Should I Put My Diabetic Cat to Sleep?

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In November, we had to make the hard decision to put down our cat Petunia due to late-stage feline diabetes. That same day, we adopted two new cats, Kizzy and Sir Charles Buttonsworth. This week, we found out Buttonsworth ... has feline diabetes.

muted calico cat

Petunia Cookie Dough Arens

We made a different choice for Buttonsworth than we did for Petunia, and there are several reasons why. If you found your way here because you are faced with a suck decision, I'm sorry. Here is our story and the reasoning behind our choices.

How We Found Out

Petunia hated vets. She hated them so much she had to be muzzled for something as simple as a vaccine, so we were not quick to go in for every little burp. We finally took Petunia to get checked out when we noticed she couldn't make the jump up to her favorite chair anymore. Meaning - her legs weren't working properly.

Buttonsworth peed in my daughter's closet. Cats usually don't pee outside the box out of spite, at least from what I've heard, so I always take peeing outside the box as a health flag. He peed in the closet, he seemed a little off, so off we went.

The Diagnosis and Suggested Treatment

Petunia's glucose levels were five times normal. Because she was so bad off, she would need to be immediately hospitalized for three days to get her stabilized and figure out how much insulin she should have. She would need shots twice a day for the rest of her life, and whenever we left town, she'd need to be boarded so someone else could administer the shots. Buttonsworth's glucose levels were more than double the normal level. The vet gave him a glucose shot while he was there being treated for something not diabetes-related,and his glucose dropped 100 points in a few hours. The vet told us we could take him home and start the insulin shots and bring him back in a week to see if the amount needed to be adjusted. He would need shots twice a day for the rest of his life, and whenever we left town, he'd need to be boarded so someone else could administer the shots.

Decision-Making Criteria

I am one of those MY BABIES! kind of pet owners. My first indoor cat, Sybil, lived to be 18 largely because I gave her thyroid pills every day for years and kept her even after she went through the period when we brought my daughter home from the hospital when she peed on every rug in the house as well as the period when she yodeled in the middle of the night for months on end (which we later learned is a sign of thyroid disorders). I will do almost anything for one of my cats.

BUT.

Just a few minutes after I got off the phone with the vet about Petunia, I knew in my heart we were going to have to put her down. In a vet's office, she would go from a sweet cuddlebug to a yowling, biting, clearly terrified hellcat. The thought of her being hospitalized for days with people muzzling her and sticking her followed by years of me chasing her around, holding her down and sticking her with a needle coupled with mandatory boarding (which she hated as much as a vet trip) made me feel worse than the thought of her death. I do not believe in extended life if that life is going to be terrifying and miserable. And ... my husband was also unemployed at the time, and we didn't know how long he would be unemployed. We were living on my salary and a little bit of unemployment, and diabetes management is not cheap, especially during the figuring-out-the-insulin early part. We didn't have an extra $20 for Walmart snow boots, let alone $110 a vial for insulin. When my husband got home from work, we talked about it, and the next morning he took her to the vet for the last time while my daughter and I sat at home and bawled.

We've only had Buttonsworth and his pseudo-brother Kizzy since Petunia died in November 2012. We actually adopted two cats for the first time because we were so paranoid about health issues -- before Petunia, we had Bella, who died suddenly of kidney failure after we'd only had her for two years. And also because of my paranoia, I watch the cats closely for signs something is wrong. A few days before Buttonsworth peed in the closet, I'd noticed he seemed to be drinking a lot of water (another sign of diabetes) and he had litter stuck to his back paws (pee with a lot of glucose in it is really sticky). I remember wondering why Buttonsworth couldn't keep his paws clean. I actually had a bad feeling after Petunia with these little signs, so I had asked for the blood test without the vet ordering it. I doubt the vet would've ordered a blood test for why he was there -- it turned out Buttonsworth was totally constipated.

Before I found out about the diabetes, Buttonsworth endured six enemas for his constipation. When I called the vet to check on him, the nurse told me he was hanging out and purring between sessions. If someone gave me SIX ENEMAS, I would need a muzzle. Buttonsworth's extremely laid-back personality is actually one of the reasons we adopted him, despite the fact he is kind of fat and clearly not young and needed special food for what the shelter thought was a fish allergy and I now think was UM, DIABETES? He could clearly handle shots and the more frequent vet visits he would need to manage his diabetes. His health was otherwise good (once he pooped). And -- it can't be ignored -- my husband has been back to work since January.

Cost

The initial vet bill included (!) the enemas, etc., so it's hard to say what it would've been with just the diabetes diagnosis, but our bill came to almost $400 on Monday. That included the first pack of syringes ($32 with disposer) and the first bottle of insulin ($110). I've been told there are ways to get these supplies cheaper, and I'm sure I will look into that, but for now this is the easiest cost and I am too overwhelmed to think about it now.

syringes

insulin

We were also advised to put Buttonsworth on wet prescription food for diabetes management. It's $40/24 cans at the vet's, one can a day.

w/d food

Right now, Buttonsworth is getting two units of insulin twice a day. We'll go back for a follow-up visit next Monday to see if that amount needs to be adjusted. We won't know how much the insulin will cost going forward until we figure out what the right dosage is, because we don't know how fast we'll go through that $110 bottle. We also go out of town frequently to visit family in Iowa. Our normal place doesn't board cats that need injections. Neither does the place to which they referred me. Nor does our vet. Nor does the clinic to which our clinic referred me. Finally, after six calls, I found a clinic that would board poor Buttonsworth. I just made reservations for Thanksgiving and Christmas in March, because what will we do if they fill up? Charge: $20/day.

Decisions

We miss Petunia terribly. We're taking the diabetes journey with Buttonsworth, because we think his quality of life will be fine. He takes things much more in stride than Petunia did, his diabetes has not progressed as far and we are in a more comfortable place financially to absorb these unplanned costs.

Sir Charles Buttonsworth

Sir Charles Buttonsworth Arens

Have you ever faced a pet disease? What did you do?

Updated March 26, 2013. Unfortunately, though we did move forward with insulin shots, Buttensworth developed mega colon (a horrible affliction -- he could no longer poop on his own) and had to be put to sleep. However, on the day he died, his glucose levels had reached normal. I still do not regret the shots -- had he not developed mega colon, he would fine right now. It's good to know they were working.

Rita Arens is the author of the young adult novel The Obvious Game & the senior editor of BlogHer. Find more at www.surrenderdorothyblog.com.

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