Diabetes mellitus is a disorder involving blood sugar and insulin. Glucose (sugar) is the basic substance that supplies energy to the body, and it circulates in the blood until insulin carries it into the cells, where it is metabolized and used for energy. Without the carrying properties of insulin, the glucose cannot be utilized and the body becomes ill. In the diabetic patient, the glucose continues to circulate but there is either not enough insulin to carry the glucose into the cells or the natural insulin is not effective.
Treatment for diabetes attempts to mimic the body’s natural insulin. Some pets respond to oral medications and diet changes. Others require insulin injections. Without testing your pet’s blood sugar repeatedly through the day, it’s difficult to determine if the medication is working. However, by closely watching and monitoring your pet, you can determine the effectiveness of the treatment.
Typically, unregulated diabetic patients drink a lot of water and, therefore, urinate significantly more than non-diabetic animals. Noting your pet’s water consumption and urination habits while on medication can help you and your veterinarian determine if the treatment is working. Once the blood sugar level is under control, diabetic patients return to normal drinking and elimination habit.
Your pet’s attitude, appetite and activity level can also provide invaluable information. As the blood sugar levels stabilize, your diabetic pet should have a more normal appetite and be more alert and active. Keeping track of your pet’s body weight is also important. Weigh your pet weekly or at least every other week. Keep a record so you can monitor any weight gain or loss.
Many veterinarians have pet owners monitor their diabetic pets by testing the urine for sugar and ketones. This used to be one of the better ways to monitor diabetic patients but some problems do occur. The urine test does not correlate with the blood sugar value at the time the test is done. Urine takes hours to be produced and the sugar level in the voided urine sample reflects sugar concentration hours before. It is not appropriate to alter the insulin dose based on one urine sugar value. To be accurate, the urine testing needs to be done at least once a day. It is even better if the testing is done even more frequently. Inconsistent testing does not help determine the effectiveness of the treatment. The urine sugar levels are evaluated based on trends. If the urine sugar values are consistently high, your veterinarian may recommend increasing the dose of insulin. If ketones are consistently present in the urine, treatment options may need to be reevaluated.
There are feline urinary glucose detection kits that consist of packets of small pieces of papers that you sprinkle in the litter box. These papers are like small pieces of confetti, odorless and unobtrusive to the cat. The papers acts as reagent strips which changes color when wet indicating the level of glucose in the urine. This is an easy method for doing frequent urine monitoring in cats.
Recently, some owners have started evaluating blood sugar readings on their pets. The blood is typically drawn from a vein of the ear with a lancing device. By using an “at home” blood glucose monitoring kit, the blood sugar reading can be obtained. Dogs tend to handle this a little better than cats. If you are interested in monitoring your diabetic pet more closely and feel you could test your pet’s blood on a daily basis, discuss this option with your veterinarian. What may work for one diabetic patient may not work for yours.