Testing a cat’s blood sugar is the ONLY safe way to give insulin. Testing at home is also the only way to know how the insulin is actually working for your cat. While it may seem overwhelming at first, remember that even the grumpiest cat can be won over with some consistent testing and treats. Once you have some confidence, testing your cat will take 30 seconds or less!
What you need:
- A glucometer
- Test strips for that glucometer
- Something to stabilize the cat’s ear (e.g. cotton swabs or makeup pads)
- A treat
Let’s talk about these things so you understand your equipment and supplies. A glucometer is the device that actually measures the cat’s blood glucose (BG). Some people call this blood sugar (BS). There are a lot of glucometers on the market. At DCIN, we supply the Arkray Glucocard 01. This is the same meter as the ReliOn Confirm, which can be purchased at Walmart. This meter has the most affordable strips and is a very reliable meter that requires a tiny amount of blood. There are numerous other meters that are reliable for cats including the ReliOn Micro and the Bayer Contour. There are a couple of animal-specific meters on the market such as the Advocate PetTest and the AlphaTrak 2. Many people find their test strips to be unaffordable.
You must use the test strips that match your meter. Arkray Glucocard 01 and ReliOn Confirm strips are interchangeable because they are the same meter (the ReliOn Micro uses the same strips as well). For other meters, you must use the appropriately matched strip. Very few meters will let you use expired strips.
Lancets are tiny little pokers for your cat’s ear. They come in different sizes called gauges. The smaller the number, the bigger the lancet. A 28 is bigger than a 31. This concept is the same for choosing needle sizes as well. Some people use the lancing device and other people free-hand. The lancing device will give you a consistent depth once you have it set correctly. I don’t use it because it clicks and some cats don’t like that noise. I free-hand it. I approach from the side and give a gentle poke. Remember, you are not going through the ear, just lightly “scratching” the surface.
You want something to stabilize the cat’s ear. This also prevents you from going through the ear and poking yourself. You can use a folded piece of toilet paper or paper towel, a small piece of fabric, or a make-up pad. I like the round make-up pads. Put the pad on the side you will not be poking. Once you have poked and put the test strip up to the blood, use this pad to apply gentle pressure to stop bleeding and prevent bruising.
Don’t forget treats! All cats like treats!! You can use freeze-dried chicken or shrimp, some boiled or canned-in-water chicken, canned-in-water tuna, etc. Nothing with carbs. Give your cat a treat after every test, even if you mess it up, so your cat associates testing with a great reward.
How much will this cost? That really depends on where you shop. Lancets can be $6 for 200 at Walmart or $14 for 100 at Walgreen’s. Glucometers are generally all pretty cheap ($6-$30), it’s the strips that will hurt your wallet. Strips can range in price from $30 for 100 to $60 for 50. Always consider the price of strips when choosing your meter. The little make-up round pads are $2 for 50 and you can use one for 2 or 3 days.
What if my vet says home testing is not needed? Your vet is wrong. The American Veterinary Medical Association has made home testing a minimum standard of care for the last 7 years. Any veterinarian with a solid understanding of insulin and glucose will know that home testing is critically important to keeping the cat safe. Research and anecdotal evidence have shown time and again that a cat’s blood sugar can be 50-300 or more points higher at the vet’s office than at home due to stress.
Many cats can, and do, go into remission. If your cat’s pancreas is producing its own insulin and the BG is at a nice normal number, you won’t know unless you are testing. If you are not testing, you might be shooting a low number which can cause a hypoglycemic episode. “Hypos” can be rapidly fatal.
While beginning to stabilize your cat’s BG, remember that a day high is fine, a minute low can kill.