Feline diabetes may sound like a strange disease, but it affects an estimated 10 percent of cats in Routt County. That percentage stresses how important it is for cat owners to be aware of diabetes, because you never know if your cat could be at risk.
Steamboat Springs resident Wes Whitecotton said that before his cat, Rocky, was diagnosed with diabetes, he had never heard of the disease.
But then Whitecotton started noticing that Rocky was consuming more water then usual, losing weight, and urinating more than usual.
"I never thought about diabetes being the cause when I took Rocky into the vet," he said.
Diabetes can be a difficult disease to understand, and it can be a difficult disease to cope with for owners of diabetic cats.
For Steamboat resident Krista Hill, understanding feline diabetes in her cat, Cricket, was easier because she has had experience with diabetes in her family.
"Diabetes in humans is very similar to diabetes in cats," she said.
In both species, diabetes is caused by a lack of insulin, a hormone the pancreas produces to break down glucose, a type of sugar. Glucose is an important energy source for the cells in the body, so when glucose is not broken down by insulin, the cells have a decrease in energy.
Veterinarians think an excess of glucose in the cat's diet can cause the lack of insulin in the body, causing the pancreas to be overworked and not produce enough insulin. Diabetes can be a genetic predisposition passed down from generation to generation.
There are some warning signs cat owners can look for as an indication of early diabetes. Cats with diabetes show four main symptoms: excessive eating, drinking, urinating and weight loss.
The first thing that Whitecotton noticed about Rocky was his excessive water consumption.
"Rocky was urinating a whole lot more, and I was changing this litter box once a day. I knew something wasn't right," he said.
These noticeable, dramatic changes happen because insulin is not present in the bloodstream for the cells to receive glucose; instead, the body is forced to break down fat to receive energy for the cells. This causes the cats to loose weight rapidly and eat more to keep up the energy they have lost. The excess glucose in the bloodstream also becomes overwhelming for the kidneys and causes the glucose to spill into the urine. When this happens, water is drawn into the urine, causing more frequent urination and thirst.
Hill particularly recalls that symptom.
"Cricket was drinking like crazy," she said.
Healthy cats urinate about 88 milliliters per pound of body weight daily and drink about 99 ml per pound of body weight daily; and many cats are well under these numbers. As an owner, noticing the excessive urination and water consumption is not hard, because usually, the difference is dramatic.
There are things cat owners can do to prevent or decrease their pets' risk of getting diabetes later in life, such as providing a balanced diet and exercise.
A balance diet includes high-fiber and high-protein foods. There are a number of cat foods out there that could be used; Wes Whitecotton feeds Rocky a diabetic management food that he receives from his veterinarian at the Pet Kare Clinic.
Foods high in fiber slow the absorption of glucose, allowing the body to produce insulin at a more controlled rate. And foods high in protein contain less glucose and reduce the need for insulin in the body.
Having your cat get some exercise by running around outside or in the house for just a few hours a day can make a difference.
For cats diagnosed with feline diabetes, owners can manage the disease through insulin injections as well as diet and exercise.
Similar to human injections, feline insulin injections allow the cat to receive the insulin it needs that its body cannot produce on its own. Unfortunately, injections are the only way to get the cat the insulin it needs, because the insulin must be injected to be absorbed into the bloodstream.
For some owners, giving insulin injections can be a difficult task to learn, but in time, most owners become comfortable with giving the injections on a daily basis.
"Giving the injections is no big deal," Hill said. "The hardest thing about it is giving the shot at the same times every day. I must plan my schedule around Cricket's insulin injections. I must be there or have someone there to give Cricket his shot at 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. every day."
Whitecotton agreed, saying, "When your cat becomes diabetic, it ties you down."
It is very important for a diabetic cat to receive the insulin injection at the same time every day, because it helps keep the cat more regulated and happy.
In the past five to 10 years, technology has advanced significantly, which has lowered the cost of treatment supplies and made it easier to treat diabetic cats.
For three years, Hill said she treated Cricket's diabetes with insulin that costs $25 a bottle, and each bottle lasted about three months. But the costs went up recently.
In November 2004, Cricket's medicine switched to PZI, which costs $80 a bottle. PZI is one of the most expensive types of insulin for felines.
Although the cost is a struggle, Hill said, "Cricket is a lot better off than if he didn't have insulin at all."
Not all diabetic cats have the same needs. For example, Hill's cat requires three units of insulin twice daily, and Whitecotton's cat requires only one unit of insulin once a day, creating maintenance costs he called "minimal."
Feline diabetes is on the rise because more people are becoming aware of the disease and identifying warning signs earlier. That awareness is important, because the sooner a cat owner notices changes in his or her pet, the sooner a veterinarian can diagnose diabetes.
Pet owners who see any of the warning signs mentioned above in their cats or dogs, or have questions about feline or canine diabetes, are encouraged to call their veterinarian or the Pet Kare Clinic at 879-5273.