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Aztec (who celebrates his 19th birthday on May 5th) was diagnosed with diabetes in 2003. He’s also had chronic renal insufficiency for the past couple of years (amongst other health conditions common to his age group), but it was diabetes that was the big game-changer in our lives.
In a single vet visit, we literally went from your typical low maintenance cat-human relationship (you know: feed, scoop, pet, play, repeat) to about as high maintenance as it gets (insulin shots every 12 hrs, testing, fretting over food, crying, lots of vet visits, more worrying, more testing, more crying). Out of all that developed one of the deepest, most loving, and most intense relationships I’ve ever had with another living being.
How did Aztec become a special needs cat?
I initially realized something was fishy when the water bowl needed more frequent filling. But it was a cold February and the air was dry. I tried to rationalize it away as evaporation, except for the glaring fact that I was also scooping out bigger and heavier bags of litter every day. So off to the vet we go, where I learned that yes, cats really can get diabetes. And I was about to get a crash course in managing it.
It turned out that the dry food Aztec ate for the first 10 years of his life caused his pancreas to “burn out”.
Since cats are obligate carnivores, their entire physiology is uniquely geared to eating a high protein, low carb diet (think fresh juicy rodents/birds/lizards). A lifetime of churning out far more insulin than nature intended can result in excessive weight gain, insulin-resistant cells, and an exhausted pancreas no longer able to keep pace with the demand. Of course, I found all this out afterward!
Some cats go into diabetic remission once they’re switched to a species-appropriate diet, but that was not to be the case for Aztec. Nine years later, I still wake up at 5 am every single day (yup, even weekends, and even if I’m deathly ill) to give him his injection.
What special care does Aztec need?
For diabetes, Aztec gets 1 unit of Levemir insulin every 12 hours, after I test his blood sugar using a human glucometer (requires just a tiny prick to the edge of his ear).
He eats strictly low-carb wet food: commercial raw for meals and high-quality canned (no “prescription” diets necessary) for snacking in between. This hasn’t changed with the CKD, since low-protein kidney diets actually do more harm than good and their use with cats is based on faulty science. Cats NEED protein, even more so when they’re elderly and/or ill.
Aztec also gets acupuncture and various supplements (CoQ10, taurine, B12 injections, probiotics) for his renal issues, as well as osteopathy and Adequan for arthritis. Flower essences and homeopathic remedies are used as needed.
Vet visits tend to be fairly frequent: at least every 6 months to his regular vet and more often to his holistic one. He’s become much better about going than he used to be. Sometimes he even purrs and gives the vet head butts!
That special bond…
Being the primary caregiver for a special needs cat can be the most meaningful, heart-warming, and emotionally exhausting experience. There is a level of devotion that often goes beyond the boundaries of typical pet “ownership”. It can also be rather detrimental to one’s social life. Not everyone understands why you have to be home by a certain time every day to look after your cat, or that you can’t easily go out of town (if at all) without extensive preparations – and a lot of worrying!
Despite the challenges, caring for Aztec is also hugely rewarding and has taught me so much, not only about cat care (everything from nutrition to behavior to other feline health conditions) but also about myself. I have no doubt that I’ve become a more compassionate, more tolerant person because of it.
While I wish he could be 100 percent healthy again, I wouldn’t change our journey or our special bond for anything.
Written by sugarcatmom
Sugarcatmom is a TCS member who shares with us the story of Aztec, a beautiful senior cat with diabetes.