently jerks. I’ve stuck myself twice.

The two biggest challenges were supplies and vacation care. We need to buy syringes and insulin at a human pharmacy. The Lantus is $100 for a vial, and lasts four to five months. The syringes cost $15 for 100. Some people re-use their needles, but Dr. Lancaster advised against it for sanitary reasons.

Some pharmacies are more animal-friendly than others. Walgreens and CVS are great. But a grocery-store pharmacy gave me larger syringes with a fatter needle. I didn’t notice until I got home. When I tried to return them, the pharmacist said that’s the size they carry and he wouldn’t take them back. “It’s just a cat,” he said.

I donated the syringes to an animal shelter and found a new pharmacy.

As for cat-sitting, I felt I couldn’t impose upon friends. I turned to Lynn’s Pet Care in Glen Ellyn. She and her fabulous team have been tending all kinds of creatures in our village for more than 20 years. They are professional, reliable and loving, and we are thankful for their help.

Today Joey is doing well for a senior cat. His appetite is good, and he wrestles and snuggles with Bailey. Because his back legs have weakened, he no longer jumps from the floor to the kitchen counter to wait patiently for pats and treats. Instead he devised a new route: from the living room coffee table to the sofa to the piano, over the pass-through and then onto the counter. He likes Friskies Party Mix treats the best. Also, it’s hard to hoist himself in and out of the litter box. I place disposable doggy pee-pads in his favorite corners. My dog-owner friends taught me that technique.

At his age, Joey doesn’t have a lot of time left. I will be distraught when we must say good-by. But I’m confident that diabetes didn’t cut his feline life short.


POSTSCRIPT: After five years of twice-daily insulin shots and two seizures, I’m sad to say Joey passed away on September 15, 2012. I miss him dearly.