Cats are Life’s Teachers – Lessons I Learned from Penny

Me and my “Teacher” – April, 2017

 

We are coming up on one year since Penny crossed the Bridge. Has it really been a whole year? It feels like yesterday, yet it feels like a lifetime ago.

I’ve been “meaning to” write this post for a long time. Since before Penny passed. I felt now was the best time to finally get this out to the world.

Who Was the Mommy Kitten?

We once used an animal communicator to help us figure out what to do with Mischief’s behavioral issues (more on that in another post). There was a little time left after we covered everything I wanted to cover, so I asked the communicator to check in on Penny to see how she was feeling with her kidney disease. I wanted to make sure everything we were doing was helping her.
I was still on the fence about this whole animal communicator thing. And either this lady was REALLY in tune with cat breeds and behavior, or she really could communicate with them.

What she said at the end of our talk blew my mind.

“Penny feels that you are her pet and she is your master.”

Yeah, no shit?

She described Penny as strong (physically and mentally), extremely intelligent, patient, and very charismatic.

That she was. All of the above.

The animal communicator even told me that Penny felt she was VERY patient with The Kits since I rescued them and she wanted to make sure I acknowledged that!

In Tune with Penny

I often describe Penny not just as my “soul cat”, but my “soul mate” in general.

We finished each other’s sentences (if she could speak “human”) from the get-go. I understood her and she clearly understood me.

When she was still at Petsmart with the rescue and I brought the folks up to meet her and Weeny, I knew before I left that we understood each other. She used the communal litter box the volunteers set up in the cat room while they cleaned their cages. It was a hooded litter box and one of the male cats was on top of the box bullying her while she was trying to poop.

When she jumped out, she had blood and diarrhea all over her bum. I told the volunteer and helped her clean Penny up.

Before I left, Penny looked up at me. I read her eyes. “I blew it, didn’t I?”

And I told her, “No, Penny, not at all! You’re still coming home with me on Adoption Night! We will get you all fixed up!”

I knew it was stress related. She didn’t want to be there. She just arrived at Petsmart for her “big chance” a couple of weeks before I met her. Linda, the director, told me that Penny strongly protested being there every chance she got!

That day, I KNEW she was something really special.

Penny the day after we adopted her - May, 2012
Penny the day after we adopted her – May, 2012. Her eyes look sad in her early pictures. We often felt she was bonded with another cat at the rescue and was missing her friend.

Her first night home, she came out into the kitchen to talk to us. My dad looked in her eyes and said, “There’s SOMEBODY in there.”

Boy, was he was right.

I think our bond had something to do with the fact that Penny and I are both Leos. My birthday is August 7th and Penny’s was August 8th.

lesson #1 – nothing is impossible

Penny taught me, my family, her vets and the world this lesson over and over and over again.

Many of you know Penny was a diabetic cat. She was in remission, meaning she was diet controlled, when she passed away. But the road to get her there was long and difficult.

After she lost her first remission, she spent ten LONG months in insulin resistance and I couldn’t even get her “regulated”, much less back into remission.

I posted this post on Facebook just about three years ago when Penny and I were having a “pajama party”. Basically, that means that I got up in the middle of the night to test her blood glucose since her numbers were suddenly running lower than usual. What I didn’t know then was that Penny was starting to head back into remission at full speed.

At this point, she was on a high dose of Levemir because of the insulin resistance. When a diabetic cat’s numbers go into the “danger zone”, you have to feed high carb wet food, re-test in 15 minutes, and keep repeating until their numbers are in the “safe zone” and steadily rising.

We had PLENTY of these parties at 2am!! I was convinced Penny was doing it on purpose so she could enjoy her beloved Fancy Feast Gravy Lovers food, which was the high-carb wet food I used to get her blood glucose to rise.

As you can see, when my friend asked me if there was a chance at a second remission, the tone of my reply was HIGHLY doubtful. That’s because I was always told by seasoned lay people that once we lost that first remission, a second one was unlikely.

But they didn’t know my Penny.

And, apparently, neither did I!

She broke ALL of the rules. Even when she made them herself!

lesson #2 – WHEN it’s important enough, we find a way

“I CANNOT pill a cat to save my life!”

“I can’t torture my cat by poking her ears for blood multiple times per day!”

“If my cat gets kidney disease, I’ll just humanely euthanize so they don’t suffer.”

I have said ALL OF THE ABOVE before meeting Penny.

When she was diagnosed with Feline Diabetes, I was saying AND thinking that we could NEVER do all of this. The insulin injections, changing her diet, home testing…

I couldn’t even brush this cat without her biting me!

The morning after she was diagnosed and already having been unsuccessful with giving her the first insulin injection the night before, I woke up feeling hopeless. Physically sick with heartbreak, I just wanted the nightmare to end.

I really thought I was going to have to euthanize her.

i just had to figure out a way!

Then I looked into her big, green, trusting eyes.

She waited so long for this forever home with her “very own” humans.

She was only 5 years old.

When my back was to the wall, and it was either treat her diabetes or put her to sleep, I realized that it literally was DO or DIE.

So I DID.

When Penny was diagnosed with feline chronic kidney disease, I had yet another wave of self-doubt.

“I can stick a cat with needles like a pin cushion but I still can’t pill them!”

“Penny will NEVER sit through daily sub q fluids!”

Yeah?

Watch me!

She was only 7 when the vet diagnosed her with end-stage CKD and she almost died. I had to TRY. I had to give her a chance at a quality life and give us a chance at more time together.

It’s funny how what we THINK we will do changes when we are actually IN that situation, isn’t it?

Penny taught me that there is ALWAYS a solution, ALWAYS a way around what seems impossible…WHEN IT’S IMPORTANT ENOUGH TO YOU.

lesson #3 – take nothing for granted

I didn’t have enough time with both Penny AND Weeny. Weeny was only with us for 3 1/2 years when she succumbed to mast cell cancer, and Penny was only with us for 5 1/2 years.

I really thought I would grow old with Penny and Weeny!

Yet, it’s funny…I remember looking at Weeny one night, shortly before she was diagnosed with cancer, and could not picture her as a senior cat. It’s like I KNEW…

Weeny the Wacko being Weeny - 2013
Weeny the Wacko being Weeny – 2013

slow down…

We get so busy sometimes that we forget to stop and enjoy those little moments that make Life so great. ESPECIALLY with our pets!

Not the big moments… The LITTLE moments. Those little day to day things that help us get through even the toughest times.

Like Weeny running through the house like a little maniac, squeaking at the top of her lungs, while playing.

Like Penny and her never-ending tail wag. Her tail wagged every waking hour. And didn’t stop until she was in a DEEP sleep.

Mom bringing miller moths inside for Weeny so she could hunt. And when the miller got away, Mom and me climbing all over the furniture to bring it back down into the “little hunter’s” reach.

While testing my dying father’s blood glucose, Penny came running into the bedroom and onto the bed, trampling my poor father, because she heard the meter “beep”. She associated eating raw chicken with that “beep” because that’s how I trained her to test HER blood glucose! We ALL laughed so hard. We NEEDED that laughter! It’s one of my favorite Penny Memories!

Penny, Dad and Mom in 2013
Penny sucking up Grandpoppy Kitten’s attention while mooching turkey off of her Grandmommy Kitten – 2013

Tabby sitting half in and half out of the house to enjoy the warmth outside while still enjoying the central air conditioning inside.

Tabby sitting outside - 2011
You thought I was kidding? Tabby enjoying the heat and AC at the same time on the back step – 2011

These little moments make rough days bearable.

Which is why I share them each day on social media.

lesson #4 – live in the moment

This is quite possibly the most life-changing and important lesson I’ve learned IN MY LIFE.

This is one I’ve always struggled to put into practice.

how humans live

In 12-Step recovery, we learn “One Day at a Time” or “ODAT”.

And I suffer from the disease of “projection”.

Projecting the outcome of a situation before it even happens. And, of course, it’s NEVER a happy outcome! Example: The phone rings and before even looking at the caller ID, I think it’s a bill collector or work calling me in.

My mom is very guilty of this one, which is where I probably got it from. EVERY SINGLE YEAR, in August, she starts talking about how Winter is here and the days are getting shorter. Yet, sunset in NJ in August is STILL close to 8pm and it’s usually 90+ degrees when Mom starts her “Winter Talk”!

Dreading Monday when I wake up on Sunday morning.

A LOT of us do this!!

how cats live

Cats don’t don’t live in the past or future like we do! They only know the moment! Penny didn’t anticipate her death, even though it was imminent for almost two years!

The Yard Cats don’t care if the forecast is calling for rain the next seven days. They are just enjoying the nice sunny and warm weather they are experiencing RIGHT NOW.

Trouble, Oreo and Rascal
(Outside) L-R: Trouble and Oreo
(Inside) Rascal. Trouble and Oreo enjoying a rare warm Winter day in 2018, just a few weeks before Oreo crossed The Bridge.

There’s one thing to plan for the future. Of course we should! It’s necessary for a successful and happy life!

But so is LIVING IN THE MOMENT.

Since Penny came into my life, I make a conscious effort to stay in the moment more often!!

lesson #5 – the strong don’t give up – ever!

Penny is one of THE strongest souls that ever came in to my life. No understatement!

As many times as Penny’s health knocked her down…with the diabetes, spinal arthritis, dental problems, digestive issues and then kidney disease, she ALWAYS got back up swinging.

As if to say, “Is that all you got?”

She was a force to be reckoned with in every way. Ask any of the vets and vet techs that ever worked with her. Ask Linda, the director of Jersey State Animal Rescue, the rescue I adopted her from!

In her final weeks, when she really started to decline, she didn’t give up. Whenever she felt well enough, she tried to eat, tried to participate with the family, and even hunted.

Penny taught The Kits to hunt black crickets by the basement door where they got in. She taught them to catch their prey and bring it upstairs. (Penny would bring them up, howling with the live bug in her mouth, with its little legs dangling out of her mouth!) One night, about a week before she passed, Mischief caught one and proudly brought it up to the kitchen.

Penny was really sick at this point. But once she heard Mischief bring the cricket upstairs, she came out from her hiding spot and snatched the cricket right out from under Mischief’s nose and ate it alive.

The night before she passed, she hunted a flying bug in the kitchen. She was so sick and at that point, she wasn’t eating anymore. But she STILL had the desire and ability to do what cats are born to do, which is to HUNT.

she just didn’t give up!

In her final moments, in so much pain and so sick, she still managed to jump up on the windowsill to watch the squirrels outside.

She watched those squirrels during her last conscious moments.

To the very end, Penny NEVER gave up.

When Life gets gnarly, as it often does, I will remember that.

It will give me the strength to KEEP pushing forward, even when I want to give up!

A Lifetime

I only touched on a few of the MAJOR lessons. I could, and really should, write a book on this topic. At some point, I’m sure, I WILL.

“People are put into our life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime.”

So are our pets. And most of the time, it’s only a “season”.

But the “reason” is evident.

And the lessons are a “lifetime”!

Penny sitting in the window bird watching in 2013
Penny sitting in the window bird watching in 2013

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All treatments, foods and supplements mentioned in this blog are based on my own research, experience and done with my vet’s knowledge and consent. Consult with your vet as necessary.

 

 

Treating Stage 4 Feline Chronic Kidney Disease – Penny’s Regimen

 

Penny May 2012
Penny in May 2012-soon after I adopted her.
 Disclaimer

My experience with treating Penny is NOT a substitute for veterinary advice or treatment. Please consult with your vet when treating Feline Chronic Kidney Disease (Feline CKD) or any other ailment.

Introduction

I am part of a Feline Chronic Kidney Disease Support Group on FB and every day I see posts from pet parents of newly diagnosed Stage 4 CKD kitties. Often, their vets give them no hope.

Penny's blood work results after starting treatment.
Look how much her values dropped three weeks after we started treatment and after her much-needed dental!

I’ll start with this – We are taught to treat the CAT, not the “numbers” (meaning, their kidney values). Although I don’t think my vets could have never imagined in a million years that Penny would have gone on to live such a quality life for 20 months after she was diagnosed, they never let on to me that her situation was “hopeless”.

All of Penny’s treatments became such a part of the routine. I already forgot some details  since she crossed the Rainbow Bridge November, 2017, so I decided to bust out all of my notes and her worksheets (yes, I kept worksheets) to refresh my memory and blog about her treatment so that I could easily share with others.

There were issues that cropped up along the way. Feline CKD is progressive, and as their kidney function diminishes, new secondary illnesses can develop. When she was first diagnosed, she was not anemic. Even at the end she was only slightly anemic but didn’t require medication. Knowledge is POWER when advocating for our pets!  I learned how to read her blood work results and sometimes would find things that the vet missed, including a low-normal hematocrit reading just a few months after she was diagnosed with CKD. You will see that I included B-complex in her regimen, with my vet’s blessing, when I saw her borderline anemia start to develop. I believe that was an integral part of preventing anemia that is so common in CKD cats.

She also developed hypertension secondary to the kidney disease progression about six months after she was diagnosed. Her symptoms were similar to a minor stroke in cats. She had a couple of seizure-like episodes followed by an unstable gait (she was actually stumbling around trying to re-orient herself). These episodes would be over as quickly as they started. I took her to the vet the very next morning and had a blood pressure check done. Her symptoms resolved and never returned once she started treatment for hypertension and her blood pressure remained well-controlled.

I will not be including her Feline Diabetes treatment in this post. If you have a diabetic cat and would like to see her insulin dosage and blood glucose readings, click Here. For more on our Feline Diabetes journey, see Feline Diabetes Category-Penny & The Kits.

Penny’s Treatment

At the time we began treatment, Penny was 15lbs. As she lost much-needed weight (her “ideal weight” was 12lbs), her fluids and Adequan doses were adjusted with my vet’s supervision.

MORNING:
  • Breakfast: 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon Miralax mixed in her breakfast on an as-needed basis**
  • 9am: Amlodipine 1.25mg, 1/6 Sundown Naturals B-Complex. I used a Size 3 Gel Cap and put both medicines inside so I was only pilling her once. Watch Pill Time here!
  • 11am: 150ml lactated ringer’s solution subcutaneously. As she lost weight, the dosage was adjusted. Generally, we stuck to the golden rule of 10ml per pound of body weight. Watch Penny getting fluids here!
EVENING:
  • Half hour before her dinner: Pepcid 2.5mg. It’s more effective to give Pepcid on an empty stomach, if possible. This was to combat the excess stomach acid that is common with CKD kitties. I also would get up around 3am to feed her a wet meal (she was a social eater so wouldn’t eat all night when I slept) since stomach acid tends to really bother empty stomachs. She very rarely vomited and when she did, it was typically just a hairball (she was a Maine Coon, after all!)
  • Bedtime: Renadyl, 1 capsule mixed with food. I used Weruva Cats in the Kitchen gravy pouches that I purchased from Chewy.com because it mixed easily with the gravy. For more information on how Azodyl/Renadyl can help, click here. Scroll down to the “Probiotics and Prebiotics” section. I chose Renadyl because I only had to give it once per day (rather than three times) and it’s less expensive than Azodyl. I firmly believe it did make a difference for Penny!
WEEKLY:
  • I gave Penny a B12 injection (0.25ml) once per week. This was recommended by both Tanya’s Comprehensive Guide to Kidney Disease as well as my vet. My vet recommends B12 injections for any cat with chronic disease. Penny was actually taking B12 before her CKD diagnosis because of her diabetes.
MONTHLY:
  • Penny was taking Adequan-Canine injections every four weeks for spinal arthritis. It was a Godsend for her. Up until her last day she was still jumping on windowsills to bird watch and had no problem keeping up with The Kits without the assistance of ANY painkillers! If you have a cat with arthritis, PLEASE inquire with your vet about Adequan!
Penny on High Tower
Penny up on “High Tower”, the highest vertical point in the house!
Special Notes
 PENNY’S DIET

Since Penny was diagnosed at Stage 4 with a very high phosphorus level, I immediately switched her kibble from Young Again Zero (Carb) to Young Again Zero (Carb) Mature Health, which has a phosphorus level of 0.5%. The phosphorus level is the same, if not lower, than the “prescription” diets, yet was still low-carb for her Feline Diabetes. Often, food the vets and experts recommend for CKD kitties isn’t the best for diabetic kitties, especially the “prescription” diets. Most diets formulated for CKD cats are entirely too high-carb for ANY cat, much less a diabetic cat! When feeding a cat with BOTH conditions, it’s important to feed for the diabetes FIRST. If I lost control of her blood glucose levels, glucose would have spilled into her urine, which would only advance the kidney disease that much quicker.

I was able to switch her wet food to the lower phosphorus/lower carb Weruva and Fussie Cat flavors at first. After a while, she started refusing any of the foods that were low-carb and low-phos. I had to switch her back to Fancy Feast Classic pates (her favorite wet food). Fancy Feast is very high in phosphorus, so I added in an aluminum hydroxide (ALOH) binder. I mixed in max dose split between four wet mini meals per day. I purchased the ALOH online from Thriving Pets.

MIRALAX FOR CONSTIPATION AND OTHER DIGESTIVE ISSUES

**Re: Miralax and constipation. Penny had a slight case of IBD. The day I decided to adopt her, she had a very loose bloody stool while I was at the Pet Smart adoption center visiting her. When I took her to her first vet visit, her anal glands impacted and infected. Poop consistency is VERY important for a cat with IBD who has problems with their anal glands. Normally, a cat’s anal glands will extract when they poop, but when the poop is too soft there is enough pressure to properly extract them. If I didn’t see Penny poop for more than 48 hours, I would start Miralax at a more aggressive dose, but I had to be careful not to use too much so her poop wouldn’t get too soft. The dose I listed is a recommended maintenance dose. Ask your vet about using Miralax for your cat.

A note on using slippery elm bark (SEB), which recommended by MANY lay people and “cat experts” on the internet and social media. For a short while, I had decided to try slippery elm bark for Penny in lieu of using Pepcid since I’m a big fan of safe and effective holistic treatments. Slippery elm bark is good for everything from nausea and stomach acid to diarrhea and/or constipation. I know a lot of people who have used it on their cats with great success. However, I’m not one of them. Penny developed the worst case of constipation she ever had while taking SEB – to the point that she stopped eating completely for a day, so we had to discontinue and treat her stomach acid with more traditional drugs.

Quality of Life was Our Goal

As you can see with the videos I included, Penny’s treatments were not stressful for me OR her. She was easy to bribe with raw chicken or Fancy Feast Broths, which made treating her health issues SO much easier for us! The pills, fluids, etc became just a regular part of our day.

Up until Penny, I had never been able to successfully give cats medication on a consistent basis. She was so young when she was diagnosed with Feline Diabetes (5yrs old) and Feline CKD (7yrs old) that I had to figure out what works for US so that I could extend her quality of life for as long as possible.

I had decided in the beginning that I would continue this treatment regimen for as long as it worked to keep her feeling great. If it had worked for ten more years, we would have kept going, but when everything I did no longer worked, it would be “time”.

In hindsight, I’m glad that I made that decision early and stuck by that decision when I was losing Penny and couldn’t think objectively or unselfishly.

Penny was a kitty of grace and dignity. I made SURE she maintained her dignity throughout her entire illness. I’m proud of the fact that we maintained her quality of life for so long. Since cats live in the moment and don’t fear death like we do, it is ALWAYS important to consider that above ALL else when our fur babies get sick. As their trusted parents, caregivers, servants (lol), we OWE them that!

Penny's 9th Birthday Picture
Penny’s 9th Birthday Picture. This was a BIG deal because I didn’t think she would make it to age 9!

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My Baby – My Soul Mate – Was Diagnosed With Feline Kidney Disease

 

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I’ll admit I’ve been putting off this post. I was hoping that when I typed this particular post that I could report that Penny was still doing really well. Tomorrow will be two years since she was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney disease.

Instead, I lost her on November 15, 2017.

I’d like to share what I posted on Facebook a year ago today..

Penny-February 2017. One year after her kidney disease diagnosis.

Penny in all her scruffy splendor after trying to mooch lunch off of me this afternoon. And just about a year ago today she was diagnosed with Stage 4 chronic kidney disease and we didn’t think she’d be here another week or month much less a year!

Her kidney values still suck, it’s progressive and incurable, but clinically she’s been doing very well and even gaining weight she doesn’t need to gain. Her diabetes is still in remission, playing with The Kits and just living her happy, spoiled life. She takes her sub-q fluids and meds really well because she likes the reward she gets afterwards! Bribery will get you everywhere with this cat!! 😂😂

I don’t know what tomorrow or next week or next month will bring with Penny, but if you had told me a year ago when she was very sick and dying that she would live an A+ quality of life for another year, I would have told you that you were nuts!

She has taught me so much about life and being resilient. About having a positive attitude. About doing things you never thought you could. Because a year ago I thought that I could “never” give a cat a pill or subcutaneous fluids and I thought that her life would be sheer misery with all the meds etc. Yet all of her treatments take less than 10 mins per day and she gets to enjoy the other 23 hours and 50 minutes each day like there’s nothing wrong.

She lives in the moment. And I’ve learned to do that WITH her. With Weeny, I spent her last days mourning her. I won’t do that with Penny. I will mourn her when it’s “time”. Today I just enjoy her living her happy life!

She has shown me what strength and resilience look like. And, most importantly, she has shown me what’s possible when there is LOVE.

She is the strongest, toughest, most hard-headed daughter I’ve ever had and I love her for it!!

This still stands true. I would do it ALL over again for her. I would have done it for another ten years if I could have sustained the quality of life she enjoyed while she was “sick”.

I always said that if I had a cat diagnosed with kidney disease (Penny was my first), I would just put them to sleep rather than torturing them with fluids and pills and vet visits, etc.

It’s funny how quickly what you think you “would have” done changes when you’re actually faced with the situation.

Back to 2016

Penny was only 7 years old when she was diagnosed. And if I had gotten better control of her diabetes when she came out of that first remission, she may not have been faced with her death sentence at such a YOUNG age. (Read about Penny’s Feline Diabetes)

When I got the news that she was “end stage”, I was DEVASTATED. Penny was overdue for a dental when I had taken her to the vet. She had stopped eating, was very depressed and lethargic, started hiding and being anti social, and was drinking what seemed like GALLONS of water, even though her diabetes was under good control at that point.

The whole time she was dealing with insulin resistance, I knew it was only a matter of time before her kidneys would show some damage. She had blood work done just seven or eight months before and her kidneys were fine. I could not believe she had gone from “fine” to Stage 4 kidney disease that quickly, but she did.

I took her to her old vet for a second opinion. One of the issues on the table was that dental. She really NEEDED it because she had an infected tooth and significant inflammation.

I Had to Trust my Instincts

Everybody was telling me to admit her to the hospital for IV fluids to try to flush out her kidneys. The problem was that Penny was on insulin at the time. Since she wasn’t eating much, I was not able to give her the full dose of insulin. I had to test her blood glucose like crazy to make sure she stayed safe. A lot of dosing decisions I made at that time were based on my knowledge on how Penny responded to insulin and my gut instincts.

There was NO WAY I was going to admit her to a hospital and have a vet who was not familiar with PENNY’S diabetes and who didn’t live, eat, and breathe this disease day in and day out for 2 1/2 years administer Penny insulin. The only way I could guarantee her safety was to keep her home. If she died at home because she was not getting her kidneys flushed, so be it. I was NOT going to take a chance of Penny dying alone in a cage from insulin shock!

Not with Penny’s history at the rescue. Not with her separation anxiety.

My vets agreed with me on this issue. They knew that nobody could handle Penny’s diabetes better than I could. However, on the Facebook support group, I had people telling me that my cat was going to die if I didn’t admit her.

This is one of those instances where you have to trust your gut instincts and PRAY.

FIND A WAY!

Penny was prescribed sub q fluids, phosphorus binder, Cerenia for nausea, an antibiotic to get the tooth infection in check, and was given an appointment for her dental a few days after her diagnosis.

And I was wondering if this would be it. Was I going to lose her so suddenly?

Especially because I didn’t “think” I could pill a cat or give subcutaneous fluids. I was never successful in pilling a cat before and had never given sub q’s before. It was very scary. I thought I’d be spending hours per day chasing her around for her treatments while she hid in terror from me. And I almost gave up.

Until I looked into her big, round, emerald green trusting eyes. And I remembered that promise I made to her the day I saw her at Pet Smart and knew that we belonged together.

One of the biggest lessons Penny ever taught me is the old, “When it’s important enough, you find a way!”

And that we did.

I watched a bunch of YouTube videos on how to give sub q fluids to a cat. Those well behaved kitties on YouTube were NOT my feisty, bossy Penny! I watched videos on how to pill a cat and give liquid meds. Here I was…a PRO at giving her injections and testing her blood sugar, yet I couldn’t medicate her! Even then I had to laugh at myself.

Here are some REAL LIFE videos for ya!

Giving Sub Q Fluids to a Difficult Cat

Pill Time!!

WHEN IT’S IMPORTANT, YOU FIND A WAY.

And our “way” was BRIBERY. Just like with everything else I’ve done with Penny. As long as there’s something in it for her to enjoy when it’s over, she will cooperate. She was a VERY smart girl. But I will never forget the first time we did Penny’s sub q fluids. I was shaking the entire time. I knew SO, SO much rode on us being able to give her fluids daily. Fluids are the single most important treatment you can do for a cat in late-stage kidney disease. I was so excited when we were finished successfully giving her fluids the first time that I totally annoyed Penny praising her!

Penny sniffing her sub q fluid bag
Penny with her fluid bag just after we successfully did sub q fluids for the very first time!

I will get into detail in another post about Penny’s specific treatments. I learned everything I know from Tanya’s Comprehensive Guide to Kidney Disease and the sister Facebook page, Feline Chronic Kidney Disease. Of course, I never started ANY new treatment without discussing with my vet first and getting their FULL blessing. Luckily, my vets were well versed with Tanya’s site, so that made them going along with my ideas much easier.

I wanted to get Penny more “stable” before we attempted that much-needed dental. I was so afraid of losing her at the vet that I almost risked her life. I cancelled the dental that she had scheduled five days after her diagnosis.

Many of you who follow the blog, know me personally, or follow our Facebook page know that I don’t always trust vets. I don’t always trust lay people, either.

That Life-Saving Phone Call

But when Dr. Jared called me from his home at 10pm the night before she was originally scheduled for her dental, I had to at least listen. He felt very strongly that if Penny had ANY chance of pulling through for a while that she had to have this dental. He even offered to go in on his day off to oversee her surgery if I would just agree to do it. She would have TWO vets making sure she pulled through.

Knowing that an out of control infection can just damage the kidneys further, and putting some really blind faith into Dr. Jared because he was just so convincing, I agreed to bring her in for that dental the next morning.

Boy, did I CRY. I sat on eggshells and was a nervous, shaking wreck ALL DAY. The vet said they would call me when she was done and by 4pm I hadn’t heard anything. I was literally SICK with worry.

They FINALLY called me back around 5pm and told me she pulled through just fine. Two years later, and I’m actually crying as I type this. I REMEMBER the feeling of RELIEF I experienced when I heard she was fine. She had a much tougher time recovering from this dental. She had five extractions and significant infection. It would be a few weeks before she would eat anything besides Weruva Cats in the Kitchen gravy pouches. I had them on auto-ship from Chewy.com and we were blowing through up to six pouches per day just to keep her nourished. I must say, the gravy from those pouches alone was enough to keep her out of fatty liver disease until she started eating normally again.

She also took much longer to clear the anesthesia from this dental than her first one in 2013. Likely because her kidneys were so compromised.

Living Our “New Normal”

She did bounce back, though. By mid-March, her kidney values had decreased significantly from “off the charts on on death’s door” to a high-Stage 3. In one way that was good news…the treatments were working! But I remember my heart broke all over again when we got her results. I had been hoping against hope that it was acute kidney failure and that this would “go away”, but the test results just confirmed her death sentence.

Copy of Penny's Blood Work
Penny’s Blood Work Re Check from March. You can see I wrote in her old values from her diagnosis blood work.

“Treat the cat, not the numbers.” I read that on Tanya’s site. I heard it repeatedly on the Facebook support group.

And it’s very true.

She lived her best life yet between her diagnosis and her passing. We had our hiccups. Like when she appeared to be having seizures or mini strokes and we learned that she had developed hypertension secondary to the kidney disease. We had to change and/or add some treatments as the blood values showed progression after a year of being stable at a low-Stage 4.

Treat the cat, not the numbers.

Rescuing The Kits had been very good for Penny. For two years prior to their rescue, we had experienced death in our family. First my dad. Then Checkers. Then Weeny. The Kits brought LIFE back into the house. They helped with Mom’s depression after losing Dad. Penny was running, playing, taking jumps I never thought she could take, being spoiled, helping me raise The Kits, and eating enough to choke a horse. She was still gaining weight in the Fall to prepare for Winter. If you didn’t look in her litter box or see her blood work results, you would NEVER know that she was “sick”.

Penny in her favorite spot at the top of the living room cat tree – March 2017

She had earned the nickname of “The Comeback Kid” by her vet.

She amazed me EVERY SINGLE DAY with her will to win.

Her Final Decline

Which made it that much harder when she started her final decline in the Fall of 2017. Was she just crashing or was this IT? Would she bounce back this time? When was it time? Was she suffering? I had made her final appointment two other times before we actually followed through with it. And each time, her vet was so happy to hear she had rallied yet again. After all, she was The Comeback Kid!

I ANGUISHED over “The Decision”. When you’re hurting and you see the love of your life hurting, it makes it extremely difficult to know when to make that VERY final decision.

I had to recall what I decided back when she was living her quality life. I always said that when the treatments stopped working, it would be “time”.

It was a very difficult decision to stick to when faced with the fact that I would no longer see her face everyday…when she would no longer trip me or nag me for food.

When my little Soul Mate would no longer be by my side 24/7.

When her quality of life was no longer there, it was “time”. Whether I liked it or not. I kept putting off the final appointment when she would show me she was still interested in living after spending hours or days hiding and hunched in pain.

Even when the vet was en route, even when he was here, I was doubting myself.

She panicked when the vet got here. She calmed down when she figured out it was her favorite vet, but she still didn’t like it very much. Mentally, she was NOT ready to go and I don’t think she ever would have been. She spent her last conscious moments watching squirrels and listening to my awful rendition of “Earth Angel”. HER song.

It wasn’t until after she passed that I was sure I made the right decision. I scooped the litter boxes. Throughout her entire illness, she was always good for 6-8 ginormous “pee balls” a day. In the 24 hours prior to her passing, she had only produced two.

Her kidneys were just days or hours away from shutting down completely.

It Was ALL Worth It!

I still feel like we won. Because up until that last month, she spent 20 months living her life and didn’t care that she was “sick”.

It was worth all of the treatments, vet visits, heartbreak and triumphs to have that time with her. Like I said earlier, I would do it all over again for Penny.

I miss her more than I ever thought I could miss anybody…even my dad, who I was close with as an adult. This has been a very painful week for me, reliving what happened.

But if our story saves another cat’s life…If our story gives someone else the hope and strength to fight…reliving this pain is ALL worth it.

When she was hiding and sick in that final decline, I recall feeling like Penny was holding on because she didn’t want to leave the home that she had waited SO long for in her 3 1/2 years at the rescue.

I told her she didn’t have to. I told her that even though she had to leave her body, she never had to leave her home. This is her FOREVER home. Which means FOREVER.

Penny napping with Patchy March 2016
Penny and Patchy – March 2016

If you follow us on Facebook, you know that she understood and listened. Shadows and orbs show me that Penny didn’t go anywhere. She is still VERY MUCH here! And that has made all of this just a little more bearable.

Rest In Paradise, my Precious Pup.

**This post contains affiliate links, which means we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. We only recommend products that we use and wholeheartedly believe in!**

All treatments, foods and supplements mentioned in this blog are based on my own research, experience and done with my vet’s knowledge and consent. Consult with your vet as necessary.

 

 

 

 

Vet Care – Be Your Pet’s Advocate…It May Save Her Life!

close up of Junior at emergency vet
My aunt’s cat, Junior, at the emergency vet.

 

If only I knew then what I know now. How many times do we say that in our lifetime?

Junior’s Story

I’d like to share a story. The cat in the picture above is Junior. He was one of my feral cats who came here in 2016. Soon after he was neutered, he suddenly turned into a love bug with me and Mom (not so much with the other ferals) so I adopted him out to my aunt.

Last year, my aunt had asked me to meet her at our regular vet. She was concerned because she found that Junior had been snacking on her Peace Lily plant and had since stopped eating and was lethargic. My first thought, as well as the receptionist at our vet’s, was, “Oh no! LILY! Kidney failure!” My aunt had already paid $55 to the Animal Poison Control line and had a case number for the vet to reference. The receptionist on duty directed us to the emergency vet 45 minutes away without even calling Animal Poison Control to get direction.

I admit I walked in there on guard. I have had plenty of BAD experiences at emergency vets and I really DO reserve them for emergencies because of the expense and price gouging that occurs in my area.

When we were taken back to the exam room, I told my aunt not to commit to admitting him without my seeing his blood work first. We had a LONG wait because they messed up the results of his first blood panel and had to re-run it. I think we waited at least three hours just to see the blood work results. While we waited, I decided to start playing Dr Google on my phone.

I was AMAZED at what I had found out. Although lilies are toxic to cats and cause kidney failure, Peace Lilies are not really a lily. Therefore, although they cause unpleasant side effects, they do not cause kidney failure in cats. The side effects include “Oral irritation, intense burning and irritation of mouth, tongue and lips, excessive drooling, vomiting, difficulty swallowing.” (Source ASPCA – Peace Lily)

When the vet FINALLY came in with his blood work, she reported everything was “within normal limits”. Since she couldn’t figure out WHY he had stopped eating, she recommended admitting him to do IV fluids (even though his liver and kidney values were FINE), more blood work, x-ray, CT scan… You get the idea, right? I could almost hear a cash register ringing each test up as she mentioned them.

Cha-ching! Cha-ching! Cha-ching!

I asked the vet for a copy of the blood work and an estimate before we made any decisions. Of course, she didn’t bring the results into the room with her, so we waited another half hour just for her to bring back a piece of paper.

At this point, I should bring up that my aunt is 75 years old, retired, and on a fixed income. So when the vet re-appeared with normal blood work, an estimate for $1800-$2200 and yet another recommendation to admit, I asked again why the vet felt that he should be admitted. She reiterated that she didn’t know why he was not eating and needed to run tests.

I showed her what I found on ASPCA’s website about Peace Lily poisoning. She had the case number from Animal Poison Control and had consulted with them already. I asked her (and I think I backed her into a corner at this point because I was fuming), “You mean to tell me that the intense burning he’s feeling in his mouth, throat, esophagus and GI tract ISN’T causing his loss of appetite??”

She said, “No. I think it is completely unrelated.”

HELLO??? Whatever happened to common sense?

I asked her if HER mouth, throat, and GI tract felt like they were on fire, would she have an appetite? She never did answer me.

I told her I wanted him to receive 100ml of sub q fluids, a Pepcid injection for the heart burn, and a Cerenia injection for the nausea. I told her my aunt was on a fixed income and I was SURE that once the burning passed that he would feel like eating again and if he didn’t, we would come back. Admission wasn’t necessary.

She left the room to get his meds and sent two vet techs in to do his fluids.

Man, how her attitude CHANGED when she came back in. She started the discharge instructions by saying that she still thought he should be admitted. And I cut her off and told her that my aunt didn’t have the money and it wasn’t necessary. After that, she got downright rude with me. She explained the treatments she was giving him (uh, they were MY idea) and blah blah blah.

My aunt was charged $350 for that visit.

Had I not been there to advocate for my aunt and Junior, they would have gotten a retired women who lives alone and on a fixed income for upwards of $2000.

Do I even have to tell you that Junior was fine the next day and hasn’t had a problem in almost a year now?

And Then There’s Penny

Penny would have died four years ago had I blindly listened to a vet without doing my homework and talking to lay people who live Feline Diabetes day in and day out. You can read more at Our Introduction to Feline Diabetes.

Penny would have died two years prematurely had I blindly listened to a 2nd opinion vet who suggested that I give her 400ml of sub q fluids daily when she “crashed” and was diagnosed with stage 4 kidney disease. (The maximum “safe” amount for Penny’s weight would have been 150ml daily).

The vet also recommended that I admit her for IV fluids, which is common practice and normally beneficial for a cat who in a “crash”. However, Penny was on insulin at the time. Since she was not eating her usual amount, her blood glucose levels were dropping low and I had to follow my gut with her insulin dosing to keep her safe. I knew her diabetes very well and knew her “trends”. This is something a vet tech who was not familiar with Penny would not be able to do as well as I could. If Penny were admitted to the hospital, there would be nobody with her overnight to monitor her blood glucose and I couldn’t take that chance. Once I explained all of that to the vet and showed him her blood glucose spreadsheet, he agreed with me.

Penny sniffing her sub q fluid bag
Penny with her fluid bag just after we successfully did sub q fluids for the very first time!

He respected my opinion and admitted that he didn’t think of the insulin issue and the potential for hypoglycemia without somebody there to monitor. That is a vet whose ego does not get in the way of his work. We treated her safely on home sub q’s, although I did the recommend 10ml per pound of body weight rather than the vet’s suggested 400ml daily.

Taz Would Have Lived a Better Life

My Taz (1996-2007) would have lived a much better quality of life if I played Dr. Google back in 1997 when he was blocked with struvite crystals. The treating vet taught me a lot about urinary tract blockages and how to prevent future episodes. What they DIDN’T teach me was how to prevent the urinary tract infections he was riddled with for the rest of his life.

In 2006, Taz became very ill and stopped eating. My vet could not figure out what was wrong and recommended I ship him off to a veterinary diagnostic hospital up in Ocean County, which was a good hour from where we lived. I opened up a Care Credit that day and took him up there. Five days later, I picked up a terrified and still sick Taz. My new Care Credit was maxed out at $5000 already. He rallied for nine months, but eventually passed away from this mystery disease. The outcome would have been different if I had just asked questions and gotten online to LEARN. It turned out he had liver disease. I could have learned about feline nutrition and how to properly medicate a cat without terrorizing him. But I didn’t. I was told nothing else could be done. I blindly trusted the vets.

Taz September 2000
My Taz in September, 2000

Live and learn.

This is not to bash vets. AT ALL. Like I’ve said before, I could not do their job. God bless them. There are MANY phenomenal vets in the world who treat their patients like their own pets. But I have learned through experience that every cat is different. Some vets see hundreds of patients per week. Including OUR pets. They aren’t given extensive training in specialized diseases such as Feline Diabetes. They aren’t given extensive training in feline nutrition. And since they get a commission for every bag of “prescription food” they sell, I have to wonder if they truly have our pets’ interests at heart when those foods are filled with slop that I wouldn’t feed my worst enemy.

Vets, much like doctors, surgeons, and weather people, are HUMAN. And not always RIGHT.

On The Flip Side..

When my Penny “crashed” and was diagnosed with Stage 4 kidney disease just about two years ago, her vet felt strongly that she needed an emergency dental if she had a chance of pulling through the crash. I had originally cancelled her surgery. He was so adamant about it that he called me at 10pm at night from home to try and talk me into it. He offered to go in to work on his day off to oversee her dental since a less experienced vet was scheduled for the surgery. I had a tough time taking a risk like that with my bad experiences with previous vets, but my gut was telling me that Dr Jared was probably right.

I took her for that emergency dental the next day. And cried and prayed all day long. I didn’t want her last moments to EVER be at the vet or in a cage, alone and scared. She pulled through. And lived 20 more quality months before she crossed the Bridge. I don’t believe we would have ever had that time together had I not listened to my vet that night.

Robyn kissing Penny on the head-Feb 2016
Penny & Me – February 2016 about a week after her emergency dental.

So what’s my point here?

We have to advocate for our pets like we would advocate for our sick parents (been there, done that too!), sick children, and ourselves. Ultimately, the decisions are OURS.

We have something with our pets that no vet will ever have with them – an emotional bond. They are our FAMILY. It’s okay to ask questions to fully understand what is going on. It’s okay to admit that you play Dr Google and discuss what you learn online with your vet. Any GOOD vet will RESPECT that and listen to your concerns.

My vets all know that I know my stuff. They know I play Dr Google. They know that I’ve managed Penny’s diabetes and kidney disease from things I’ve learned online and from lay people. I’ve ALWAYS cleared these treatments with my vets first. They respect that I do my homework, ask smart questions, and take the time to educate myself and understand everything so that I can better help my pets.

I have good vets. I’m very lucky. If I ever came across a vet who didn’t respect and understand that I advocate for my pets, they would never see me or my pet again.

At the end of the day, WE are responsible for our pets’ well being. The vets are there to help. But we make the final decisions.

Don’t be afraid to do your homework before allowing a vet to treat your pet. Please don’t be afraid to speak up. Your pet is DEPENDING on YOU!

Spunky and Robyn selfie Jan 2016
Spunky and me – Jan 2016. She was about 8 months old in this picture!

 

 

 

 

Home Testing Your Diabetic Cat – Why It’s SO Important

Penny with her blood glucose test showing she was back in remission
May 2016-Penny achieving her SECOND remission from Feline Diabetes and showing off her new “OTJ” Party Hat! OTJ=Off The Juice (insulin)

 

Even though Penny has crossed the Rainbow Bridge, I’m still a member of the Feline Diabetes Facebook Page and Feline Diabetes Message Board because I want to continue to share Penny’s story to help others. I also want to stay on top of my knowledge on how to treat this disease since it’s so prevalent these days. All of it had become second-nature to me and I don’t want to lose that! You can read more about our journey with Feline Diabetes here: Feline Diabetes Category-Penny & The Kits.

I’m writing this today because I recently encountered a new member on the Facebook page whose vet had advised against home testing. And this vet has this cat, in my opinion, on a dangerously high dose of insulin. When I heard that their vet increased the dose, my heart started POUNDING. I feel it’s only a matter of time before this cat has a hypoglycemic episode and possibly sustains permanent neurological damage or dies if they don’t start home testing. If I can save ONE cat’s life with this post, my job is done.

I’ve also recruited the help of some members on the Facebook page by asking them to share some common vet or pet parent objections to home testing.

#1. The general: “You don’t need to home test because I (vet) don’t want to overwhelm you.”

I will start with my story. When Penny was diagnosed with Feline Diabetes, I FREAKED OUT. I already THOUGHT I knew enough about Feline Diabetes to know that it’s expensive, time consuming, and I’d be torturing my cat with blood glucose curves and home testing all hours of the day and night. I mean, who has time for THAT, right?

And my vet KNEW I was freaking out because it seems like it’s such a complicated disease and I was OVERWHELMED already! I think I even said to him that I would NEVER be able to home test Penny’s blood sugar because she was a “difficult” cat to handle. When my vet told me that I didn’t have to home test her, I remember saying, “Oh thank GOD!”

I went home with my insulin, needles, heartbreak and fear. That first night, I wasn’t even able to get the first shot into her.

And I’m SO glad! She was prescribed much too high of a dose of a much-too-harsh insulin for cats!

The next day I was more successful and got the insulin into her. And she SLEPT the ENTIRE day. She slept SO deeply that I thought she was dead at one point because she was so difficult to rouse. I knew enough about diabetes in general to know that her blood sugar may have dropped too low, but I had no way of knowing because I didn’t know how to home test. I remember making sure she ate that day and hopped online with a more open mind and started talking to my new Feline Diabetes friends. I came across THIS post on the Facebook page that evening..

“By a cruel turn of fate, on Thursday evening my most precious and special sweetheart Baxter went into a diabetic hypoglycemic coma and I almost lost him that night. As of now, his body vitals and sugar are stable, but he was fighting continuing seizures and was not fully conscious. We don’t know how much neurological damage has occurred and how much can be reversed. Right now it’s a waiting game. Yesterday, we saw a bit of progress for the first time. To my animal loving friends and family — I welcome all prayers for Baxter’s healing and recovery.”

Baxter before and after his hypoglycemic episode
Beautiful Baxter…the kitty who saved my Penny’s life with his story and journey back to health.

He partially recovered, but it took SEVERAL months, vet hospitalizations, vet visits, and rehab to teach Baxter how to walk, eat and groom himself again because of the neurological damage he sustained from the insulin shock. Some of the damage was permanent, including blindness. His treatment cost over $30,000.

Susan’s posts were enough to convince me that shooting insulin without home testing was downright DANGEROUS. When I adopted Penny, I promised her a happy and healthy life. I had to keep that promise to her!

I had decided that Penny will NOT get any more insulin until I switched her to a low-carb kibble I had read about, changed her insulin from Vetsulin to Lantus (much safer for kitties!) and learned how to home test.

And we did. And it saved Penny’s life MANY times. Some cats are known to spontaneously go into remission from Feline Diabetes, and Penny was one of them. Not once, but TWICE. Had I not been home testing, I would have never had four more beautiful and fun-filled years with her! See her blood glucose numbers here: Penny’s Blood Glucose Spreadsheet.

#2. “Home testing is expensive!”

Like bringing your cat to the vet every three weeks for a fructosamine test is NOT expensive? Like the $30k+ that my friend Susan spent on Baxter to save him is NOT expensive?

The meter the vets recommend, AlphaTrack (AT), is expensive, although still cheaper than NOT home testing. But many of us use human meters. There IS a variance between the human meter and the AT, but we are testing to watch trends and keep the cat safe.

I use the Relion Confirm meter, which can be purchased at Walmart. It uses the smallest blood drop of any of the human meters and the strips are under $20 for 50 of them, which is MUCH less expensive than other human meters’ strips or the AT strips!

I tested my meter against the vet’s and there was a 30-point variance. But, we also adjust the “normal” numbers accordingly based an the variance. The goal is to keep your cat under renal threshold (the point where excess glucose spills into the urine) yet keep them safe! You can learn more at Feline Diabetes Message Board.

#3: “Home testing is not as accurate as vet testing! Regular fructosamine tests are adequate.”

Let me explain something. When a diabetic becomes stressed out, their blood sugar rises. Humans, cats, dogs, armadillos (okay..not really sure about that last one but you get the point, right?) Now, think about it…when was the last time your cat was actually HAPPY about going to the vet?

Never, right?

So when you have a stressed out cat at the vet getting a blood draw, or worse yet, an 8-hour blood glucose curve, don’t you think that’s stressful for them?

Of course it is! So what do you think will happen to your diabetic cat’s blood glucose reading when she is stressed out? There is a very real thing called “vet stress”. There have been times that Penny was at the vet and her reading was around 160 because she hated the vet and hated blood draws. I would test her JUST before we left for the vet, at home under “normal” conditions, and it would be anywhere from 60-90. And when you have a vet making insulin dosing decisions based on those falsely elevated numbers taken at the vet, the result can be deadly. And I’ve seen that happen time and time again with the members of the Feline Diabetes group.

Fructosamine tests are kind of like A1c tests in humans. They only show averages to see how well the insulin is managing the diabetes. They will NOT give you data at shot time to know whether or not it’s safe to administer insulin to your cat. They will NOT tell you mid-cycle that your cat is too low and needs Karo or high carb wet food ASAP to steer them out of low numbers. Which is the MAIN reason why we test our cats! And I had been there PLENTY of times with Penny!

#4. “Home testing is too stressful for my cat! They will hate me and hide from me forever!” and any and all variations thereof.

I thought so too. But I knew we were facing life or death here. Penny was only 5 years old when she was diagnosed and too young for me to give up on her. So I watched countless YouTube videos of nice, agreeable cats sitting there like little angels while their pet parents poked and prodded their ears for blood.

THEN there’s Penny! She’s HARDLY agreeable! This is what REAL LIFE looks like…

 

My beautiful, dear sweet Penny who I couldn’t even brush without getting swatted at or a warning nip. She was the cat that the vet techs had to wear those rubber gloves up to their armpits just to handle her. The boss lady who ALWAYS had to be in charge! And I thought, “How in the world am I gonna poke her ears??”

Bribery.

Penny was a foodie. And I mean she would walk over hot coals for something she loved to eat, such as raw chicken breast. So, do you know what I did? I TRAINED her. I trained her to associate positive things with the experience. Feline Diabetes-How I Conditioned my Diabetic Cat to Home Test.

This write-up by my friend Kay also helped! Ear Testing Psychology.

It worked so well that when my diabetic dad was dying, I used her old meter to test his blood sugar. When she heard the beep of the meter, she came running from across the house and clobbered all over my poor, sick father because she thought there was raw chicken in it for HER. I kid you NOT! I used to test her after my workout, about 2pm most days. She would STALK me while I worked out, just WAITING for me to test her so that she could get her raw chicken.

Doesn’t sound too stressful, right?

Me working out with Penny rolling around on the floor.
Penny impatiently waiting for me to finish up Turbo Fire so she can get tested and have her chicken snack!

#5: “Testing the Edge of the Ear Will Cause Cancer”

Did YOU or someone you know EVER get ear cancer from having your ears pierced?

No?

I didn’t think so.

#6: “Kitties don’t like their ears being messed with!” or any other variation thereof.

I’m pretty sure kitties don’t like to be dead, either. Again, BRIBERY works wonders!

#7: “A slow acting insulin (ie Lantus or Levemir) won’t cause hypo’s.”

While Lantus and Levemir are longer acting insulins than Pro-Zinc and much safer for cats than Vetsulin/Caninsulin or Novolin, it’s still insulin and too much of ANY insulin can and will kill.

#8: “My vet told me to just watch for symptoms of a hypo.”

Okay, are you home all day with your kitty, always watching her? Are you up all night with your kitty?

Furthermore, I’ve seen countless people whose cats’ blood glucose levels drop dangerously low and they have shown NO symptoms. They would have never figured it out until it was “too late”. This has happened MANY times with Penny, as well! I’ve probably steered her out of potential hypoglycemia at least 30 times when she was heading full speed toward her second remission. And she never once showed any symptoms of low blood glucose.

#9. “It will ruin my bond with my beloved kitty!”

Robyn and Penny selfie
Penny and me taking selfies-2014

Au contraire, it will only STRENGTHEN your bond with kitty. When they told me this, I thought they were full of shit. But they were RIGHT. Although I only had Penny in my life for a short 5 1/2 years (she was 3 1/2 when I adopted her), I had a bond with her like no other being on this Earth. Between her diabetes and her kidney disease, it only strengthened over the years. Believe it.

#10: “I don’t want to hurt my kitty!”

So you’d rather kill her? Maybe I’m being flip, but, that’s always my first thought when I hear this one. Penny never once yelped or snapped when I poked her. The part she hated the most is when I held the rice sock up to her ear to warm it. Not because it was too hot; she just didn’t like me holding that thing up to her ear! I used the One Touch Delica lancing device, which seemed to be much more effective and gentle than the generic one that came with my meter. But I never hurt her. She would get a little sore when I had to test her often to steer her out of low numbers using high-carb food, but I didn’t hurt her. As long as she got her chicken afterwards, all was right in Penny’s world!

#11: Simply, “My vet told me not to!”

Vets are lifesavers. I know many vets who I respect greatly. I couldn’t do their job. However, they are not ALWAYS right. Nobody is! If they give you a reason not listed on this post, I’d love to hear it in the comments! I cannot think of ONE good reason why not to home test. And MANY good reasons why it’s SO, SO important!

BOTTOM LINE

Here it is. Would you administer insulin to yourself without knowing if it was safe to do so? Would you administer insulin to your diabetic child without knowing if it is safe to do so?

No?

Then please don’t for your cat, either!

My friend Darcy brought up an excellent point when I was looking for feedback from Feline Diabetes members on Facebook…

When Lebowski was diagnosed, I remember SO clearly…The vet came from the back and said “I’m so sorry, he has diabetes . . . ” Then SHE had the look on her face as if she’d just told me he was riddled with cancer.

I looked at her and said “Huh, well THAT sucks. Okay, what now?”

Then she smiled as I obviously was going to take this well. But I’ve never forgotten HER reaction. I almost wish that she’d have said “Okay, he has diabetes, this is NO biggie and it is totally manageable!” But that wasn’t what I got. I don’t think she knows how much HER delivery could possibly affect how clients see it.”

I know how I felt and I reacted when we got the diagnosis. The vet may as well have told me that she was going to die any minute. It’s scary and overwhelming! But, when I joined these groups and started to learn, it really all became just a regular part of our day and an intrinsic part of my thinking. When Checky was sick and was being tested for this and that and the other, I remember WISHING it was Feline Diabetes because it’s SUCH a manageable disease and remission is very possible with the right treatment and food!

Also, there are cost-effective ways to manage Feline Diabetes. I will share my tips and tricks in separate post. You can also join the Facebook page that I linked to above or join FDMB (link above). You can also like OUR Facebook page and shoot me a private message there or comment here!

Please heed the warnings of experienced people who live, eat and breathe this disease day in and day out! We see the tragic stories every day. Some of us have lost our babies to insulin shock. And people like me have learned from their mistakes to keep our cats safe! I thank God every day for people like Susan who shared her and Baxter’s journey so freely to save other cats from the same fate. Penny and I are forever indebted to Susan and Baxter and ALL of our Feline Diabetes friends!

Special Note: IF you feel that diabetes is too much of a burden to bear or you just don’t have time to treat your cat safely, PLEASE try to re-home her with somebody who you KNOW will give her the care she needs. And if you don’t know anybody, please contact an organization that works tirelessly to help diabetic cats, Diabetic Cats in Need. They also help people who want to  treat their diabetic cat but do not have the funds to do it.

 

Robyn and Penny gazing off in the distance while cuddling
Like Mommy Kitten, like daughter!

**This post contains affiliate links, which means we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. We only recommend products that we use and wholeheartedly believe in!**

We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
All treatments, foods and supplements mentioned in this blog are based on my own research, experience and done with my vet’s knowledge and consent. Consult with your vet as necessary.

Conquering Penny’s Insulin Resistance-Feline Diabetes

Picture of Penny with caption "sugar cats rule...other cats drool"

For more on Penny’s diabetes up until this point –

Our Introduction to Feline Diabetes

Penny’s Journey to Her First Remission from Feline Diabetes

Feline Diabetes – Where I Went Wrong with Penny

Okay, now that you’re up to speed…I really should write an ENTIRE book on the subject!

I may get a little technical here, but I just helped out a girl on the Feline Diabetes Facebook page who was in a very similar spot as we were. My hope is if someone else is dealing with insulin resistance with their diabetic cat that our experience will help!

Like I said in my last post, when she came out of remission, she came OUT. As in ten long months in insulin resistance OUT. My nerves were shot. I was really feeling like I would never get her regulated!

And I knew the damage was being done to her kidneys from all the excess glucose spilling into her urine.

I can tell you this much in hindsight…WE do not determine how much insulin a cat needs to regulate. The cat’s body is totally calling the shots here. No pun intended!

Demonstrationg a "flat shot" with a long-haired diabetic cat
Me showing how I gave Penny a “flat shot”. With long-haired cats, the traditional way to give shots ends up in many “fur shots”, where the insulin ends up on the fur. Flat shots worked much better on Penny!

And even though I’ve gotten some very good advice from many lay-people who had much more experience than I had, I’ve also gotten bad advice. Advice that many people told me not to follow. But I did anyway.

Of course, hindsight is always 20/20.

My reasons for saying all of the above is because I should have followed FDMB’s Tight Regulation Protocol to a “T” the second time around. But I didn’t. When Penny’s insulin dose was getting higher and higher, I kept bringing her back down to one unit to “start over again”.

This may be too technical if you’re not familiar with Feline Diabetes, but many people who have experience will understand and I believe it’s important to mention. When lay-people suggest that you go back down to one unit of insulin because you have may surpassed that “magic dose”, they are talking to the people whose vets have started their cats out on a dose that was too high or people who have increased doses by full units rather than the suggested .25 units as outlined in the Tight Regulation protocol that I linked to above. Neither of these applied to us.

Because she had gone into remission so quickly the first time, I really had little experience with shooting insulin with lower blood glucose numbers. Ultimately, my chicken shittiness is what kept her blood sugar over “renal threshold” (the point where glucose starts spilling into the urine) for FAR TOO LONG.

And this is likely one of the reasons why she developed kidney disease so quickly at such a young age.

I hadn’t trusted the process and the advice of MANY who had been at this same spot.

And you’ll see on her Google Spreadsheet that once I “got it” and just trusted the damn process, it was like night and day.

Now that the technical talk is out of the way…

There were a few external issues that I also feel affected her. Cats are sponges to our emotions. And, like human diabetics, they respond to stress with higher blood glucose numbers.

The much-needed weight loss was happening. She was getting off of gabapenin and the Adequan was really working for her arthritis like a charm. In February 2015, we had a sick stray cat show up on our back deck. (Checkers – The Sick Stray Cat Who Broke Our Hearts) Although Penny never met him, I’m sure she smelled him through Mom’s door (he lived in Mom’s bedroom til he was well enough to introduce him to Penny and Weeny). It was a very stressful time while we worked so hard to figure out what was wrong with him and to try and save him. For a cat like Penny, who was SO in tune with MY emotions, I’m sure this took a toll on her.

Then Weeny was diagnosed with a rare (for cats) malignant mast cell cancer in June. And for three months we watched her decline rapidly and she just wasn’t herself anymore. Again, Penny was VERY in tune with what was going on. Although they weren’t bonded, they were friends and Weeny’s illness and subsequent passing affected her as much as it did Mom and me.

Penny (left) and Weeny (right) sitting in the bathtub.
The Divas (Penny-left and Weeny-right) in the bathtub!

Weeny passed on September 13, 2015. For two years we had been surrounded by death in our family, with losing my dad, Checkers, and Weeny. It took its toll on ALL of us.

I remember thinking when Weeny passed that I cannot allow Penny to just lie around here and get old.

After Weeny passed, I rescued The Kits from my backyard. More on that story here: Meet the (Former Feral) Kits!

Now, I don’t know if there is any other cat in this world that I could have sprung four 4-month-old kittens on. Since Penny was used to being surrounded by other cats with her 3 1/2 years as a show cat at the rescue, I knew she would be okay with the right introductions. She took all of the changes like a TRUE champ. She truly was an angel here on Earth!

Penny on the couch watching squirrels while Rascal sleeps
Penny squirrel watching while Rascal naps.

What I didn’t realize until about six months after I rescued The Kits is that Penny needed them as much as they needed us! She was a NEW cat. More playful than I had ever seen her! Not as obsessed with food. She seemed to like helping me to “raise” them. As long as I made sure Penny always came first (like I had a choice…lol), she was happy!

It actually felt MORE like Penny, Mom and me were the humans and The Kits were the cats!

And, when you look at her blood glucose readings, you will see how her diabetes suddenly became well regulated around the same time and she needed less and less insulin! That was a bonus that I honestly didn’t see coming!

However, the insulin resistance took its toll. Mom says I blame myself too much. This isn’t about blame. It’s about learning from my mistakes so that I don’t repeat them. It’s about learning from my mistakes and sharing them so that we can save another cat’s life.

Penny was put into my life to teach me SO many lessons. And she did.

Now it’s my duty to share them.

More to come….

**All treatments, foods and supplements mentioned in this blog are based on my own research, experience and done with my vet’s knowledge and consent. Consult with your vet as necessary.**

Feline Diabetes – Where I Went Wrong with Penny

Penny-Christmas 2014. She spent DAYS trying to figure out how to climb this tree!

To catch up on our experience with Feline Diabetes, read:

Our Introduction to Feline Diabetes

Penny’s Journey to Her First Remission from Feline Diabetes

When Penny achieved remission, I was told to do everything in my power to protect that remission because once they come out, it’s VERY difficult to get them back to the point that they are “diet controlled”.

Anything can knock a cat out of remission. Illness, long-term stress, pain, infections, excess body fat, letting them eat high-carb foods again. It’s definitely a careful balance.

I actually just had to review her spreadsheet from that time to refresh my memory, as I’m writing this almost three years since she lost that remission.

2014 was a very difficult year for our family. I had to foster my brother’s cat, Andy, while my bro was moving and doing some heavy construction work at the new house. My dad became ill with Stage 4 non-small cell lung cancer, suffered GREATLY for many months, and passed away.

Dad’s passing took its toll on the entire family.

Including Penny and Weeny.

Cousin Andy the Foster in my folks’ room shortly after he moved in-Jan 2014

Cousin Andy the foster was not exactly a nice house guest. He was raised an only child and was around Penny’s age (6 or 7) when we fostered him. It was only supposed to be for a month, but he ended up staying for six months. And Weeny did NOT like him. And he did NOT like living with other cats. Despite my best attempts at introductions and integrating him into the household, we never were successful. It resulted in Penny kicking his ass a few times and him urine marking in the house (he was neutered). So, even though they lived separately, his presence caused a lot of stress.

While all of that was happening, Dad started to suffer immense pain, which resulted in a cancer diagnosis at the end of June. He was in and out of the hospital through the Summer and ultimately passed on August 28, 2014. Penny was very attached to him and I’m sure she was as concerned and as heartbroken as Mom and me.

She helped him cross over to his new life…she was lying on his feet when he took his last breath.

I had become Andy’s primary caregiver and Dad’s advocate and primary caregiver. Plus I had my coaching business.

Poor Penny and Weeny ended up on the back burner.

Weeny and Penny Bird Watching – 2015

In October 2014, Penny had what I thought was a seizure. She started falling over and that scared her so she was freaking out and falling over more as a result.

Between a trip to the emergency vet and a new vet I was trying, I found out that she had gained a TON of weight and was up to 18lbs. She was a Maine Coon and a large girl, so, ideally, she was a 12-14lb cat. And she had developed spinal arthritis, which I’m sure was aggravated by the excess body weight.

I was disgusted with myself for allowing that to happen to her. She was still on her low-carb food (Young Again Zero Carb) but I know from working in the fitness industry that excess body fat causes insulin resistance. And I’m sure that was in play here.

Now, I hope what I’m about to say doesn’t ruffle too many feathers. But after this whole arthritis diagnosis with Penny and losing her remission, I will NEVER blindly listen to a vet again without researching the hell out of what they are selling me.

That being said, it was suggested that Penny go on pain medications for long-term management. The only safe painkillers for cats are Buprenex (buprenorphine) or Neurontin (gapapentin).

Here’s the problem…Buprenex (Bupe) is an opioid narcotic. It’s often used to wean heroin addicts off of heroin, however, many times, they end up abusing it. Also, anybody who knows the nature of opioid painkillers knows that they often tell the body that it is in more pain than it actually is to strengthen the body’s dependence on them. And, over time, as the body acclimates itself to the medication, it becomes less and less effective.

They say that doesn’t happen in cats. I don’t buy it.

Couple that with the fact that my ex husband became a heroin addict after becoming addicted to Percocet for a legitimate medical condition. Hence the “ex”. He died as an indirect result of his addiction just six weeks before my dad passed in 2014.

Imagine my struggle with deciding to put her on a narcotic long-term for her arthritis.

So that leaves Neurontin. Which is commonly prescribed for neuropathy (think: pins and needles) pain. But what Penny was experiencing in her spine was not pins and needles. She was SORE to the touch.

With that all being said, I started her on Bupe and then switched her to Neurontin. Without doing any research.

Her blood glucose numbers were creeping back up to diabetic range, which told me the medication was not managing her pain as well as I would have liked. See her spreadsheet with my notes. Click on the 2013-2014 tab Penny’s Blood Glucose Spreadsheet.

I don’t like the thought of just using pain medication to mask a problem when there is a solution to the problem instead. I’m not stupid. I know she needed to lose weight. And I learned there are better options for cat arthritis than to mask it with painkillers. I learned about Adequan-Canine, which, rather than masking the pain, actually helps to rebuild the cartilage in the joints, therefore reducing or even possibly eliminating the need for long-term pain medication. Learn more about Adequan here: Heartland Veterinary Supply – Pet Supplies, Vet Supplies, Horse Supplies at Discount Pricing and search “Adequan-Canine”. This is also where I found the best pricing. You can have your vet fax a prescription directly to them.

FINALLY! A SOLUTION!

I prefer to live in the solution rather than just masking a problem.

I went back to new vet and showed her what I had found by playing Dr. Google. Kind of like going back to my old vet with what I had found out about Feline Diabetes after playing Dr. Google. She was on board so we started Penny with an extended “loading dose”.

Adequan-Canine can be given by subcutaneous injection, which we are pros at! The loading dose prescribed for Penny was two injections weekly for the first 4 weeks, one injection weekly for another 4 weeks, then one injection every 4 weeks indefinitely so long as she remains responsive to the treatment plan.

Penny – January 2015 in her favorite napping position. Like a little hairy human!

Now to get Penny to lose weight to take the excess weight off of that spine! She was free fed Young Again Zero (Carb) but was a “social eater” and would only eat with me sitting RIGHT THERE with her, so I did have control over how much she ate. She also ate wet food in four mini meals per day, which is best for a diabetic cat to keep the blood glucose levels stable. I decided to do with Penny what I had done with myself back in 1987 when I lost 70lbs.

Portion control and exercise. No “diet” foods, no “low fat”, and no making her unhappy!

Since Penny was EXTREMELY food motivated, I decided to make that her motivation to exercise. So we started “chicken run” twice per day. I would run her down the steps and reward her with a small piece of raw chicken, then run her up the steps and give her another small piece, and so on and so forth. We worked her up to 20 times per day.

I had to be careful that her weight loss was slow so that she wouldn’t go into fatty liver disease, which can happen very quickly and can be life threatening to a cat.

She lost 2lbs in six months doing this. When I rescued the kits in 2015, she actually lost another pound in four months just being more active with them!

Penny bird watching – October 2016

The spinal arthritis became a non-issue. After that loading dose, I took her off the pain medication because while playing Dr. Google, I found a rare side effect of Neurontin is blood sugar fluctuations. So, it’s possible this medication, that wasn’t even helping, could have taken her out of remission. At best, I didn’t want any blood sugar fluctuations in a cat who is back on insulin.

And she did go back on insulin, much to my heartbreak, on January 3, 2015.

And we spent ten long and frustrating, horrifying months in insulin resistance.

More on this to come…

**This blog contains affiliate links. When you purchase a product through a link in this blog, we receive a small commission at no extra cost to you! This helps to pay for the cost of running this site. We never recommend a product that we don’t wholeheartedly believe in and use ourselves!**

All treatments, foods and supplements mentioned in this blog are based on my own research, experience and done with my vet’s knowledge and consent. Consult with your vet as necessary.

 

 

Penny’s Battle with Kidney Disease is Over

The eyes that knew my soul…

 

For almost 21 months after a Stage 4 feline kidney disease diagnosis, Penny lived a STELLAR quality of life. You would never even know she was sick if you didn’t see her blood work or look in her litter box. But on November 15, 2017, Penny lost her battle. The kidney disease won.

Penny passed peacefully with her favorite vet’s assistance while squirrel watching and listening to me singing my awful rendition of “Earth Angel” and “The Penelope Song”.

I didn’t have NEAR enough time with Penny, and she was NOT mentally ready to leave…

But I have to remember that things happen in God’s time, not ours.

Her body was shutting down.

And as much as she tried to rally the past month, as much as she fought HARD to just live her life, her kidneys were shutting down and the rest of her little body was following.

However, she died in remission from diabetes. Small victory. But a victory nonetheless. She was buried in my backyard with her OTJ (Off The Juice) party hat that I made to celebrate her achieving her second remission.

Penny was laid to rest on her favorite blanket in a water case box with her favorite toys and her first food bowl when adopted her in 2012. And a lock of my hair since she loved my hair so much.

I still have to write on our journey with Feline Diabetes and Feline Chronic Kidney disease.

Why?

Because one of the inspirations and driving forces behind this blog is Penny’s journey and her incredible strength and will to win.

And she DID win. Because she outlived the “averages” by over a year with a STELLAR quality of life.

Because she achieved that oh, so obscure second remission from diabetes.

Because her spirit NEVER gave up. She was hellbent on living her life to the fullest…up until her last day.

Penny, bird watching just about a week before she passed.

Because we have a story to tell to save lives. Penny has a legacy to carry on. And her spirit is here with me to share her story with the world so that we can help other special needs cats.

“Turn your mess into your message.”

We will shout from the rooftops on how to prevent Feline Diabetes because in most cases, it IS completely preventable.

We will also show that a cat can live a QUALITY life for a long time even with Stage 4 kidney disease.

There are those in Social Media Land who have traveled this journey with us. Some since her diabetes diagnosis in 2013 and some since we started our Facebook page in 2017. She has touched SO many lives already.

And we are just getting started.

I always said I wouldn’t treat kidney disease in a cat because I thought it would be “torture” and we would just be fighting something progressive and incurable. Until I was faced with it with my little Soul Mate.

Love changes EVERYTHING. Love makes us do things we normally wouldn’t do.

She wasn’t “tortured”. She acted healthier since that diagnosis than in some of her years when she was “healthy”.

Her best life yet!!

Given the chance, I would have fought with her for TEN YEARS if we could have maintained her quality of life for that long!

And I’d do it ALL over again – without a doubt!

Kidney disease may have taken her body, but it will NEVER take her spirit, our bond, our love, and our memories.

Those are Penny’s and mine to keep!

Penny and Mommy – April 2017

We have had signs that Penny is still here. I sensed that she was holding on because she didn’t want to leave here. I told her she didn’t have to. Just because her spirit was leaving her body didn’t mean that it had to leave home.

This IS her forever home, after all. That means FOREVER.

Rest in Paradise, my Precious Pup.

PENELOPE WILSON

8/8/08 – 11/15/17

 

 

Penny’s Journey to Her First Remission from Feline Diabetes

 

Pennys BGs after switching to Lev

FINALLY we were seeing the food changes and insulin take effect!

For more about our introduction to Feline Diabetes, read here … Our Introduction to Feline Diabetes

First Lessons

The first thing I learned was that it was TOO dangerous to blindly shoot insulin into my cat without home testing. Learn more here.

The second thing I learned is that there is more effective and SAFER insulin for cats in the US & Canada than Vetsulin.

Dietary change is key

The third thing I learned was that a FOOD CHANGE to LOW CARBOHYDRATE food was our ONLY chance at regulation and remission. There are a few diabetic “prescription” foods out there for diabetic cats. BUT, they are all high-carb and full of JUNK ingredients.

Feeding high-carbohydrate foods to a diabetic cat, or a diabetic human, for that matter, is like putting fuel on a fire and hoping it extinguishes the fire.

Does that make sense?

I was told to feed low-carb wet food, such as Fancy Feast Classics or Friskies Pates. But, I have a kibble addict on my hands. I’ll be honest and admit I didn’t try very hard to switch her over to an all-wet food diet because she tends to have loose stools, diarrhea, and hairball problems (she IS a Maine Coon who doesn’t like to be brushed, after all lol) when she eats only wet food. She does much better overall on half-wet, half-dry.

Putting the Changes into Place

I decided to try this ultra low carb dry food that’s touted to help diabetic cats achieve remission called Young Again Zero (carb). It’s available online-only, so in the meantime, while I was waiting for her new food to arrive, I worked on learning how to home test Penny and talking her vet into switching her to Lantus, which is considered a much safer and more effective insulin for cats than Vetsulin.

getting our vet on board

When I called her vet that Monday morning after she had the strong reaction to Vetsulin, I was armed with everything I learned from Feline Diabetes Message Board and also what the AAFP (American Association of Feline Practitioners) recommends as a first course of treatment for feline diabetes.

Lucky for us and my vet, Dr Moreno is not an egomaniac, is open-minded and willing to listen as he knew I was smart and did my research, So he gave me a prescription for Lantus pens and the U100 syringes to draw out the insulin (often cats need half-unit or quarter-unit doses so the needles that come with the pens are useless for a cat) and agreed to try a diet change for just a short while before re-starting insulin until we learn to home test.

HOME TESTING

I went to Walmart and got her testing supplies. They can be expensive when you’re paying cash, but everybody I talked to over the weekend told me to get the Relion Confirm meter and strips, which are MUCH less expensive than most human testing supplies. AND the meters made for pets!

Then, we had to learn to home test.

And I was terrified and not really sure we would be able to do this.

But I didn’t want Penny to go into insulin shock and die or become debilitated, either.

However, this is a cat that I cannot even BRUSH without her swatting at me.

And I’m gonna poke her ears several times a day to “play vampire”? lol

WITHOUT ending up in the hospital??!!

But all my new friends online ASSURED me that we could do this!

Penny working out with me Nov 2013

Penny “working out” with me! You see who’s getting all of the exercise, right?

My friend Kay sent me this thing she wrote up about ear testing. She had a semi-feral cat and she learned to condition HIM. This really helped me to form a plan on how I was going to “train” Penny for home testing. Read Kay’s Ear Testing Psychology.

bribery was the answer…

What I know about Penny is that BRIBERY will get me EVERYWHERE with her and I can condition her to do just about ANYTHING so long as there’s raw chicken waiting for her! So that’s what I used to condition her to home test.

Here are two videos I made on training Penny to test her blood glucose.

How I Conditioned My Cat for Home Blood Glucose Testing

Home Testing a Diabetic Cat’s Blood Glucose

I did my first successful home test while she was sleeping… lol. But, awake? It took about seven days of conditioning her like my videos show you before we were testing.

The Changes Were in Place!

By then, the new kibble was here and thank God both cats LOVED it! And they tolerated the abrupt food change very well!

The change in Penny’s energy once I got her on the Young Again food was REMARKABLE! She was a NEW cat and we hadn’t even gotten her diabetes regulated yet!

So, we started Penny on .5 units of Lantus twice per day, were home testing, and she was a CHAMP about the testing and the shots, as long as I shot her insulin WHILE she was eating. I learned VERY quickly that I cannot give this cat a needle unless she’s eating something scrumptious! Then, the house can crash down around her and she won’t even NOTICE!

We set up a spreadsheet on Google Docs that FDMB had created a template for…that way my vet could just pop in and see her blood glucose numbers at any time. Here’s Penny’s spreadsheet. Click on the 2013-2015 tab to see how it looked in the beginning. Penny’s Blood Glucose Numbers

And we followed something called Start Low Go Slow Method since I was still REALLY new to all of this and was afraid she would go into insulin shock at some point. I recommend this method for ALL newbies until you really learn how your cat responds.

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Things were going really well until about three weeks in, when all of a sudden, Penny started being really difficult with her shots…like, she would JUMP a mile when I attempted to give her a shot. It was becoming IMPOSSIBLE to get insulin into this cat! I should mention that she had also started acting a little crazy and had started howling in the wee hours of the morning.

So I went back to the Message Board and the Feline Diabetes FB page and posted questions and started researching Lantus just a little bit more.

Turns out a small fraction of cats, and OF COURSE my Penny, are very sensitive to the sting on injection with Lantus because Lantus is VERY acidic. Everybody said with the little bit she was getting that she “shouldn’t be” feeling it, but she WAS.

AND HOW!

Lantus can also make SOME cats, but not many, just a little crazy. Apparently, Penny likes to be the exception and not the rule!

Our Switch from Lantus to Levemir

So, my friend Gayle strongly suggested we switch her from Lantus to Levemir, which is another slow-acting insulin with “flat curves”…which is what you want for a cat. When their “curves” are flatter, there’s better control overall and less risk of insulin shock or a “hypo” (hypoglycemia).

So BACK to Dr Moreno for ANOTHER prescription! Again, thank God he’s a pretty easygoing vet and I suspect he lets me have my way (within reason) so that he can shut me up!

I saw immediate changes in Penny. She was no longer running around howling at night, and she slowly learned that “shot time” wasn’t hurting anymore!

After a couple of days on Levemir, I FINALLY saw her blood glucose numbers heading in the RIGHT direction! Obviously, Levemir is “the” insulin for Penny because within a month of switching to Levemir, Penny’s OTJ Trial had begun!

Her “Off the Juice” Trial

“OTJ” means “Off The Juice” or off insulin. The trial is done for 14 days and if your cat can maintain blood glucose numbers mostly in the “normal” range (generally 50-150, depending on who you ask) in that trial period, they are considered “in remission” or “diet controlled”.

I was a NERVOUS FREAKING WRECK during that two-week trial. I would SHAKE when I tested her blood glucose because she was STILL giving me trouble with shots and I wanted SO BADLY for her to pass this trial!

Penny and Weeny Oct 2013

Penny & Weeny a couple of days after Penny went into diabetic remission!

And on November 15, 2013, Penny PASSED her OTJ Trial and was OFFICIALLY in remission!!

But, it wouldn’t last….

Because NOTHING is ever typical or easy with Penny!

More to come!

**This post contains affiliate links, which means we earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. We only recommend products that we use and wholeheartedly believe in!**

All treatments, foods and supplements mentioned in this blog are based on my own research, experience and done with my vet’s knowledge and consent. Consult with your vet as necessary.

Our Introduction to Feline Diabetes

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Penny, 2014, in all her scruffy splendor!

One of the main reasons why I decided to start this blog was to help raise awareness about Feline Diabetes. Because I hear people talking about how they feed their cats potato chips and ice cream. And if I see ONE MORE video of a cat eating something completely species-inappropriate and carb-laden on Facebook, I’m going to gouge my eyeballs out. Because I’m SICK of seeing Diabetic Cats in Need pulling yet another diabetic cat from a kill shelter at the LAST HOUR because an owner fed their cat high-carb dry food, maybe even made the cat obese, and then dumped that poor baby off at the shelter…or worse yet, euthanized them on diagnosis because feline diabetes is “too hard” or too expensive for a pet parent to handle.

As I sit and type with “Smelly Penelly” cleaning herself next to me right now, she is in her 15TH MONTH of her SECOND remission. Her blood glucose reading yesterday, WITHOUT insulin, was 58 about an hour post-meal. Which is an excellent number for a diet-controlled diabetic cat. “Diet-controlled” meaning that with the right low-carb food, her blood glucose is able to stay in the “normal” range without insulin. Penny currently eats Young Again Zero (Carb) Mature Health and Fancy Feast Classics Pate wet food.

I’m not sure WHERE I’m going with this post yet, but this will likely be the beginning of an entire category on this blog with Penny’s journey with both feline diabetes and feline chronic kidney disease, with a little bit of spinal arthritis and dental issues thrown in for fun.

I remember when I first adopted Penny from Jersey State Animal Rescue on May 2, 2012. And the director told me to buy one of two different types of food. One was an internet-only food that for the life of me I cannot remember the name of, and the other was Solid Gold Indigo Moon. Solid Gold was one of those “premium” pet foods and back in 2012 it was relatively low-carb for a cat kibble. They have since changed the formula and it’s much higher in carbs now. And I remember thinking, because I know some things about HUMAN nutrition, “but cats needs carbs for energy!” So I added in Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover’s Soul adult dry food and mixed the two. And she also got four wet mini meals throughout the day.

Getting that high-carb Chicken Soup food was a BIG BIG mistake…

Summer of 2013, I KNEW well before I took her to the vet and she was diagnosed. I come from a LONG line of diabetics, including my dad, and knew what the symptoms were because they are about the same in cats. Frequent urination, incessantly thirsty, constantly hungry. She hadn’t experienced weight loss yet but I acted somewhat quickly once I could no longer justify why I was seeing LAKES in their litter boxes.

On September 5, 2013, with an in-office blood glucose reading of 516 (normal is 50-150 depending on the meter), Penny was diagnosed with Feline Diabetes. And at the time, DEVASTATED was NOT even CLOSE to describing how we felt at the vet’s office. I knew a little about the treatment of Feline Diabetes because I had come across the Feline Diabetes Message Board online a couple of years earlier when I researching constipation issues for my late cat, Tabby.

And I didn’t want to put Penny through getting needles twice per day, home testing her blood glucose, glucose curves and all this other stuff that seemed just SO complicated at the time and I remember thinking, “That is NO quality of life for cats!”

Until I was faced with her diagnosis when she was only FIVE years old and knowing full well it was either treat or put to sleep. I remember freaking out, bawling, and telling the vet that I didn’t have time for home testing and all that jazz and how was I gonna give her insulin injections when she was so difficult to handle that I couldn’t even brush her?

Pennys BG 10.3.13

The very first day that I managed to get Penny’s blood glucose down below “renal threshold”…which is a very good thing!!

He assured me that I could successfully give her injections while she was eating, had a vet tech come in to show me how and let me do a practice shot with an insulin syringe full of water. He told me that home testing was not necessary and that we could bring her back in for a fructosamine test (think kind of like a human H A1c test) in about a week and he would adjust her insulin from there. He didn’t think a dietary change was a good idea until we had gotten her insulin requirement down pat and got her blood glucose in a safer range. (Which, was some very bad advice. by the way. If you get the insulin requirement right and then do a food change to low-carb WITHOUT home testing, you may lose your cat to insulin shock. NEVER, EVER change food to a lower carb food for a diabetic cat on insulin without home testing!)

I must say at this point that I did ask him how often they’ve had cats go into insulin shock or hypoglycemia and he did allow that it HAS happened to patients of their practice before and that it was often enough that I was NOT comfortable with his answer.

He gave me a rather affordable insulin called Vetsulin, some syringes to go with it, and assured me that we could do this.

Now, before I go further, I will say that all of the above is NOT how I got her into remission and was NOT how I got her into remission SAFELY. More on what I DID do to come! But it was enough at the time that I didn’t feel as hopeless and thought that MAYYYYBE we could handle this.

We got home that night and I figured I’d TRY to get that insulin shot into her. I didn’t want to give her the shot while she was eating and ruin her meal time. I should mention that at this point I had NEVER given a cat an injection before, or ANYBODY, for that matter. And I was a SHAKING, nervous wreck!

So, that night, I spent a half hour chasing her around with a loaded insulin needle, grabbing her, torturing her, and making her go hide from me. I had broken the trust that took me 18 months of being her mommy to establish to begin with. And I was a freaking WRECK. I remember flipping out and going outside while yelling that we were just going to have to put her to sleep then.

And I was HEARTBROKEN.

The next morning, I tried again while she was eating her breakfast. And I was PRETTY SURE I got the insulin IN her! She’s a Maine Coon, after all, and when you’re inexperienced and she has ALL that LOOONG hair, there’s the possibility for error.

But then something happened. She was lethargic ALL DAY. Slept in the top of the cat condo and was OUT of it. She did get up to eat when it was meal time but then would go crap RIGHT back out. I hadn’t made any food changes yet, so she was eating higher carb foods.

Knowing what I know now, I’m willing to bet everything I’ve ever worked for that she had a mild hypoglycemic episode. And because she was still on high-carb kibble and low-carb wet food, it’s probably what saved her life that day.

BECAUSE I BLINDLY SHOT INSULIN WITHOUT HOME TESTING OR EVEN KNOWING HOW TO HOME TEST HER FIRST.

So, for the rest of that weekend, I did not give her more insulin. And I spent the ENTIRE weekend, except for sleeping, GLUED to the computer learning EVERYTHING I could. I joined the message board and corresponding Facebook group. They gave me a shopping list, told me the best insulin to use, assured me that I COULD home test and that it would be no big deal once we got used to it.

I read the stories. One I will share with you in a future post from my friend Susan, who’s cat DID, in fact, “hypo” (meaning went into insulin shock) and was never the same again. His name was Baxter. And even though Baxter lived clear across the country, I love that cat. Because his story saved Penny’s life. He will forever have a place in my heart!

Baxter learning how to walk again

My friend Susan’s cat, Baxter, learning how to walk again as he started to recover from insulin shock.

I will also share with you what we did, how we did it, how I trained her for all of this so that it was no big deal and even trained her to look forward to testing her blood glucose with a little bit of bribery!

I really felt like it was the end of the world when Penny was diagnosed with Feline Diabetes. I didn’t know HOW I was going to handle it all. I was so freaking overwhelmed that first week or so that I had the case of the “F@#K it…she’s going to die!” MANY times. I woke up in the morning and my heart would SINK when I realized that this wasn’t just a nightmare. This was our life now.

And I HAD to fight for her. I couldn’t look into those big, round green eyes and let her down. The rescue allowed me to adopt her because they KNEW I would do right by her. NO FREAKING WAY could I let Penny down.

penny-otj-may-26-16-2

Penny the day she achieved her second remission from diabetes. OTJ means “off the juice” or off insulin. She was NOT letting me stick her party hat on her head! lol

And that’s what got me through in the beginning.

I can honestly say, just about four years later, that all the stuff we had to learn to do…the testing, the shots, “tight regulation”, remission, relapse, remission again, blood glucose curves…all the stuff that I didn’t even understand at first…is just now an intrinsic part of my thinking and just the routine of the day. I can do this stuff without even thinking about it now!

And so can Penny!

My hope is that my posts about Penny’s journey with diabetes will keep another diabetic cat from being dumped off at a shelter. My hope is that Baxter’s story will keep another diabetic cat from going into insulin shock. If we help just ONE cat with our stories, our job is WELL DONE!

Stay tuned!

And please SHARE if you know anybody who has a diabetic cat! Please encourage them to get in touch with me on this blog or on our Facebook “like” page. I will be MORE than willing to help them help their furkid!

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All treatments, foods and supplements mentioned in this blog are based on my own research, experience and done with my vet’s knowledge and consent. Consult with your vet as necessary.