Wren the Diabetic Cat: A Remembrance

Last week, my best friend Tammy said goodbye to her 16-year-old insulin-dependent cat, Wren, and I said goodbye to one of the only other diabetics I know in real life.

Tammy and Wren. Wren's the one on the left.

Wren was a wise old soul — unassuming and more discreet than the other cats in Tammy’s household. She wouldn’t try to climb up on your head and drool fish-breath drips on your face the way her cat-sister Cinder would. She didn’t rock one of those obscene fat pouches that some cats start swinging around once they hit middle age, and she didn’t skid maniacally all over the hardwood floors like the petite calico of the household, Zero.

On more than one occasion, I was tasked with administering Wren’s insulin when Tammy and her sister Tonia had to leave Wren on her own. Wren was the first cat — or other living thing, for that matter — that I’d ever given a shot to, and I was a little surprised by how nervous I was as a drew up her Vetsulin and flicked the bubbles out of the syringe.

But Wren was always a gracious patient. She was used to the skin around the scruff of her neck being pulled up, the little pinch of the needle and the push of the plunger. And judging by her enthusiastic purr/meow/growly noises, she very much looked forward to the little pile of Whisker Lickin’ treats that came her way after every injection.

Blood sugar checks were a different story. I tried a few separate times to milk a solid drop of blood from her calloused black paw pads, or from the teeny tiny capillaries that outlined the papery soft triangles of her ears. No go. Instead, Tammy had to rely on results from old-school pee sticks to get a grip on Wren’s blood sugar levels. Take a moment, if you will, and imagine trying to catch a cat at the exact moment it begins to pee, so that you can introduce a dip stick into the urine stream and get an accurate result before the cat starts kicking its litter around. Yeah.

Low blood sugars posed their own set of kitty-specific issues. Tammy always kept a bottle full of watered-down maple syrup at the ready, fully prepared to squirt the stuff into Wren’s mouth should she start seizing or showing other symptoms of feline hypoglycemia. Apparently cats don’t dig on juice boxes and granola bars.

I can’t say that I didn’t feel a tiny bit of diabetes kinship with Wren the cat. I came to think of her as a furry, four-legged version of myself — from the daily insulin injections she endured to the fresh haircuts she proudly sported. (Tammy is a retired pet groomer, and always kept Wren’s coat looking neat.) She didn’t say much, but I felt like she got me on some primal, diabetic level.

Most of all, though, I admire the attention that Tammy and Tonia paid to Wren’s specific health demands — especially throughout her last earthly days. Even when Wren grew a little too bony, the respiratory infections began to set in with more regularity, and a weird chin growth started to give her an Abraham Lincoln silhouette, my friends always made sure that their senior cat had a welcoming place to sleep, a fountain full of fresh water, a pristine litter box, and a bowl full of overpriced vittles within her reach.

Sure, you could say that Wren was just a cat. That her tiny little life with diabetes has absolutely nothing to with what diabetic humans deal with on a daily basis. But I’m a sucker, and a crazy cat lady at heart. To me, Wren’s life and her relationship with my friend was a reminder of the role that diabetes plays in the lives of so many people — even if they’re not people at all.

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4 comments on “Wren the Diabetic Cat: A Remembrance

  1. Oh! RIP, Wren. You’ve now been cured and are able to be a D-free kitty up in Cat Heaven. Thanks for sharing, Jacquie!

  2. Beth says:

    Thank you Jacquie, for that moving tribute…as a crazy cat-lady and a diabetic myself, I totally get it. Deepest sympathies to Tammy, Tonia, and everyone who knew and loved Wren.

  3. Amanda says:

    What a wonderful tribute to Wren! Pass on my condolences to your friend. Losing a pet is very difficult:(

  4. Elizabeth says:

    Aw! Bye bye, Wren. :(

    Wild story.

    I have a cat that was MISdiagnosed as diabetic. Ali is a hyper, playful little thing, but she became incredibly lethargic for no apparent reason. I took her to the vet and she had a slightly elevated blood sugar (I think it was 140 something, ans she hadn’t been eating). When the doctor found nothing else wrong, he declared her diabetic and sent me home with insulin and syringes, with the instruction to give her a set amount of insulin before every meal. At the time, I knew nothing about diabetes except basically what it was.

    So there I was, lowering my poor baby’s blood sugar every time I put food in front of her, most of which she wouldn’t eat. Then I found an online community for people with diabetic cats and was told to get a glucose meter and test before every shot, and when I shared the results they told me her numbers were too low to be giving her insulin. The more I reported, the more people started telling me that the numbers just didn’t make sense. She started getting worse and I took her back to the vet, armed with a little logbook of numbers. A different vet (at the same business, which had multiple doctors) said that 140 would be expected from a cat under the stress of a visit to the vet, and asked me about symptoms like peeing too much, drinking a lot of water, etc. (none of which applied to Ali). She ran some more tests, and came back to tell me Ali had an infection (I can’t remember her white cell count, but it shocked my mom, who is a nurse). She was checked in for aggressive IV antibiotic treatment, and she’s now a healthy, hyper little kitty again!

    Now I know her numbers were slightly elevated because she was SICK, and that no one who knows anything about diabetes would have given her that diagnosis without more evidence than that. I actually could have let that mistake “slide” with that first doctor if he hadn’t called me with an update while Ali was staying at the vet and said, “We have to figure out why she went from being a diabetic cat, to being a diabetic cat with an infection.” OMG, I could have driven up there and scratched his eyes out right then and there!!! I understand that diagnosis is largely educated guess work, but GIVE IT UP once you’ve been proven wrong!!! (I still take my cat to that business, but always request one of the other doctors if that one is there.)

    So, because of all that stuff, I actually went into my own diagnosis with some skepticism (and education)… but, well, my doctor was a hell of a lot better than Ali’s was. :)

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