New pill treats diabetic cats without daily insulin shots

By Jonel Aleccia
Associated Press
  • A new pill called “Bexacat” has been made available to treat feline diabetes
  • Bexacat cannot be used on cats previously treated with insulin injections
  • The new drug was FDA-approved in December 2022 and will be made available soon

When Mark Winternheimer’s 12-year-old tabby cat was diagnosed with diabetes last year, the treatment was daunting: twice-daily injections of insulin, an implanted monitor and frequent visits to the vet. Despite their qualms, Winternheimer and his wife, Courtnee, of New Albany, Indiana, learned to give Oliver his shots.

“For us, they’re part of the family,” Winternheimer said of Oliver and their two other cats, Ella and Theo. “You wouldn’t deny another family member care if it’s available.”

Now, a new, once-daily pill promises to make treating feline diabetes easier in newly diagnosed animals, without the shots.

“A pill is a huge step forward from a needle,” said Dr. Audrey Cook, a cat veterinarian at Texas A&M University.

One caveat: The pill called Bexacat can’t be used in cats like Oliver, who had previously received insulin.
The biggest benefit may be the ease of use, experts said. While many cat owners successfully treat their cats with twice-daily insulin, often for years, others struggle. Research shows that owners put down 1 in 10 cats with a new diabetes diagnosis. Another 10% are euthanized within a year, in part because of the difficulties of treatment.

“Some people are afraid of giving insulin injections. Some people don’t have the time to dedicate to the care of their cats,” said Dr. Catharine Scott-Moncrieff, a Purdue University veterinarian who consulted with the makers of Bexacat on the product testing.

Made by Elanco Animal Health Inc., Bexacat was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in December and is expected to be available in the U.S. in the next several weeks. It’s the first drug of its type approved for animals; similar drugs have been approved for people for about a decade.

Diabetes, whether in people or pets, is caused when too much glucose, or sugar, builds up in the bloodstream because the pancreas doesn’t produce enough insulin, a hormone, or use it properly. Bexacat lowers blood sugar by causing it to be excreted in urine. Symptoms of feline diabetes include increased thirst and urination, increased appetite and weight loss.

About a quarter of U.S. households include one or more cats, totaling more than 58 million felines. Between 1 in 100 and 1 in 500 cats in the U.S. are diagnosed with diabetes, which is rising as obesity rates in the species approach 50%, said Dr. Bruce Kornreich, director of the Cornell Feline Health Center at Cornell University.

In studies involving more than 300 diabetic cats, Bexacat improved glucose control and decreased at least one symptom of diabetes in more than 80% of newly diagnosed, healthy animals, company documents show. But several cats in the studies also died or had to be euthanized after taking the drug, prompting a so-called black box warning about possible side effects, including diabetic ketoacidosis, a life-threatening complication.

Because of those concerns, the drug can’t be used in cats previously treated with insulin and animals must be carefully screened for liver, kidney and pancreatic disease and to ensure that they’re otherwise healthy, said Scott-Moncrieff.

“It will be life-changing for some cats and some owners, but it’s not for every cat,” Scott-Moncrieff said.

The list price for the drug is about $53 a month, according to Elanco. Most vets will double or triple the cost of the drug, charging pet owners about $100 to $150 a month, said Cook.

Depending on the source, that may be higher than the costs for insulin and the syringes or pens to give it, she said. Cats taking insulin need to be monitored frequently, but cats taking Bexacat will need to be watched, too.

“I think costs will be broadly similar, but there are a lot of variables here,” Cook said.

In Oliver’s case, the cat tolerated the injections — and a glucose monitor that had to be inserted underneath his skin, Winternheimer said. His owners did OK, too, but they were relieved when Oliver’s diabetes went into remission last fall.

No question, the idea of giving Oliver a pill instead would have been appealing, Winternheimer said. “I would have definitely preferred that if it were available.”

 

A note from The Catnip Times’ Lauren Mieli

I’ve had two cats with diabetes. I currently am treating one cat for feline diabetes. While I understand that giving a cat an injection can seem daunting at first, I want cat owners to know that it’s actually very simple. In fact, I have found that injections are far easier to administer than pills. My cat, Jady, doesn’t feel the needle when I inject her in the scruff of her neck where the skin is tougher. I give her a treat and she doesn’t mind it at all. With that said, I’m glad to see progress being made for cats with diabetes and more options is a great thing! 

You might also enjoy these articles…

RSVP Photo Banner for Cancer Care Paw event

A Paws for Wellness: The CancerCare PAW Program and the Support It Offers to Those Fighting Cancer

In the grueling fight against cancer, patients often seek comfort in the steadfast company of their pets. The joyous wag of a dog’s tail or the gentle nuzzle of a cat can speak volumes in silent, understanding support. This unbreakable bond has not gone unnoticed by CancerCare, which has embarked on helping patients who are also the proud caregivers to their beloved animal companions. The Pet Assistance and Wellness Program (PAW) by CancerCare honors the role pets play in the lives of the patients by providing a much-needed support cushion during their treatment.

girl with cat lonely

How Cats Alleviate Loneliness

The global pandemic has brought loneliness into sharp focus, shedding light on a long-standing struggle for many. Lockdowns and social distancing have unveiled the emotional toll, underscoring the importance of companionship. In these isolated times, pets, particularly cats, have emerged as silent champions, providing much-needed solace and companionship.

Cat DIY Hammock

DIY Cat Hammock

Looking for a fun, feline-centric project for the weekend? Try this DIY Hammock! Crafting a cozy haven for your feline friend doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. In fact, with a little creativity and some basic supplies, you can create a stylish and...
Rolling cat cute green eyes looking happy with a content facial expression - The Catnip Times

Study Finds Cats Have 276 Facial Expressions

Cats, our enigmatic feline friends, have long been masters of the subtle art of communication. A recent study, published in the journal Behavioral Processes, delves deep into the world of cat expressions, uncovering a whopping 276 distinct facial cues when these furry companions interact with each other.

Domestic cat looking at cupcakes.

Surprising Foods You Need to Keep Away from Your Cat

Cats are curious creatures by nature, and this inquisitive disposition often extends to their diet. However, as pet parents, it is incumbent upon us to be vigilant about what goes into their feeding bowls. Keeping them away from potentially harmful foods is not just...
Calico shelter cat sleeping outdoors at Largo di Torre Argentina, Rome, Italy

Largo di Torre Argentina: Where History Meets Cat Sanctuary

Nestled amidst the timeless beauty of Rome lies a treasure trove that marries history with the heartwarming presence of ‘gatti,’ or cats in Italian. The Area Sacra in Largo di Torre Argentina, an archaeological gem, has recently flung open its gates to human visitors after being shrouded in mystery for almost a century. What makes this site truly unique? It’s not just the ancient ruins that attract visitors from around the world, but the thriving community of feral cats that has called this place home for the last 100 years.