Monitoring a Diabetic Pet at Home (+ do human glucometers work in dogs and cats?)

If you have a diabetic dog or cat then blood glucose monitoring at home is an excellent way to know their insulin treatment is working well.

A human gulcometer is a cheap way to do this. But do they work in pets and what other options are there?

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Could you calibrate a human glucose meter for a dog?

Tee Bee asks a question which boils down to asking all about how to monitor a diabetic dog at home.

Monitoring Blood Glucose at Home

So I'll start off by saying home monitoring of blood glucose is an excellent way to monitor insulin treatment in a diabetic dog or a diabetic cat. It’s very simple to do in the vast majority of cases, not in every case, but in the vast majority it’s something that's very easy to do. The big benefit is that you don't get a stress effect which can cause an artificially high blood glucose levels compared to having serial blood glucose levels taken at the vet.

This can be a big problem, especially in cats, that means addition blood tests may be required. Monitoring your pet’s blood glucose avoids this.

Like I say, it's generally easy and very well tolerated.

How to get a blood sample

We tend to take blood from the ear margin, and that's generally the easiest, least complicated way that the vast majority of cats and dogs will tolerate.

What you do is take a small needle, and you do a little prick on the edge of the ear that gets you a tiny little bit of blood. You really only need a small drop blood glucose using a glucometer.

Now if you're struggling to get that, then you can use a warm towel held over the ear. This causes the blood vessels to dilate and makes it more likely that you'll get some blood.

If you're finding that the blood is just smearing and soaking into the fur and you're not really able to get enough to go into the machine, then you can actually put a very thin smear of petroleum jelly or Vaseline over the area that you'll prick, and that will cause a nice blood blob to form.

A little bit of pressure will stop the bleeding. It's a really tiny amount and it's very simple. Trust me, once you get the knack after a few days, your pet’s hardly going to notice.

glucometer for pets vs humans

Now moving on to human glucometers. So they aren't as accurate as pet specific ones and that's because glucose is present in different proportions in the serum and in the red blood cells in different species. Also, different species have different PCV - the amount of red blood cells circulating in the blood.

There is quite a big difference between humans and dogs and cats. There is a small difference between dogs and cats as well, but not nearly so much.

Now, that means that, ideally, you're going to want to use a pet specific glucometer. They are reasonably cheap to buy but test strips are much more expensive than human strips.

Now that said, when we're monitoring blood glucose levels in our dogs and cats, we're not using the readings to micromanage or to change the insulin dose on a daily basis. Instead, you may run a few sample every couple of weeks, especially once your pet is stabilized on their insulin treatment.

It's very different from human diabetes management. So from that point of view, you're not going to use nearly as many strips as a human diabetic would tend to use.

So while cost difference maybe isn't so much, it's definitely something to think about as it is going to be a long-term cost.

Will a human glucometer work?

That said, it is okay to use a human glucometer.

The way to get yours calibrated so that you know exactly the correct blood glucose level in your pet, is to actually have your vet run a blood glucose curve on your pet using their glucometer as well as yours at the same time. This way you can compare the two readings and get an idea of the level of blood glucose that the reading on your machine would correlate to.

So that's definitely something to think about doing if you're using a human glucometer. They are fine to use and in previous practices where I’ve worked in the past, they are actually what we've used when we've been taking spot blood glucose measures. We've then gone on to use different equipment if we've needed to for any particular reason.

Other Diabetes Monitoring Methods

There are other ways that we can monitor diabetes at home. Like I say, we're not wanting to micromanage insulin dose based on the blood glucose levels and so there are other things that we can do and look out for that will give an indicator that in general a dog or a cat is controlled to a good degree and is nice and stable with their diabetic management.

Body Weight + appetite

So that includes keeping an eye on their weight, so are they losing weight? This would indicate that actually blood glucose levels aren't being controlled nicely.

What's their appetite like? Are they really hungry? Again, if the diabetes is not well controlled and the blood glucose is very high, then effectively they’re urinating out an awful lot of glucose and energy and so they remain very hungry. Also the body and cells are effectively kind of starved for glucose even though there's loads in the blood.

How much are they drinking?

Amount being drunk is also a real key indicator. If all of a sudden your dog or your cat starts to drink a lot more again, then that's going to indicate that the blood glucose levels are higher and the diabetes is not as well controlled.

Similarly, when your pet is just starting insulin treatment, a sudden drop in the amount they are drinking is a good sign the treatment is becoming effective.


And then also just monitor their general demeanor. Are they happy or are they sick, lethargic or tired? A happy pet is unlikely to be in dire straights with diabetic management. Especially if their drinking is low, if they're maintaining a stable weight, then the likelihood is that the insulin dose that they're on is absolutely sufficient.

Urine testing

Finally we can also use urine strips to look at the glucose and also ketone levels in the urine.

If you’re seeing glucose in the urine, then that means that the blood glucose levels are higher than they should normally be, especially if the urine sample is from the middle of the day.

And if we're seeing something called ketones, then actually we know that the dog or a cat is really not very well controlled at all and they’re going to become sick very soon. This is an indicator the we definitely need to jump on.

Monitoring urine is a very simple thing to do. You just collect a little urine sample, dip the strip in and look for a color change. Simple!

So you can definitely use a human glucometer but there are other ways to monitor a diabetic dog or cat at home as well. If, for example, your pet doesn't tolerate having their blood glucose measured or it's not something that you're able to do for whatever reason, there are other ways that you can monitor a diabetic patient at home.

Finally, you should never change your pet’s insulin dose without talking to your vet first. Diabetes is a complex disease and giving too much or too little insulin can have serious consequences.

The above is a transcript taken from “The Dr Alex Answers Show”.

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