"Looks like we've gained some weight," said the veterinarian, glancing at my cat's chart and then the huddled mass before her, a spring-loaded mess of panic-shedding, crossed eyes and jutting tongue, which happens sometimes because of his teeth.
Terror is not a flattering look for Squeak.
In my defense, all that long, black fur makes for great flab camouflage. He's also got a strange physiology, part Maine Coon and part Slinky.
"I know he seems chubby, but if you stretch him out it gets distributed," I tried to explain to the vet. "When he's relaxed and walking around, he's very proportional."
She wasn't buying it. The fix wasn't in adjusting the cat but rather adjusting his diet. The last thing I wanted was for Squeak to develop diabetes, she said, her voice going ominous.
The last thing Squeak wanted was another reason to go to the vet, and there was no denying he'd been leaving a deeper dent in the sofa of late.
The cat is a dogged and creative beggar, though. Over the following weeks and months, I stayed my treat hand and cut back on the dried food I left out for round-the-clock grazing. Turns out another thing I didn't want was a peckish cat yowling and walking on my head at 3 a.m. Eventually, I caved and went back to treats and bowls filled to the brim.
Two years later, I wish I'd taken the vet's warnings more - and Squeak's less - to heart.
I met the love of my life at a support group for people with diabetic pets ...
... is going to be the opening line of my memoir, which will be structured as a dating guide for shut-ins.
Because the only thing worse than learning that your 7-year-old cat will need shots of insulin twice a day for the rest of his life is realizing you'll be the one giving them, twice a day, for the foreseeable rest of yours.
I was raised in the country in a pet-loving family, and I've known dozens of cats throughout their life cycles. Many of them - barring encounters with cars, hunters' bullets and predators, including the neighbors' kids - reached well nigh, and in one case well beyond, the two-decade mark.
Several of those long-lived cats were of the potato-on-toothpicks body types.
"I've never heard of a cat having diabetes," my mom said when I told her about Squeak's diagnosis. "But more people have it, so I guess that makes sense."
My dad inquired, tactfully, about how attached I was to the cat.
Because Squeak's eyes are crossed, it can be tough to tell what he's looking at. The first time he looked at me, at a Whiskers Animal Benevolent League adoption event in Albany, N.Y., in 2011, it was clear what he saw was Cthulhu. I managed to wrangle him onto my lap, where he spent a half-hour in terror rigamortis, face buried in the crook of my elbow, while I petted him and assured him I wasn't going to eat him or make him wear a cape, except maybe on Halloween. (He's a black cat, after all.)
I soon learned that he was much more receptive to affection when it was delivered with food. Our relationship was built on it. I can't tell you much about his foundling backstory, but he clearly spent it hungry and burrowed. Squeak's weight - and, ultimately, his sky-high blood glucose numbers - was a direct result of my need for him to love me, immediately and a lot.
Sorry about that, buddy.
We talk to each other, ourselves and our pets in food, so it's no surprise their dimensions are expanding alongside our own. It's estimated that up to 60 percent of the domestic cat population is overweight, and vets are noting a rise in cases of diabetes mellitus.
The reasons are the same as the health crisis in the human world: overeating, bad food choices and a sedentary lifestyle.
Apparently, the dried food I'd been free-feeding Squeak and his 17-year-old "little big" sister - the soft-centered nuggets, which I figured would be easier for him to chew with compromised teeth - was the worst. Like feeding your cat "a handful of Cap'n Crunch" for every meal, according to one commenter on a feline diabetes forum.
For years, Squeak held more or less fast at a doughy 14 pounds, until late last summer, when - despite no apparent change in eating habits - the ounces began melting away. I figured maybe he was engaging in a more active workout regimen while I was at the office, but then pre-dental-surgery tests last October revealed the more insidious cause: a blood glucose count in the mid-400s.
"It shouldn't be over 175," said Dr. Peter De Waal, of Westside Animal Hospital. "He's diabetic. And obviously that changes things. The teeth can wait."
The doc asked if I'd noticed Squeak drinking more water, or if the litter box was filling more quickly. I said no ... but he had been peeing on the dog's bed more often. I'd figured it was a sibling rivalry thing.
"That should get better as we start on the insulin. He definitely should start feeling better and more energetic," said the doc.
He did. No question about it. But what price salvation?
Cats with diabetes are a little different than their canine counterparts, in that they may - with good diet and blood-sugar management - go into remission. In maybe 10 percent to 20 percent of cases, blood glucose can drop on its own, allowing the animal to be weaned off insulin, Waal said. He suggested I come in for a free instructional session with a tech who could show me how to prepare and deliver the shot using a filament-sized needle.
"Squeak probably won't even know you're doing it," Waal said. "It's much, much easier than it sounds, but it does need to be twice a day - as close to 12 hours apart as you can."
That was six months ago. After D-Day, I switched both cats to an all-squishy food diet and two meals a day, with target feeding times of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Last time I had Squeak's blood glucose checked, it was in the 120s, a "healthy" range for a diabetic cat.
I recently bought a testing kit so I can map his blood glucose and fine-tune the insulin dose at home. I've got my fingers crossed for remission.
In the meantime, I'm trying to be a better diet and lifestyle role model for the household. I bought an exercise bike and am avoiding between-meal treats. And these days, when I eat my Cap'n Crunch for dinner, I do it standing up.