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Updated: January 28, 2023 @ 11:34 am
Your cat is eating ravenously but losing weight, and she seems to be drinking a lot more water than normal — and peeing it all out into the litter box. What’s wrong with her?
All of those signs may be pointing to a particular disease that’s not uncommon in cats: diabetes mellitus.
But if you’re not in the habit of monitoring how much your cat eats, the normal size of urine clumps in the litter box or her body condition score, you may not notice the changes until the disease is advanced.
“I’ve made some surprise diabetes diagnoses,” says Julie Liu, DVM, who practices in Austin, Texas. If people aren’t scooping the litter box daily or are leaving food out all the time, they may not notice how much their cat is eating or urinating, she says. And they might not notice that the cat is losing weight — at least not at first.
The first “tell” may be that the cat is urinating outside the litter box. Because they’re drinking so much water, they have increased urgency to urinate, and they might not make it to the litter box in time. They are also much more prone to urinary tract infections, Dr. Liu says.
Any time you notice these signs, your cat needs to see the veterinarian right away for a physical exam and lab work to detect glucose in urine and blood.
Approximately 600,000 cats in the United States are diagnosed with diabetes during their lifetime. The endocrine disorder occurs when islet cells in the pancreas don’t produce enough insulin, preventing body tissues from using glucose for energy. Instead, glucose builds up in blood and urine.
Diabetes is a lifelong condition with no cure. Left untreated, feline diabetes can result in weight loss, loss of appetite, vomiting, dehydration, severe depression, problems with motor function, coma and death.
The good news is that it is treatable in cats and can even go into remission when it’s well-managed.
Traditionally, diabetic cats have been managed with twice-daily insulin injections. If you’re afraid of needles, you may think it’s impossible that you would ever be able to give your cat insulin injections. But as the former owner of a cat who lived with diabetes for 10 years and as someone with a strong needle phobia, I’m here to tell you that the fear of giving injections can be overcome. The needles used for insulin injections are fine, and in my experience, the cat barely notices the jab. Our cat, Peter, was more interested in the meal he knew was coming immediately after the injection.
Diet is also an important part of managing care. Eating a high-protein, low-carb food — nicknamed the “Catkins” diet — can reduce or eliminate a cat’s need for insulin injections. Many cats have the disease controlled by diet alone.
And a new once-daily oral medication called Bexacat was approved last month by the Food and Drug Administration. The flavored chewable prescription medication works to improve glycemic control in cats with diabetes. The limiting factor? It can be used only in cats that have never been treated with insulin. Other considerations are the cat’s weight and overall health. Cats taking the drug must be monitored regularly with blood work and watched for signs such as appetite loss, lethargy, dehydration and weight loss.
Use of at-home blood glucose meters also help owners keep tabs on their cats’ conditions, without subjecting them to veterinary visits that could send glucose levels soaring from stress alone.
Maintaining a normal weight is the best way to prevent diabetes in your cat. If your veterinarian expresses concern about your cat’s weight, take it seriously. A weight-loss program can not only lower your cat’s risk of this disease, but it has the bonus of reducing stress on joints, a win-win for improving health and quality of life.
Q: Is there a rule on pet laundry? Should I be washing their beds?
A: I wouldn’t say there’s a rule about the frequency of laundering pet bedding, but there are some things to consider. The most important may be the sensitivity of your nose. If you notice that your home is starting to smell too much like your pets — and not in a good way — part of the reason could be that pet bedding is starting to develop a stale odor.
You probably wash your sheets at least weekly to remove the accumulation of body oils, hair, perspiration, dead skin cells and bacteria that build up from sleeping on them. The same thing happens when your pets lie on their beds. And it builds up more rapidly because pets don’t wear PJs and they don’t shower daily — although cats, of course, would argue that their tongue baths are much more cleansing than your own ablutions.
It’s not going to hurt your pets to sleep on bedding that hasn’t been washed in a while, but it’s fair to say that dirty bedding can be the source of bacteria, parasites and viruses from other pets who share it.
If you’re concerned that your home is garnering surreptitious sniffs of disapproval from visitors or your mother-in-law, you can clean up your act by washing pet bedding weekly and cleaning crates weekly with warm, soapy water. Read the label to find out how to care for it. Generally, covers can be removed and machine-washed. Unless the label advises otherwise, use hot water to kill any microbes and dry thoroughly to prevent development of mold or mildew. For beds that aren’t machine-washable, give them a good going-over with the vacuum cleaner when you have it out, or use antibacterial wipes to freshen it up.
Dr. Marty Becker
• Horses need protection from frigid temperatures just as much as dogs and cats. To help them ward off the chill, they need extra food and shelter from wind and snow. Horses can eat a bale of hay a day in winter. In blizzard conditions and below-zero temperatures, a blanket is a must for insulation from the cold. It’s also important to ensure that they keep moving unless they’re sheltering from severe weather. In addition, they need hoof care and protection and removal of snow and ice from paddocks. Work with your veterinarian to develop a winter care plan to keep your horse safe and healthy.
• Don’t let your older dog sit around. As he ages, he should continue regular, moderate exertion, but at lower intensity and duration than during his younger years. Think two shorter walks daily instead of one long one and “brain games” using food puzzles or nose work. Keeping him lean protects his joints, and throw rugs or yoga mats on slick floors can prevent the slipping and sliding that lead to orthopedic injuries.
• Animal-related tech demonstrated earlier this month at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas included FluentPet, an app-connected talking button system that allows dogs to signal that they’d like to go out or have a treat, among other things; Bird Buddy, a bird feeder that photographs the birds visiting it and then uses AI technology to identify more than 1,000 avian species; a canine fitness tracker in the form of a smart collar that monitors a dog’s activity level, sleep habits and heart health and can send the information to the veterinarian; and Dog-E, an app-controlled robot that allows the electronic dogs to develop “personalities” and movements and learn tricks based on interactions with owners. What will they think of next?
Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of VetScoop.com and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/Kim.CampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.
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