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Published: Friday, 3/16/2007

Tubby tabby is trendsetter in rising tide of diabetic pets

BARNEY has nothing on Clyde. Oh, sure, the First Dog is the President's best friend and scampers around the seat of power, but the little Scottish Terrier is no match for a fat Ohio farm cat with attitude. Four years ago I wrote about one such corpulent cat named Clyde. At the time he was on the leading edge of a new trend in America - pet obesity.

The well-fed feline could have made the cover of the hefty 500-page report by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academies, which said one out of every four cats and dogs in the western world is overweight or obese. Like so many humans, Clyde tried lots of diets but always ended up going back to his bowl -for seconds and thirds. Even the kitty version of the Atkins Diet didn't make him svelte.

Now Clyde is on the leading edge of another trend. Apparently one in 400 feline fatsos is being diagnosed with diabetes. Three weeks ago the vet informed me Clyde was one.

His blood sugar was off the charts. But the kicker is the big, orange puss is living large with the less than common type-1 (insulin-dependent) diabetes. Just like humans coping with the condition, Clyde's diagnosis changed everything.

After lengthy consultations at the vet's office about managing feline diabetes, there were prescriptions to fill for insulin and for ultra fine insulin syringes. For some humans who are particularly adverse to getting shots, the notion of actually giving them is anathema to every cell in their body.

Yet, as a mother of young children, I know one occasionally must do the unthinkable or it doesn't get done. So I practiced at the vet's before attempting the real deal with Clyde.

That act certainly would require extreme denial and a couple glasses of wine to accomplish. Clyde was unconcerned. It was the humans he lives with who were traumatized.

Eventually the job of shooting up Clyde twice daily fell to yours truly, who has become remarkably adept at measuring insulin, making sure no air bubbles are trapped in the needle, and grabbing one of Clyde's ample folds to administer the shot. Too incredible.

As a freaked out diabetic cat caregiver, I have also learned I am not alone. Try Googling "diabetic cats." There are 7.5 million listings on everything from "cat diabetes for beginners" to touted cures with "proven herbal remedies" and chat rooms for caregivers to commiserate on the trials of living with a "sugarcat." It's not as fun as it sounds.

Unlike two-legged homo sapiens, diabetic cats obviously can't measure their own glucose levels. So they need strict monitoring by a vet to determine appropriate insulin intake. Diet takes on added importance. No more licks of "lite" pancake syrup for Clyde. Tough love, you know.

But just try to leave town with a diabetic cat. Even for a night. Boarding Clyde at the vet's over the weekend was out of the question because the puss, who has never missed a meal in his life, goes on hunger strikes away from home. The babysitter who came to watch the kids politely but firmly declined to give Clyde his shots.

The last option was a "pet sitter" who made house calls. Only one should never underestimate how an 11-year-old fat cat will react to a stranger who comes calling with a soothing voice and a syringe.

Amazingly, Clyde can still throw his weight around when he's of a mind. And boy, was he of a mind recently when his primary caregiver skipped town. The wailing and gnashing of teeth and flailing claws and falling furniture and kids crying hysterically and shaken baby sitter - who swore she never saw Clyde move so fast - were all vividly recounted in frantic long distance calls to me.

When I arrived back at the ranch, a long, rambling note greeted me from the distraught pet sitter who vented about her nearly two-hour struggle to overpower a cat on a mission to terrorize or be terrorized. "Clyde does not like me at all!" she wrote after explaining how she finally captured him and gave him an injection through a slot on a laundry basket.

First Dog Barney may have killer connections and a fancy dog house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but fat Ohio farm cats have Buckeyes. Clyde is out there setting trends, wreaking havoc, and not taking insulin shots lying down.

All Barney has to do is look cute with his commander in chief. No contest.



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