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.

Lots of sunshine and plenty to eat for this rescued tiger

The narrow two-lane road turned from asphalt to gravel, miles off the freeway, and we wondered if we were in the right place. There were no streetlights or billboards, only thick forest, sweeping grasses and delicate wildflowers. Then, a tiny sign: EFRC Parking. On the shoulder, please.

We had arrived at the Exotic Feline Rescue Center in Center Point, Indiana, about an hour west of Indianapolis. It’s a sanctuary for more than 200 big cats, representing 9 species, and most had been horribly abused or abandoned. They come from all over the country, from bad circuses, bad zoos, tattoo parlors, meth labs and overwhelmed owners. Here they get a second chance to live out their days in peace.

Each cat has a story, and we hear many of them on the hour-long tour. Sinbad is an awkward-gaited black leopard whose earlier bone fractures healed improperly. Achia is a sleek, taupe-colored puma who purrs like a contented housecat. The Munchkins are a pride of 7 lions and tigers who were rescued from a dark basement where they were locked in small cages without food or water, apparently left to die. They weighed between 50 and 80 pounds, less than half of what they should have. They are thriving now, but remain small in stature.

We sped quietly past the tiger Montana. It was dinnertime, and he gets loud and aggressive when interrupted.

Upon their arrival, the felines are given medical care and placed in appropriately sized, natural enclosures. Some enjoy the company of others and some prefer to be alone. A few are too frail or traumatized to be displayed. They also are spayed or neutered, although male lions get vasectomies so they don’t lose their manes. Accidents, however, do happen. One majestic lion, King, was only 14 months old when he was taken from an owner who could no longer afford to feed him. He was also fully declawed. Believed to be too young to father, King was placed with Jasmine, a female lion. The result was a daughter, Lauren, and all three live together.

The center was founded in 1991 with 3 cats and 15 acres. It has since expanded to more than 100 acres and is one of the largest such sanctuaries in the country.

A few travel tips: The center has been created for the comfort of the cats, not necessarily for people. Visitors are warmly welcomed, but amenities are few. The paths are unpaved, and the single restroom is portable. Bring your own water bottle. Also, in the spring and fall you’ll see more because the animals are less hidden by heavy foliage. The cost of admission is $10.

Next time we’ll stay longer. The center has one guest cottage that sleeps two adults (but no children) for $150 a night. We’ll be able to see cats from the front yard, and in the morning the keepers will take us on a private tour to some of the restricted areas. Let’s get going, pussycats!

Exotic Feline Rescue Center: