Monitoring and Managing Glucose Levels in Dogs and Cats
In healthy pets (and people), a hormone called insulin moves sugar from the blood stream into the cells where it can be used for energy. If a dog or cat has diabetes, however their pancreas does not produce insulin or sufficient insulin.
Typically, pets are not classified into type 1 or type 2 diabetes as are humans. Type 1 diabetes is where the pancreas is not producing insulin. Dogs get type 1 diabetes and cats can have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. With type 2 diabetes the pancreas is still producing insulin but not sufficient levels. As a result of either type of diabetes, the amount of sugar in their bloodstream can become dangerously high causing a condition called hyperglycaemia.
To keep a pet healthy, they would need insulin injections but without overdoing it. If too much insulin is given, their blood sugar levels could become dangerously low (hypoglycaemia). That’s why regular monitoring of glucose levels and adjusting insulin doses is crucial, as directed by your veterinarian.
Safe Ranges for Glucose Levels in Diabetic Pets
Normal blood glucose levels in dogs and cats range from about 80 to 120 mg/dl. When looking at the blood glucose levels of a diabetic dog, ideally the highest glucose reading of the day should fall around 200 mg/dL; in cats, up to 300 mg/dL may be normal.
If a pet has diabetes and does not get enough insulin, its blood glucose will stay elevated, and the cells will seek alternative sources of fuel. The pet’s body will break down muscle and fat into usable sources of energy, but blood sugar levels will remain elevated. When sugar in the bloodstream becomes too high it spills over into the urine, taking a lot of water with it. That’s why pets with uncontrolled diabetes become very thirsty and urinate more often.
If a pet’s glucose levels regularly exceed those upper boundaries, they may develop problems such as:
- Weight loss
- Excessive hunger
- Urinary tract infections
- Non-healing wounds
- Hind limb weakness or “dropped-hock” gait
Blood sugar that goes too low (hypoglycaemia) — defined as under 80 mg/dL — is also problematic. If you accidently give a diabetic pet too much insulin, this may be a medical emergency that requires contacting your primary care veterinarian or local emergency clinic for immediate treatment.
If you see any of the following symptoms, especially if you have recently increased your pet’s insulin dosage, take it to a veterinarian immediately:
- Lack of appetite (anorexia)
- Disorientation, weakness
- Lack of energy, lethargy
- Coma/loss of consciousness
Monitoring A Diabetic Pet at Home
Monitoring glucose levels is important to ensure that a pet is getting the correct amount of insulin which ensures that its body can effectively utilize the energy that is being ingested with their diet. Monitoring helps to ensure that the pet has minimal side effects from blood sugar levels that are too high or too low, which will hopefully help to prevent long-term complications from diabetes.
You will need a few pieces of equipment to monitor your pet’s glucose at home, including:
Glucose monitor: a device that measures the level of glucose in a blood sample. Because healthy glucose ranges are different in dogs and cats, you should use a monitor (also called a glucometer or glucose meter) or purchase one that has specific settings for both dogs and cats. Ask a veterinarian to recommend a glucometer that will ensure the most accurate test results.
Glucose test strips: individual strips that collect the blood and work with your glucose monitor. It is best to use the test strips that are designed to go with the glucose monitor purchased, and to check expiration date of strips before each use. Remember to enter the code on the strips anytime you open a new package; this correlates to the batch of strips and helps ensure accuracy.
Lancets and lancing device: A lancing device is a spring-loaded piece of equipment that holds the lancet and allows it to prick the skin in a manner allows for best and most accurate sample collection.
Sharps container: A safe storage box that holds used needles and syringes used to check blood sugar levels or administer insulin.
Glucose curve test: A blood glucose curve test is a process where blood samples are taken every two hours for about 12 hours to establish a baseline of where the glucose ranges in the day. This test reports the lowest the glucose becomes for the day and report the highest level the glucose before their insulin dose takes effect. Generally, blood glucose curves are done multiple times in the life of a diabetic pet and will often be done in a vet’s office instead of at home.
A veterinarian should administer a glucose curve test at least every few months. It is also recommended:
- A few weeks after a pet starts taking insulin for the first time
- 1-2 weeks after any change in insulin dose
- Anytime you notice symptoms of high or low blood sugar