This post is from 8 years ago, originally published in 2010 on dLife as part of my column at Generation D. (Man, this post is old. This is before Birdy.) Abby was the best cat ever (sorry, Siah), and her ability to sniff out a low blood sugar is only bested by my Dexcom. Because I totally had a CGM … a Cat Glucose Monitor.
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Even after two decades with diabetes, nocturnal hypoglycemia has always been a weak point, and a fear, of mine. Blood sugar numbers like 40 mg/dl are ones I can muddle through in the middle of the day, but when that number crops up in the wee hours of the morning, I’m a mess. My body is especially slow to react, recover, and rebound from these lows blood sugar episodes.
Part of my reason for wanting a continuous glucose monitoring system were these lows. They make me feel weak, vulnerable, and scared. But while I was waiting for my insurance company to cover costs, I had a backup plan. Actually, it wasn’t a “plan” so much as an accidental asset.
Abby, my 16 lb calico mess of a cat, has an uncanny ability for reacting to nocturnal hypoglycemia. She can somehow sense it and she stirs uncomfortably until I wake up. Over the last ten years, she’s caught more night time lows than I can count, and I’m convinced it’s no accident.
Scene: It’s four in the morning and I’m wiped out, asleep. So is my husband. But my blood sugar is plummeting while I rest. The air is pierced by a quiet yet purposeful:
It takes me a minute to wake up fully, but the cats paws all over my head help push me along to consciousness.
“Mmm. What? What do you want?”
My forehead is sweaty. My mouth is tingly and my hands are unresponsive. My brain knows I’m low but my body is having a hard time moving to correct the problem.
More insistent this time. This cat isn’t very small, so when she walks circles around my head, the pillow lists to one side. She meows and bleats until I start to stir. At this point, I’m on diabetes auto-pilot, reaching for my meter and testing without thinking about my movements. My meter confirms the low and I tumbled out of bed in search of juice. Abby follows me to the kitchen, circling like a shark while I treat my low.
I wish I was kidding about this. I realize how completely silly it sounds, claiming that my old fluffy cat can detect low blood sugars. But there’s been a lot of evidence put forth about animals and their ability to “sniff out” a low. I’ve heard about those “hypo-awareness dogs” that are specially trained to help people manage hypoglycemic unawareness. And it makes sense that animals, with their keen sense of smell, would detect any “scent” released during a nocturnal hypoglycemic reaction.
Remember that kid from Jerry McGuire that said “Dogs and bees can smell fear?” I’m beginning to think that dogs and cats can smell lows. Or at least that’s the only explanation I can come up with for Abby, my enormous cat of more than 10 years, who was my furry version of a CGM for years.
Now, when the Dexcom BEEEEEEEP!s in the middle of the night, I hear it in harmony with the “meows” coming from Abby atop my head. My diabetes is protected by my glucose monitor and my cat. (There’s a statement I never though I’d say!)
As far as diabetes management tools go, Abby the cat is definitely the cutest I’ve found so far.