Anyone who has owned a diabetic pet knows this can be a pretty daunting experience. It’s not as much the rigid schedule and the insulin injections (you get used to that quickly) as it is the unrepentant stubbornness of the cat and dog endocrine system. Yes, there is a published dose for insulin, but it is only the starting dose and virtually always needs to be adjusted. Yes, each injection is meant to keep the blood sugar under control for 12 hours, until the next dose, but it rarely works out exactly that way. Yes, there is a mathematical formula for determining exactly how much food to give a diabetic, but some patients will still gain or lose weight on the calculated amount. Some of them insist on having crises of low or high blood sugar without warning, requiring a hospital stay for each offense. This is essentially a tantrum thrown by the endocrine system when it feels it’s not getting the attention it deserves. Even the most highly-respected specialists will tell you that managing diabetes is a childishly simple concept which, in reality, is unpredictable and eternally frustrating. It ends up putting a lot of miles on your car and even more gray hairs on your veterinarian’s head.
The whole thing hinges on the patient’s blood sugar. This varies from one minute to the next, but the forecast shows it should generally be higher after you eat and lower after your insulin injection. Precise blood sugar measurements are the currency of diabetic treatment, a valued commodity that helps us select the amount and type of insulin to prescribe. These figures help us determine whether the patient is currently in control of his disease, or the other way around. They help us to detect hidden health conditions such as rotten teeth and UTIs that will undermine his progress. Collected at precisely the right time, they can warn us that a tantrum is imminent. A pet owner who could obtain blood sugar levels at home would save themselves a fair amount of money and time or perhaps even avert a costly hospital stay. Getting blood out of your pet is intimidating at first, but most owners could probably master this if they were willing to try.
Only one tiny drop of the stuff is needed to check your cat or dog’s sugar level. If you have a diabetic pet and you’re not horrified by the idea, you might ask your vet about getting a glucometer. Once you’ve mastered the process, we’ll have a wealth of data to work with. A word of warning, though: it’s best to take readings only at the times recommended by your doctor, and it is not wise for you to try interpreting them yourself. Making sense of those numbers is the very thing that has jacked up your veterinarian’s stress level to “smoldering stomach ulcer”, and it’s not for amateurs. Next time, an overview of how to use these machines and, after that, a look at something more futuristic for obtaining those valuable blood sugars.
Dr. M.S. Regan