Testing Your Cat’s Blood Glucose at Home
Testing your cat’s blood glucose (BG) at home is vital: it is testing that gives you the knowledge, and so the power, to be able to help your cat.
- When “Blind Dosing” (dosing insulin without first knowing your cat’s BG) you may be giving insulin when your cat does not even need it. Doing so is particularly dangerous if your cat is on high carbohydrate food : dosing insulin when your cat’s BGs are too low will put your cat in real danger of a clinical hypo.
- Glucose curves done once a week or once a month by your vet often provide very skewed results: cats suffer from white coat syndrome just as much as people do, and the stress of being at the vet will push most cat’s BGs up.
- One curve is not necessarily indicative of how your cat is truly reacting to the insulin: a series of high numbers may follow if your cat has dropped to numbers that are lower than he is used to, for example.
- Home testing is the only way for you to be able to understand how the insulin is working and whether dosing needs adjustments or not.
While testing your cat’s blood glucose yourself may seem difficult or even impossible at first, rest assured that both you and your cat will settle into the routine!
There are three important points to keep in mind about home testing:
- There are very few nerve endings in a cat’s ear; testing does not hurt them.
- You are testing to help your cat…. to have the necessary knowledge to be able to do what is best for him, what he needs.
- If you are feeling nervous or stressed, your cat will pick that up…. And will start feeling nervous and stressed himself – so keep calm and remember points 1 and 2!
It is not necessary to use a special vet meter to test your cat’s blood glucose at home. Human meters – and especially the test strips – are much less expensive and equally good. Some meters will also test for blood ketones. Blood ketone test strips are expensive. If your cat is prone to ketones or has suffered a DKA, it might nonetheless be a good idea to consider such a meter. Blood ketone testing alerts you to problems of ketones more quickly than urine testing. Some points to consider when choosing a meter are the size of the blood sample needed (the smaller the better), what the screen is like (easily readable, back-lit or not) and the cost of the test strips. We do test our cats frequently with TR, making the last point important!
Choosing a Meter
It is not necessary to use a special vet meter to test your cat’s blood glucose at home. Human meters – and especially the test strips – are much less expensive and equally good.
Some meters will also test for blood ketones. Blood ketone test strips are expensive. If your cat is prone to ketones or has suffered a DKA, it might nonetheless be a good idea to consider such a meter. Blood ketone testing alerts you to problems of ketones more quickly than urine testing.
Some points to consider when choosing a meter are the size of the blood sample needed (the smaller the better), what the screen is like (easily readable, back-lit or not) and the cost of the test strips. We do test our cats frequently with TR, making the last point important!
Please note that some people have had problems with falsely low readings from two meters: The True range sold by Walgreen’s (North America) and the Freestyle Lite. While readings tend to be relatively accurate in normal and lower numbers, some have found quite high discrepancies in mid-higher range numbers. It is recommended therefore to purchase another brand.
The choice of meters differs from country to country. In many, it is possible to request a meter for free from the company. Please see your Country sticky for more information.
Getting ready to test
Some people like to set up a “testing station”: a specific place that you always use to test your cat. Others find that it is less stressful/easier to simply test your cat wherever you find him. If your cat is a bit figety and difficult to keep still, one spot that might help is a corner of a couch up against a small cushion. You will need to find what works best for you.
It can help to leave the test equipment out and around your cat for a little bit before you test for the first time. Give your cat time to sniff the meter and the lancet pen (if you are using that: please see below). Clicking the pen around your cat’s head can help him become used to the sound too. Some meters beep when you have the reading: if possible turn this feature off so the beep doesn’t frighten your cat.
Spending time stroking and petting your cat’s ears will help him become used to having his ears touched before you do test for the first time.
Warming your cat’s ear before testing will make it much easier to get a blood drop as the warmth will dilate the blood vessels.
One way to do that is by simply massaging the ear. Another is by using a “rice sock”: fill a small clean sock with some uncooked rice. Microwave that briefly until it is warm, not hot. Hold the sock against the ear for a minute.
Where to test on your cat
You can test anywhere along the outer edge of either ear, on the inside or outside.
If you are using the outside (furry) side of the ear and your cat has thick fur, shaving a small area may help make it easier to see what you are doing.
Do NOT test your cat on its paw. Not only is it much more painful, but there is a risk of infection as your cat walks around, in and out of litter, etc.
Once you have everything ready, the equipment and the rice sock if you want to use that, you are ready to go!
Again, remember to stay calm. Hum a little song. Talk gently to your cat. Keep telling him how very good he is being.
Some people like to put the cat between their legs, with the head facing away from them. Others prefer placing their cat on a table or higher surface.
Your cat may squirm and fidget a bit… keep stroking him and talking gently to him.
It is your choice to use the lancet alone or with the lancing pen – some find they have more control with just the lancet… others the opposite. If you are using the pen, make sure that it is set to the deepest setting.
You want to prick between the vein that you can see in this photo from Feline Friends that runs close to the edge of the ear and the edge of the ear:
Warm your cat’s ear by rubbing it or using the rice sock. Insert the test strip into the meter – you may not want to push it in right away, but wait till you have the blood drop.
Hold a tissue or paper towel/ bit of kitchen roll as a pad against the other side of the ear from where you are testing (against the back of the ear if you are testing on the front, against the front if you are testing the back). Hold the ear firmly and either stab with the lancet or use the pen to prick.
Do NOT worry if you do not get a drop of blood the first prick! Even those of us who have been testing for a long time sometimes have to prick numerous times to get the drop we need. Just stay calm, keep reassuring your cat…. And keep trying!
Some people have found that putting a very thin layer of Vaseline may help the blood bead up more easily. “Milking” the drop – pushing toward the drop to push more blood out and get a big enough drop for your meter also helps.
If you are still not getting a drop, and both you and your cat are getting frustrated, stop and try again a little while later.
The ears do start to bleed more easily with more tests… so the pricking does become an easier process!
If your cat is very agitated/stressed having someone help you by holding him may help… though some cats will take this as being ganged up on and they will be more difficult.
Another possibility is to swaddle your cat in a large towel or blanket, with just his head showing.
Again, if you are having difficulty getting the drop of blood do NOT worry or let yourself get upset. Even the most difficult cats end up settling into testing and understand that it is a part of their daily routine.
When you do get the drop of blood, push the test strip all the way into the meter if you have not yet done so (each meter has a different amount of time once you insert the strip before it will turn off if no blood sample is taken). Gently touch the strip to the blood drop and then wait for the countdown to the result.
Once you do have the test, press the tissue paper/kitchen roll firmly around the ear and squeeze the spot – this will help reduce bruising.
If you do see some bruising on the ear, arnica gel, calendula cream or liquid silver may help. Neosporin is to be avoided (if you will see it in some videos) – NEVER use Neosporin + Pain Relief on your cat. Bruising does usually subside with more testing/over time.
Give your cat lots of cuddles and kisses for being so good…. A freeze dried treat can be a good reward to help him accept testing more as you start out also.
Testing a difficult cat:
Buddy the cat (using a lancet only, without the pen)
In French – click on the titles/caption button at the bottom of the screen for subtitles in English:
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