Zooey was 7 years, 3 months old in July 2002 when she was diagnosed in the emergency room with diabetes. She had developed an infection, lost nearly seven pounds of her almost 18 pounds, and was in precarious shape. She's a tall, long cat and when I asked if she was too heavy at 17.8 pounds the answer was no, so I'm not sure what role weight played in her illness. At first, there was hope that diabetes would go away once the infection was cured but that doesn't seem to be in the plan. Her back legs were so weak that for a couple of weeks she would only walk a couple of steps before she'd take a break.
After six weeks on antibiotics she was infection-free but still symptomatic of diabetes. That is, she didn't regain much weight for almost six months. For the first month or so she ate three times as much food as she does now, drank two bowls of water a day at least, and would wake me up at 2 am for more water. After a series of fructosamine tests, we raised her insulin from 2 to 3 units twice a day. The vet has been more concerned with her blood sugar being too low than too high.
Today, she's 15.5 pounds and I think that's a good weight for her. She's become a complete lap cat now that she can fit in my lap. Because she has sugar in her urine, she is more susceptible to bladder infections. She suffered one recently when the weather became warm. The good news is that she responded right away to antibiotics and yesterday's test show that her kidneys have fully recovered from last year's infection.
How do we manage? She has been cooperative with me at home and with the vet. Very stoic and I think understands the shots help her. However, she has her boundaries -- she doesn't like being left at the vet, especially being around other animals, and won't eat there. This means getting a blood glucose curve has been impossible. We've tried it at home but she was opposed on the second reading. So, the vet relies on fructosamine and urinalysis results. There are limits to this but it really is what her personality will allow.
This means I watch her behavior very closely. I watch how much she eats, drinks, and how she acts. Her recovery has been so gradual that most every sign moves in the "right" direction. The only incident has been the one infection, which I identified but went out of control before our appointment. I think but the vet doesn't agree, that the heat is a factor. She doesn't like to sun herself and is on the search for the coolest place in the house. However, our vet said it was not a setback.
Zooey has a sister, Franny. This has made food an issue as Zooey wants to steal Franny's food. Also, because Zooey goes to the vet more frequently, they both respond to the smells differently and aren't as close as before. I think this causes Franny more stress than Zooey. Plus, Franny was getting less attention than she was used to and I've had to make an effort to correct that. It took about eight months before I started to play with her again and she loves to play.
I think we had three turning points:
The first involves protein. She was eating a lot but not gaining weight, and we believed she was not getting enough protein. She never ate anything other than her food (dry food and a quarter can of canned food twice a day) so finding a supplement was hard. Kitten food worked for a while but she eventually rejected it because it became to rich for her stomach. I tried different snacks but they were all rejected by Zooey but loved by Franny. Finally, after Christmas I found food from Kitty Gourmet in California. It was on sale as a novelty item. Zooey loves it, Franny could care less. There is a good deal of soymeal in the food and it made Zooey feel full. So she ate less overall, began to gain weight, etc. She doesn't eat as much of the snack as before but I do think it helped a lot.
The next two involve stress. Zooey was easy to stress -- sound, anything out the routine -- and is now very relaxed. Two changes helped that part of her recovery. The phone rang all the time with hang ups, telemarketers, and real calls. I first added caller id and learned how many calls came through. After that, I turned off the ringers during the day when no one's home and added caller block to stop the high volume of unidentified callers. This has actually reduced my stress as well.
Next, was music. Franny and Zooey never have paid attention to music (our old cat loved violins) so I never thought about it for her. However, at Christmas I started playing Christmas carols from a classics station and Zooey loved it. She listened to the music and seemed incredibly relaxed. I think it blocks sounds in our apartment building, which is very quiet but she can probably hear more than I can. My mother even noticed how relaxed she was (with a smile).
These three things seemed to make a difference but are not measurable on a clinical basis. So, I earn my title as a wacky cat person.
Our vet has been great and really does care about Zooey. He is busy with other patients but is always there when I have a question or need advice. He gives me the information I need and lets me figure out what I think is best for Zooey. We agree nearly all the time. This is important because we don't have complete information that he would like. He also recommended a cat sitter who can take care of them when I'm gone so our routine stays the same. I actually think Franny & Zooey like a periodic vacation from me. They are in terrific moods when I come back. When friends watched them or I left them on their own, they meowed at me for days to voice their complaints.
It's been a cathartic experience writing Zooey's story because it has been a hard year: a time when we've had to learn how to manage a chronic disease, see Zooey in pain, and just the worry factor of not knowing. I think it takes patience, lots of love and care, and the ability to "listen" to what your pet is telling you.
-- Contributed by Kimberly