Life with Ponchik, the diabetic cat

He was named after a sugary pastry filled with apple jam. So is it any wonder he developed diabetes?

“I didn’t know cats could get diabetes!” all my friends said. “Well, neither did I,” I replied.

Ponchik was diagnosed with diabetes in December 2020. I had taken him to the vet because he had been acting strange. By strange I mean he had been drinking a lot of water, urinating excessively, and always meowing as if he were hungry, even though he had just eaten.

The vet ran some blood and urine tests, and told me of the results the next day. “Your cat has diabetes,” he said. “You will need to inject him with insulin.” I objected immediately.

“I’m not a vet!” I said. “He won’t let me!”

The vet tried to talk sense into me. “He will,” he said. “You just need to pinch his skin like so (he demonstrated on one of his cats nearby) and inject insulin under the fold.”

“Okay,” I sighed. “I will try.”

Equipped with a prescription for human-grade insulin, I headed to the pharmacy near my apartment. “Lantus SoloStar,” I said. “I will also need needles, but it’s for a cat.” I ended up getting a five-pack of insulin pens and a box of 4mm needles. The pharmacist warned me that the insulin would need to be refrigerated—otherwise it would lose its potency.

Now Ponchik’s diet needed to change. He would have to switch to diabetic dry food and sugar-free wet food. This set me off on a quest to find wet foods he would enjoy eating.

I thought I was off to a good start when he seemed to relish Schesir’s canned salmon. I bought a case. A few weeks into his new diet, however, he started turning his nose up to the canned salmon that looked fit enough for human consumption. I ended up returning some cans, and giving the others to the friendly manicurist girl who worked at the hairdressers below my apartment and had five cats in her apartment – ​​and was looking after many more on the streets.

Ponchik was not doing so well at first – his hind legs had splayed, he continued to urinate excessively and lost weight. He was no longer a chubby elderly cat.

“Increase his dosage by half a unit,” recommended the vet. “I can’t,” I said, “it only goes up in full units.”

The vet and I agreed he would get three units in the morning and two units in the evening. The vet also told me to get a blood sugar measuring device, which I did. But because I have to puncture Ponchik’s ear to draw blood, I hardly ever use it, even though I probably should more often, in order to monitor his blood sugar levels.

After a couple of weeks of adjustments, the vet and I settled at four units by injection for Ponchik, and his shaky legs disappeared. He also gained back the weight he lost – he now weighs 6.3kgs: a big, “chunky boi” as some would call him.

“He was adorable, with ears that were too big for his head.” Ponchik at two months, when he came to live with the author and her mother. (Melis Alemdar / TRT World)

In a few months, we will celebrate our 14th anniversary. I first met him on October 3, 2008, in a neighboring garden near my mom’s apartment building. He was tiny, but agreed to play with me without running away. I was staying with my mother upon my return to Istanbul, after having lived in the US for 12 years. My mother was away on a business trip, so I had the apartment to myself.

Running into the little kitty cheered me up considerably. My spirits had been down ever since I returned to my hometown from NYC, leaving my life and friends behind. I didn’t think much about the encounter as I went back inside the apartment to eat dinner.

It started raining pretty badly that night. Remembering the small kitten I had played with earlier that day, I grabbed an umbrella and went to seek him out. I found him on the steps of the apartment building two doors down from my mother’s, and without thinking much further, took him into my arms and back into the warm and dry apartment.

The next day, I called my mother. “I know I said I’d get a pet once I moved into my own apartment, but I found this kitten and took him in,” I said. “I’ll take him to the vet today.”

Asking around, I discovered that the kitten had no owner. The vet (a different one than my current one) put his age at 1.5 to two months. He was adorable, with ears that were too big for his head.

Ever since then, we’ve been inseparable – now more than ever. In the past, when I would go on vacation, I would leave him behind in my apartment and ask my sister to refresh his food and water bowls. But now, with the grumpy Ponchik hissing at both my sister and the cleaning lady, I couldn’t ask either of them to feed him or inject him with insulin.

This has meant that I cannot leave Istanbul, or if I do, that I have to take him with me. Last summer, when I needed a break, I joined my mother in a rental car, with Ponchik complaining from his carrier box, and the insulin in a refrigerated case, on the way to Antalya on the Mediterranean coast.

Ponchik was traumatized by the move, hiding in the Antalya apartment for the rest of the day without eating or drinking, finally coming out of his shell the next morning. Since then, I hesitate to go to my mother’s summer place, wondering if I want to put him through this again.

Having to look after Ponchik, something I don’t mind doing at all, has also meant that I cannot take any trips outside Istanbul, even for one day. I asked the vet, and he said no – not if no one was giving him insulin. It’s a price I’m willing to pay to keep him alive as long as I can.

Now that Ponchik and I have been together for almost 14 years, I hope we will have a few more left. My sister’s cat, Atomo, who died of renal failure, was 17.5 years old when she died. Atomo was in fine health until suddenly one day she wasn’t. Ponchik is already ailing, so I would be thrilled to be able to spend three more years with him – aware as I am that I should begin preparing myself for his eventual death.

Long live Ponchik!

Source: TRT World

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