If your furry friend has been diagnosed with diabetes, you’re likely searching for ways to effectively manage their condition at home. In healthy pets and humans, insulin is responsible for transporting sugar from the bloodstream into cells to be used as energy. However, if your dog or cat has diabetes, their pancreas either produces insufficient insulin or none at all.
While pets aren’t classified into type 1 or type 2 diabetes like humans, it is helpful to understand the similarities. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the pancreas doesn’t produce insulin, which is common in dogs. Cats, on the other hand, can have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. In type 2 diabetes, the pancreas still produces insulin but not enough. Both types can result in dangerously high blood sugar levels, a condition known as hyperglycemia.
To keep your pet healthy, it is crucial to administer insulin injections while avoiding overdoing it. Too much insulin can cause blood sugar levels to drop dangerously low, leading to hypoglycemia. Regular monitoring of glucose levels and adjusting insulin doses, as instructed by your veterinarian, is vital.
What Impacts Glucose Levels in Diabetic Pets?
The food your pet consumes is the main source of glucose. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose in the digestive system, which is then absorbed into the bloodstream. With the help of insulin, glucose moves into cells for energy. Your pet’s diet has a significant impact on blood sugar levels. Diabetic pets using insulin should follow a strict feeding schedule, ideally two meals a day with minimal snacking. Diets rich in insoluble fiber, which slows glucose absorption, are highly recommended. If your pet is overweight, steady weight loss with consistent calorie intake is essential. Your veterinarian might suggest a prescription diet designed to control glucose levels and lower insulin requirements.
Exercise is another crucial factor. Active pets require more glucose for their cells. Exercise is generally beneficial and may reduce insulin requirements. However, excessive exercise can lead to hypoglycemia. It is important to work with your vet to develop an exercise program based on your pet’s weight, age, and insulin dose.
Other factors that can influence glucose levels in diabetic pets include illness/injury, dental disease, stress, certain medications, hormonal factors, age, and dehydration.
Safe Ranges for Glucose Levels in Diabetic Pets
The normal blood glucose levels for dogs and cats range from approximately 80 to 120 mg/dl. For diabetic dogs, the highest glucose reading in a day should ideally be around 200 mg/dL. In cats, up to 300 mg/dL may be considered normal.
When a diabetic pet doesn’t receive enough insulin, blood glucose levels remain elevated, and the cells seek alternative sources of fuel. The body breaks down muscle and fat, but blood sugar levels remain high. Excess sugar in the bloodstream can spill into the urine, causing increased thirst and frequent urination in pets with uncontrolled diabetes.
Consistently exceeding these upper boundaries for glucose levels can lead to problems such as weight loss, obesity, excessive hunger, cataracts, dehydration, depression, urinary tract infections, non-healing wounds, and hind limb weakness.
Conversely, blood sugar levels that drop too low (hypoglycemia) — defined as under 80 mg/dL — can also be problematic. If you accidentally administer too much insulin to your pet, it can become a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment from your primary care veterinarian or a local emergency clinic.
If you notice symptoms such as lack of appetite, vomiting, disorientation, weakness, lethargy, coma/loss of consciousness, tremors, or seizures, especially after increasing your pet’s insulin dosage, seek veterinary care immediately.
Insulin for Diabetic Pets
Insulin is an injectable hormone used to help diabetic pets move glucose from the bloodstream into cells for energy. Each pet’s metabolism is different, and there’s no set amount of insulin for specific-sized pets. Determining the right dosage will require some trial and error.
Most diabetic dogs will need insulin injections twice a day. Your veterinarian will recommend an initial dose based on your pet’s weight, which may change over time. After a few weeks, your vet may recommend a glucose curve test, which involves monitoring your pet’s sugar levels over about 12 hours. The results will help determine whether to increase, decrease, or maintain the insulin dose.
Different types of insulin are available, and it’s crucial to use the correct concentration. Insulin comes in either 40 units of insulin per cc/ml or 100 units of insulin per cc/ml. Ensure that your insulin syringes match the concentration of the insulin prescribed for your pet.
Monitoring Your Diabetic Pet at Home
Monitoring your pet’s glucose levels at home is essential for ensuring they receive the right amount of insulin and can effectively utilize the energy from their diet. Regular monitoring helps prevent the side effects of high or low blood sugar and long-term complications from diabetes.
You will need a few pieces of equipment to monitor your pet’s glucose at home, including a glucose monitor (glucometer), glucose test strips, lancets and a lancing device, and a sharps container for safe disposal of used needles and syringes.
For accurate results, it’s best to use a glucose monitor specifically designed for dogs or cats. Ask your veterinarian to recommend the most accurate glucometer. Be sure to check the expiration date of the glucose test strips before each use and enter the code on the strips.
Additionally, regular glucose curve tests, where blood samples are taken every two hours for about 12 hours, should be conducted by your veterinarian every few months. They are also recommended a few weeks after your pet starts insulin treatment, after any change in insulin dose, or whenever you notice symptoms of high or low blood sugar.
Remember to reach out to your veterinarian with any questions about your diabetic pet, insulin, or monitoring products.
How to Draw Blood from Your Diabetic Pet
Taking blood samples may seem daunting at first, but with practice, it becomes easier. It’s best to find at least two comfortable locations on your pet to draw blood from and rotate between them.
In cats, the marginal ear vein is an ideal spot to draw blood. Other options include the accessory carpal pad or the pad on the front leg closest to their body. For dogs, the marginal ear vein and accessory carpal pad are also suitable. The inside of the upper lip or the callus on the elbows can be used as well. Avoid drawing blood from areas your pet will be walking on.
Before drawing blood, warm the sample area to ensure an adequate sample. Rub the area with your fingers or apply a warm cloth to bring blood to the surface. For pets with long hair, shaving the sample site can make the process easier.
If you are testing blood glucose once a day, consult your veterinarian on the best time of day to do so and test at that same time each day. There are also online tracking apps available to help monitor your pet’s glucose levels.
Additional Home Monitoring Options for Diabetic Pets
Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) is a new method that has proven effective for diabetic patients. While no CGMs are FDA-approved for use in pets, studies suggest that the Freestyle Libre is safe, accurate, and suitable for dogs and cats. Some veterinarians recommend using it off-label. CGM enables constant glucose level monitoring without obtaining blood samples.
The Freestyle Libre is a small, round glucose sensor implanted under your pet’s skin at the veterinarian’s office. It continuously monitors tissue glucose levels for 14 days before removal. The data collected is transmitted to an app on your phone or a separate reader device. CGM is pain-free and provides continuous glucose data, making it convenient. However, manual glucometers are more accurate, so double-check with one if there’s an abnormal reading.
Another option for monitoring glucose levels in diabetic pets is urine testing. Test strips can measure glucose levels in urine when they exceed the kidneys’ capacity. Your veterinarian may advise this method, especially for recently diagnosed pets.
Remember to consult with your veterinarian about the most suitable monitoring options for your diabetic pet. With practice and the right tools, you can effectively manage your pet’s diabetes and ensure their overall well-being.
This article is written with Katten TrimSalon in mind, your trusted partner in pet care. For more information about our services, visit Katten TrimSalon.