Guide to a Diabetic Cat – What You Need to Know to Effectively Care for Your Cat

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A bottle of insulin is commonly referred to as a vial. All insulins are measured in units.

There are two common concentrations which will be important when you buy your insulin syringe. Some insulin's are u-100 (100 units in a milliliter) and others are u-40 (40 units in a milliliter). Because insulin's are different, 3 units of one insulin may not be the same as 3 units of a different insulin. It is very important to verify the type of syringe and insulin match when filling your prescription to avoid over- or under-dosing your pet.

There are several different types of insulin used on cats. They differ by what they are made from (some are pork, some are human-based) and how long they act in the body. The short acting insulins are referred to as “regular”, medium acting are referred to as “Lente” and long acting insulins are referred to as “Ultralente”.

The insulin's used in cats are generally different from dogs.

The most commonly used insulin's in cats are:

  • Humulin (human-based) but there are other types used, too.
  • Humulin N can be used in cats but has not been
  • Pork or beef PZI insulin's are the closest in structure to cat insulin and seem to work best.

NOTE: There are several types of insulin on the market. What works on one pet may not work on a different pet.

How Often Does my Cat Need Insulin?

Your veterinarian will determine this but based on the insulin's available in the U.S. for cats, the most effective treatment for diabetes in cats is administration of insulin with intermediate duration of action twice daily.
The only currently available intermediate-duration product is recombinant human neutral protamine Hagedorn (NPH) insulin.

Another type of insulin can be used in called Porcine Lente insulin (Vetsulin). At the present time, it is not being sold in the United States due to problems with stability and bacterial contamination associated with the manufacturing process. Based on our sources, it is uncertain when or if the product will again be available in the United States.

Why Does My Cat Need Insulin?

Insulin is required for food to be properly processed and utilized as energy for the body. Insulin lowers the blood sugar after a meal. Deficiency of insulin, or an insensitivity of body cells to available insulin, leads to diabetes.

The goal of diabetes treatment is to supplement the insulin to regulate the blood glucose in as close to a normal range as possible.

How Should the Insulin Look?

The first time you open your insulin – look at the color and clarity of the bottle most types of insulin will look slightly cloudy but there should be no clumps or floating particles.

How Much Insulin Do I Give My Cat?

The initial dose of insulin given is 1/8 to 1/4 of a unit per pound of body weight given every 12 hours.

For example, a 10-pound cat may start on 1 units of insulin total. A lower dose is generally recommended with a gradual increase. It is better to start low and gradually allow the body to acclimate to the disease and avoid signs of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

How Do I Give the Insulin Injection?

Insulin is generally given under the skin (subcutaneous) over the back. The location of the injection should be rotated with every injection. The general method for giving insulin is as follows:

Gather your equipment to give the insulin injection. The bottle of insulin, syringe, cotton ball, alcohol…and your glasses if you wear them (It can be difficult to see the small print on the numbers).

  • Take the bottle of insulin out of the refrigerator.
  • Gently roll the bottle in your palms to mix. Do not shake!
  • Clean the top medication bottle with an alcohol coated cotton ball
  • Insert the needle and syringe into the rubber top of the insulin vial
  • Invert the bottle and draw up the prescribed amount of insulin by pulling back on the plunger of the syringe until the syringe is full to the desired mark
  • Make sure there are no air bubbles in the syringe.
  • Identify the area you want to inject. Using the skin between the shoulder blades. The skin does not need to be cleaned with alcohol prior to administering these medications.
  • Hold the syringe with the needle exposed in one hand.
  • With the other hand, gently lift a small piece of skin between the shoulder blades, at the base of the neck.
  • By lifting the skin, an upside down "V" will be formed by the tent in the skin. Insert the needle into the center of this "V" or tented area of skin.
  • Once the needle is inserted into the skin, draw back slightly on the syringe plunger and make sure no blood flows into the syringe.
  • If no blood is seen in the syringe, push the plunger into the syringe in order to administer the medication.
  • Let go of the skin and make sure there is no liquid on the surface of the skin. If there is moisture on the skin, you may have inserted the needle through all layers of skin and out the other side of the tented skin. If this occurs, contact your veterinarian before another attempt is made.

What If I get Air in My Syringe?

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