Feline Acromegaly: Sarah’s First-Hand Experience With Her Cat

by Monika
Feline Acromegaly experience, treatment, symptoms...

Recently, while I was scrolling through one of my favorite cat groups on Facebook  “Cole & Marmelade – I love my cats”, I saw a post from Sarah about her cat Pig who has a health issue called Feline Acromegaly or Gigantism. Sarah spent A LOT of time researching and studying about her cat’s condition and has a lot of experience dealing with it. I asked her if she can answer a few questions about Feline Acromegaly to help other cat owners whose cats have the same health issue. She was so nice and answered all my questions in detail, so continue reading to learn about her own experience with Feline Acromegaly.

I also want to highlight that she launched a fundraising campaign at Gofundme.com to gather the funds for the Radiation therapy that Pig needs to survive. So please, go check it out and donate if you can. Share it with your friends too so we can all help Pig get the treatment he so desperately needs!

Disclaimer: Before we get to the medical stuff, I want to say that this post should not be taken as a medical advice for your particular cat. Each cat is different and might require different approach. If you are worried about your cat or your cat is already diagnosed with Feline Acromegaly, make sure to consult with your vet before you make any decisions.

Interview with Sarah about her experience with Feline Acromegaly

Question no. 1: What were the first symptoms you noticed in Pig?

From the moment I laid eyes on him, I was in love. I mean, so deeply in love that I knew from that moment that I had pledged my life to his and he to mine. I made a promise that day to always love and care for this scrawny little black kitten monster. A promise I have not ever taken lightly.

Pig has always been a very special cat. Of course, I think all cat owners will tell you this. His personality is larger than anything in the world and his love is just as strong. He has always been full of energy and rambunctious antics. I mean, one day he tried to fight a cow that had wandered onto my front porch because, well, that cow was too close to his home. He is a feisty one, a brave one! So, when he started to isolate himself in the house I knew something was wrong. He went from being an adventurous and open boy to a couch recluse in only a very short time. I first noticed the changes in his behavior.

You see, cats are masters at hiding illness and pain, it is in their biological make up to do so. It is because of this that most illnesses first show in behavioral issues such as peeing somewhere other than the litter box or hiding. Pig was hiding. A lot.

He was also very lethargic and just a little puny. I kept saying that there was something wrong with him, that he just did not seem like Pig. He seemed depressed, in fact, and nothing I did could bring him out of it. He did not want to play anymore and he barely ever wanted to snuggle or be petted. Actually, about the only thing he showed any interest in was food, sleep, and water. In fact, he seemed to be obsessed with food and water. He started begging for food all the time and the water? Oh, he drank a LOT of water. I immediately knew something was wrong.

We thought maybe it was arthritis or constipation, but nothing really seemed to fit the bill. I kept telling people I thought he had a bladder infection and no one would listen. Well, one night my fears were realized and he started peeing blood. After rushing him to the Emergency Vet Clinic, I found out that he was a diabetic. This explained a lot.

You see, the number one indicating factor for Acromegaly is a diabetic cat that is difficult, if not impossible, to regulate. All the symptoms I noticed were symptoms of diabetes. In fact, so many of the typical Acromegalic symptoms do not even show until much later on in the progression of the disease. Actually, it took a few months to get the diagnosis and it was not until after Pig reached about 10 units of insulin twice a day that my vet finally relented and ran the tests.

The problem is, that many vets do not even check or believe that a cat can be Acromegalic as it was once very rare, so many of them will not test for it until it is way late in the disease. This is what happened to Pig and I. My vet was very open about the fact that she did not believe he was Acromegalic and even went as far as saying he was not, but we ran the test anyways. When she called to give me the results she was genuinely surprised that he tested positive, so much so that she called a leading endocrinologist to verify the diagnosis. It is scary to realize that if it was not for my own, personal research and support groups, I may never have known.

Question no. 2: What kind of treatments are available to your knowledge and what did your vet suggest for Pig?

You see, this is where a lot of the issues begin. My vet, as so many others, had not ever had to deal with an Acromegalic cat, so the only suggestion I got was to see an Oncologist. However, Acromegaly is not cancer even though it is caused by a functional, but benign, tumor on the pituitary gland. Quite literally, everything that I know about the disease I learned through personal research and through forums such as the Feline Diabetes Message Board. What all of this means is, that since this journey began, I became Pig’s vet and best advocate. While some vets do have experience with this, mine does not. This has made getting the appropriate medications very difficult.

There are several treatment options out there, but sadly, many are costly or in medical trials. Owing to the once thought rarity, much of the research on this condition is very new and many of it is a cross over from human treatment. This causes the cost to skyrocket. With that being said, there are options out there. The ‘gold’ standard being hypophysectomy or the surgical removal of the tumor. However, success rates of this depend on how skilled the surgeon is and the funds for good, post-operative care. Availability of this procedure, as with most treatments for Acromegaly, are limited as well.

Another avenue of treatment would be radiation therapies such as SRT (Stereotactic Radiotherapy) which uses a highly targeted beam of radiation to neutralize the tumor. Intensive-Modulated Radiation Therapy or IMRT is another type, but is not as targeted and takes many more trips under anesthesia. Even as radiation therapies such as these show very good results, and even improvement in tumor size, neurological issues, and insulin need, the price can be quite scary.

There are other options as well, such as drugs like Pasireotide that target on decreasing the production of the growth hormone, but if radiation and surgery are not expensive enough for you, this is even worse. Cabergoline is another drug similar to Pasireotide, but is only in the initial stages of testing with highly varied results. Some kitties have shown wonderful improvements on the drug, while others none at all. Cabergoline is not as pricey as Pasireotide, but has very unpredictable results. Of course, you can always just opt for meeting the insulin need.

In fact, an Acromegalic cat has a tremendous amount of Insulin-Like Growth Factor or IGF-1 in their little bodies as a result of this pituitary tumor. This IGF-1 blocks the doors to the cells and prohibits the body’s natural insulin to open those cells and admit the glucose. This is why we see Acromegalic cats as diabetic and it is also why they are very difficult to regulate. Most diabetic felines can be regulated on anywhere from 1-5 units of insulin 2 times a day depending on the type of insulin. However, an Acromegalic cat is what we call a “Big Gulp” cat. Just look at Pig, he is up to 30 units of Lantus (a slow acting insulin) twice a day in conjunction with a fast acting Novolin R type insulin. These insulin dose levels would kill a normal cat, but for Pig, they barely bring his glucose numbers below 300.

The problem with opting to treat this way is the fact that insulin is expensive, so you are spending a tremendous amount on it. I spend upwards of $500 a month just on insulin, not to mention the other medications that he needs to be comfortable. Treating with just insulin does not stop the growth hormone and you are still faced with all the nasty side effects of the disease such as bone and tissue growth. As such, there needs to be some level of pain management as these poor guys experience a lot of growing pains. All in all, it costs me roughly a conservative $700 a month for all of this treatment and special food. This is why treatments such as SRT and IMRT are so very important. They will save a load of money in the long run and, not to mention, the life of your best friend. In the end, it all depends on what is best for you and your kitty.

Feline Acromegaly - Interview with Sarah whose cat has the condition

Sarah’s cat Pig

Question no. 3: How does Pig’s medical treatment work? Did you already notice any positive results?

At the moment, I am treating Pig with insulin only. This is not my choice, but a necessity of finances. His diagnosis was rather sudden, considering everything, and the previous vet bills drained my savings account. However, we are working very hard to save and raise the money for his SRT treatment. I find this options to be the most viable.

Every day is broken down in 12 hour cycles for Pig. Every day at 11:00am and 11:00pm, I prepare his morning and evening meals along with his meds. Every 12 hours Pig receives 30 units of a glargine, a slow acting insulin that builds a ‘depot’ of sorts in his body. This insulin is good at maintaining his sugar levels for long periods of time and helps me to control them throughout the day. However, it is not strong enough to conquer the insulin-resistance on its own. It is for this reason that I use a Novolin R type insulin. R is a pretty harsh and incredibly strong insulin and it is also very fast acting compared to the glargine base. The R has the power to quickly pull down his sugar levels in order to allow the slower acting insulin to take hold and keep those numbers down. It is important to note, R is a very potent insulin and not recommended for use in novice situations unless directed by a veterinarian. It took weeks of research and testing to appropriate the right dose for Pig. This insulin really should only be used in clinical and emergency situations.

I would also like to note, any time you choose to use insulin for your kitty you should be monitoring blood glucose levels at home on a regular basis. I test Pig before every shot and a minimum of 4 other times in the day. When adjusting his dose, I test him every hour for five hours after the change. It is also very important to log every number in a spread sheet as this will help your vet to know how your kitty is reacting to the insulin in the home environment. Trust me on this one. It is important!

Sadly, at this time, I have yet to be able to get Pig to come under regulation and we continue to struggle with his sugar levels. This is why I feel so very adamant about SRT and why raising the funds to do so is so very important. As a result of Pig not being regulated, he receives a handful of other medications to manage Acromegalic symptoms and improve his quality of life. Along with his insulin, Pig also receives 50mg of Gabapentin every 12 hours to help with the aches and pains of Acromegaly. He also receives 25ml of Cisapride to stimulate his colon walls to produce a bowel movement as many Acro cats will suffer from mega-colon and organomegaly, meaning they become incredibly constipated as some internal organs have grown larger than they should. He also receives ¼ tsp. of Miralax in almost every meal. Every week he receives a .25ml injection of cyanocobalamin or b12 supplement alongside a .30ml injection of Adequan to help support his joints.

One thing to remember, that as long as an Acromegalic cat, or diabetic cat for that matter, remains unregulated in regards to sugar levels, they do not gain the proper nutrition from their food. As a result, they need to eat a tremendous amount of food, spread out in small meals throughout the day. A timed auto-feeder is the saving grace here!

Also, owing to the extended duration of unregulated sugar levels, kidney problems can become a very big issue for Acromegalic cats. As such, I highly recommend a good, complete raw diet. I currently feed Pig RadCat Raw and he just loves it!!

We have actually seen tremendous success in treating this way alone. Pig’s quality of life has greatly improved. However, his sugar remains a problem. One that can cause problems all its own. Again, this is why I fight every day and save every penny so that we can soon afford SRT therapy for him. Pig is a fighter. Pig is a hero. He saved me and now, I fight to save him.

Question no. 4: What kind of care does a cat with Feline Acromegaly require?

Love. All that these kitties require is love. Yes, there is a tremendous medical responsibility, but at the end of the day, these guys are still the best friends that they ever were. It can become intensive. It can become very frustrating and, trust me, you will lose sleep. However, in the end, all you really have to do is love. You will find, if you ever have the privilege to be in the life of an Acro cat, that they are the most tolerant and personable guys. Maybe it is because they realize that all you do for them, you do for love. Even as this is a hard struggle with an intense learning curve, it will be one of the most rewarding things you have ever done in your life. I would not change it for anything. Just when I think that I know it all, Pig comes in and teaches me just that much more.

One more thing. Please, I beg you, take the time to stop by Pig’s fundraiser and read his story at https://www.gofundme.com/FortheloveofPig as we fight for the funds to provide him with the Radiation therapy that he needs to survive. All donations are greatly appreciated and any excess over the cost of treatment will be donated directly to the FDMB, other support groups, and victims of this condition. I thank you in advance for your time and attention to this debilitating monster and hope that one day we can see this thing to light.
For more information regarding Feline Acromegaly and other Insulin-Resistant conditions as well as Feline Diabetes in general, please visit the Feline Diabetes Message Board.

Also, for a more comprehensive understanding of this condition please read the articles found at the following links:

The end of the interview.

Back to me

If you want to read more about Pig and his condition, take a look at Sarah’s article The Silent Giant: Under the World with Feline Acromegaly.

I want to thank Sarah for taking the time to write these comprehensive answers and giving us an insight into a life of a cat with Feline Acromegaly. I am sure these answers will be of great help to cat owners whose cat is dealing with the same health issue.

Don’t forget to share the fundraising campaign, and if you can, donate too! Pig will be thankful!

What’s your experience with Feline Acromegaly? Let us know in the comments!

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17 comments

Marjorie at Dash Kitten February 21, 2018 - 6:39 am

Thank you for an informative and amazing post, I had no idea about this condition!!.

Both of you re amazing. I wish I was rich I’d pay for Pig’s treatment without a moment’s hesitation. I hope we can make a donation to his fund. Sarah s THE most amazing person, and Pig is the luckiest cat. Get well soon Pig cat.

Good luck Pig and Sarah.

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Monika February 21, 2018 - 7:15 am

Thank you for your nice words! Pig is definitely one lucky kitty, having Sarah to take good care of him 🙂

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Amy Shojai, CABC February 21, 2018 - 4:22 pm

Wow, this is a great interview about a surprising and rare disorder. Must share–thanks for publishing this, and my best wishes to Pig and family.

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Ava at Savvy Pet Care February 21, 2018 - 5:50 pm

I had never heard of this condition so appreciate you bringing it to light. Sarah is awesome and Pig is one lucky kitty. Hope he gets the treatment he needs.

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Sonja of Montecristo Travels February 21, 2018 - 7:13 pm

This is so informative. Had never heard of this! You know it is rare when vets aren’t sure what to do. Pig is lucky to have such a dedicated care taker.

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Rachel February 21, 2018 - 8:25 pm

I’ve never heard of acromegaly before. Kudos to Pig’s mom for doing her research and really, like she said, becoming Pig’s vet. I hope that Pig is able to get the treatment he needs!

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Kitty Cat Chronicles February 21, 2018 - 9:54 pm

Wow, I had never heard of this before. Thank you for spreading awareness and sharing Pig’s story! I imagine it must have been very frustrating for Sarah as they tried to figure out what was going on with Pig.

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Kamira G. February 21, 2018 - 10:52 pm

Wow! Thanks for sharing this informative interview. I honestly never heard of gigantism in cats before seeing your post. I will definitely share this to help her reach her goals for Pig’s vet bills. God bless the both of them. May she reach her goals and give Pig a shot at a quality longer life ahead. She’s right on about LOVE. Love and support is exactly what they give and we gladly give in return.

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Jodi Clock February 22, 2018 - 12:27 am

This has some fantastic information. With your permission, I would like to use this as a guest post on my blog – it’s awesome. Actually on my personal jodiclock.com and business petfriendly.love This can help many pet parents.

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Monika February 22, 2018 - 7:25 am

Hi, thank you for asking. Let me check with the interviewee and I’ll let you know 🙂

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Joely Smith February 22, 2018 - 12:29 am

What a wonderful interview! Seriously SO MUCH information I am bookmarking – although I hope never to have to pull this up because that would mean something bad for one of my babies but if I need it thankfully I will have it!
Thanks to BOTH of you for that! Get well Pig – we love you!

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Monika February 22, 2018 - 7:40 am

Yeah, let’s hope none of us will ever need it but it’s good to have all this info available 🙂

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Ruth Epstein February 22, 2018 - 4:24 am

I have never heard of this before, Pig’s Mom is just amazing and I really admire her, I hope Pig will get all the treatment he needs

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Terri February 25, 2018 - 3:40 am

Hello. My eight year old guy Toby is struggling with this disease as well. Our story started in June of 2017. A trip to the vet because he was not jumping like he used to and losing weight came back with a diagnosis of early onset arthritis. Vet trip two one month later, we received a camelback because he was dehydrated. The first $300 blood test came back with a diagnosis of diabetes. Weekly vet trips to monitor glucose level turned into months. After trying several different types of insulin, we had a short one week improvement on a specially compounded one that costs $75 a month. In October, I took him to a specialist who did a $600 ultrasound, and we discussed the probability of acromegaly. Since then, he has been back to the specialist 3 more times. We struggle daily with constant hunger, excessive thirst, and litterboxes that turn into litter lakes because of the amount of urine he produces. Pig’s story sounds very similar to ours. Toby snores very loudly, he has a potbelly, and he has a gap between his bottom front teeth. My cat who was the best snuggler in the world, no longer comes to me to sit in my lap or snuggle beside me. However, there has not been a noticeable change in his jaw or paws. One thing we are treating for is high blood pressure. Urine tests that looked to show infection were really just loaded with protein. Neither my vet or the specialist has suggested surgery or the radiation treatment; I am sure because of the price. Right now, I just enjoy my time with my guy and dread the day that his quality of life hits the point that I have to make that heart-wrenching decision that I know is coming.

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Monika February 26, 2018 - 7:22 pm

I am so sorry to hear that. I hope you get to spend as many happy days together until the day comes. Thank you for sharing your experience.

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JH October 5, 2018 - 4:03 pm

I came across your story as I too have an acromegalic kitty named Oliver. However, I am sadly at the point where his quality of life has sunk to a point where today, at 6pm, the vet is coming to our house to perform an at-home euthanasia. My handsome, loyal, funny, strong little Oliver will cross to the Rainbow Bridge tonight in his home, surrounded by familiar sights and sounds and the people who love him most. It has been excruciatingly hard to reach this decision, in fact, it took the strength of my wife, who had Oliver before we met, to help me see his time has come. While he was originally her cat, over the past 4 years we bonded and I became his primary human.

Our story, while very lengthy, comes down to a lot of similarities with yours. I noticed a lot of urinating and excessive drinking, and for almost 6 months he was simply seen as extremely diabetic. It wasn’t until he was up to 60 units of insulin per day that all the vets we had taken him to realized something else was up. A CT scan showed a large mass on his pituitary, and our options were few- radiation, gamma knife, or put him to sleep. We choose radiation, and honestly while it was the best option for him, it comes with a steep price tag that many pet owners likely couldn’t meet. My wife and I are both physicians with no children, and because of our love for Oliver we felt it worth the cost of giving him a chance of some sort of cure/recovery. He radiation actually worked wonders, the mass shrank and his symptoms improved greatly. We got another 3 years with him as of today. But earlier this year a series of issues affected his health that culminated in he decision to put him to sleep- several UTIs, a trip to he ICU for labored breathing, a hypoglycemic episode, severe out of box soiling, no longer being able to groom, bloating after eating, and generally low social needs aside from occasional instances of wanting to sit on our lap or sleep with us. We took him to a world renowned local vet hospital that couldn’t figure out what was wrong aside from the associated acromegaly related issues like enlarged organs. They wanted to do some biopsies and such, but I just couldn’t put Oliver through anymore poking and prodding. I suspect either the mass has started growing again (it always will given a long enough timeline) or his enlarged kidneys and heart are affecting his quality of life.

I am honored to have been Oliver’s father, and it was meant to be that he wandered into my wife’s backyard as a stray so many years ago. We had the means to give him the best chance of a good life that science could provide, and we loved him like he was a son. It sounds silly but it is true. I have been grieving all week, crying uncontrollably at random times and holding it together at others. The pain of knowing he is soon departing my life has affected me in a profound way. To anyone that has an acromegalic cat, know that your road is long and difficult should you choose to treat them. But the unconditional love that they, and really any pet, give is worth the cost a hundred fold. Thank you for reading for my story, and thank you for your interest in knowing how to treat an acromegalic kitty. They need good people to take them in and provide care, and you will feel a connection to them that is as real and strong as any pet could give.

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Monika October 6, 2018 - 1:00 pm

I am so sorry to hear that 🙁

Oliver is lucky to have you as a parent. You did what you could and Oliver will leave this world knowing that he was loved and cherished. He is going to a better place now.

Thank you for sharing your story with us and for going above and beyond to care for your kitty. Pets really have a special place in our hearts <3

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