Thousands of dogs and cats are diagnosed with diabetes every year. It can be overwhelming to start with a perceived “potty problem” (most diabetics have trouble with inappropriate urination right before their diagnosis) and be thrust overnight into the world of twice-daily insulin injections. Life changes drastically for both patient and caregiver. You will need to become a helicopter parent, watching her for any changes in urination, behavior, and appetite, administering treatments every 12 hours—rain or shine. You’ll need to return to the clinic for regular testing, even if everything goes exactly according to plan (it often doesn’t). The whole thing is a pretty big deal. That’s why I don’t even talk about checking blood sugars at home until at least a month into the diagnosis. Rule number one of veterinary medicine: if the human runs away screaming in terror while you are introducing a treatment plan, your patient is going to have a really hard time getting better.
If all goes well with the initial lifestyle changes that diabetes dictates, we might start talking about a glucometer. This handheld device tests a tiny fleck of blood for its sugar content, and the data it yields will help a lot in managing your pet’s disease. Obtaining the blood at home is possible because such a small sample is needed; you can get it with a little needle poke to the edge of the ear or inner surface of the lip. Yes, your pet could balk at that, but most don’t—animals are way tougher than people are. Because these machines were made for human blood, only a couple of glucometer brands are reliable when used on a dog or cat. After you buy the recommended model, you’ll probably have to leave it with your vet a couple times to verify that its output matches a trusted machine. Then you will get specific instructions on when to test. One of the most important reasons to use this machine is that your pet will be inside her own home at the time of sampling, without a grueling car ride and expedition into the ominous maw of the clinic, to be touched and spoken to by the doctor’s diabolical minions. The perception of danger can throw those sugar levels right out of whack. Test only when the doctor recommends it, and keep meticulous records of your findings. You will save some money doing this, because Doctor’s diabolical minions won’t need to obtain the blood themselves. The vet will still need to perform regular physical exams and will need to charge you a consult fee when analyzing the data you’ve collected.
If you can’t test your pet’s blood at home, don’t feel bad! We treated diabetics for decades without at-home testing. Just come in at the recommended intervals and we will handle it all. But if you want to be on the cutting edge, there’s a new machine that uses your smartphone to measure sugar levels all day long with no needle pokes(!). Check our next installment for more details.
Dr. M.S. Regan