Around the spring of 2004, I noticed that Nala was acting strangely. Well, strangely for a cat, anyways. She wasn’t energetic, she was drinking and eating more, but was losing weight. I made an appointment with her vet, terrified that it might be cancer. After a series of blood and urine panels, the vet called to tell me she had diabetes. I was confused, not realizing that pets can get it, too. I was also relieved that it wasn’t cancer. Then I was terrified. Not fully understanding how diabetes works but being aware of all its horrible complications, my imagination fed me all the worst-case scenarios: kidney failure, cataracts, nerve damage; a painful death.
I told all that to my vet and, even though I’m sure she thought I was a total idiot, she calmly explained to me everything about how the disease works and that most complications come up when it is not stabilized and cared for correctly. She was firm when she told me that we’re not going to let that happen; that this disease is manageable and we’re going to work hard to help Nala.
The first few months were mostly trial and error. She was started on Humulin N insulin, at that time the most common drug for feline DM. I admit, having to give injections twice a day to my beloved pet was hard. I think I took it harder than she did. Her injection site was the scruff of the neck, as with most diabetic cats. She had to go back to the vet for regular exams and bloodwork for the first little while, to ensure we were handling her needs correctly, and adjusting her dosage and routine as needed. She was also started on a new food made specifically for feline DM: Purina Veterinary Diets, Dietetic Management. Luckily, she took to the food no problem. Within 6 months, she was back to near-perfect condition, with her blood sugars stable.
Things were going well for a couple of years. Then she had her first major hypoglycemic episode. This I wasn’t prepared for, and it was the most terrifying experience of my life. She suddenly started twitching, then collapsed. She was barely conscious and drooling like crazy. I rushed her to an emergency pet hospital, where it was discovered she was both dehydrated and suffering from extremely low blood sugars. She had to stay overnight on IVs to get her back to full health. Follow-up vet visits showed that after that episode, she was in what’s called ‘diabetic remission’. It appeared that her system started producing and using insulin all by itself again. This was great news, and it lasted for about 4-5 months. Unfortunately, her pancreas decided to go on strike again, so back onto the insulin she went.
After all that, her body didn’t respond as well to the Humulin insulin anymore, so my vet decided to switch her to Lantus, a longer-acting insulin, and more easily administered via insulin pen. I also got a blood glucose monitor and test strips, so I could check her blood at home more consistently. Poor cat….now she was getting poked in the ear for a nice fat drop of blood. Still, we got her stabilized and she was fine for awhile.
About 2 years ago, she started having issues with her blood sugar stability. Nothing had changed as far as routine or medication went, but when I took her to the vet I was reminded that she was 14 years old and other age-related issues could be interfering with her diabetic care. Nothing super obvious came up in the first few tests, but later on, they would reveal that she was in the early stages of renal failure. Also, the scar tissue built up on her neck scruff meant that the injected insulin wasn’t being fully absorbed, so we had to switch her injection site to just above her front leg.
At this point, some people would’ve just pulled the plug. Some friends didn’t understand why I bothered. But kidney issues can also be managed, and it’s no reason to put down a pet unless it’s causing pain and affecting their quality of life. Both of which are NOT an issue yet. She was started on 2 different renal powder supplements that I mix into her wet food, and follow-up tests showed that they are successful in keeping her kidneys from getting worse. Score one for us!
Nala is now 16 years old and, according to her vet, is a medical enigma. She has defied all statistics and naysayers. For a cat of her age and history to still be around and kicking up litter…it’s not the norm.
But then again, Nala isn’t just any cat. She’s the toughest cookie I’ve ever known. She has taught me so much about love, patience, sacrifice, determination and hard work.
I have a feeling she’s going to outlive me 🙂