- Urine test strips: When blood glucose levels get too high, the glucose “overflows” into the urine. Test strips that are color coded for different glucose levels are readily available over the counter at human pharmacies or at veterinary clinics. Some of these strips also measure ketones, compounds that appear in the urine when glucose levels remain dangerously high for a long time.
It’s not as difficult to get urine samples from your cat as one might think. Methods range from placing plastic underneath your regular litter to using a less absorbent variety temporarily. But this method of testing is not very accurate. It takes a while for glucose to show up in urine, so the level recorded on the strip may reflect your cat’s status several hours ago, not her current status. And while you can tell if there is extra glucose in the urine, you can’t tell if glucose levels are dangerously low. This type of testing is also not particularly practicable for people with more than one cat. According to Dr. Mahony, “People don’t like to confine their diabetic cat to one room of the house while they monitor the glucose.”
Still, it’s not a bad gauge initially for those who are a bit nervous about getting blood from their cat. And it’s clear that if urine glucose levels are high every time you test, your cat likely needs an insulin dose increase or a different insulin.
- Glucose testing: The hand-held meters that measure glucose in a blood sample, now available in smaller veterinary versions, are a far better gauge of blood glucose levels than urine testing. And, according to Dr. Mahony, it’s generally fairly easy to get blood from a cat’s ear.
“Any glucose meter that uses a microliter or less of blood is good, and there are more and more of these devices around,” explains Dr. Mahony. She notes that the veterinary AlphaTRAK glucose meter was highly rated for pets in an independent study.
Dr. Mahony recommends blood sample testing for cats who are difficult to regulate. “I will have clients try to do a glucose curve periodically, maybe once every week, at two- to four-hour intervals for 12 hours,” she says.
For some clients, however, it’s more practical to spot test over the course of a week. “In either case,” Dr. Mahony says, “it provides the comfort of having some knowledge about the cat’s condition. It’s an especially good idea for owners who might be concerned that the glucose levels are too low.” Additionally, stress often raises blood glucose levels and cats are notoriously stressed at the vet’s office. Glucose curves done at home may therefore be a bit more accurate.
- Continuous glucose monitoring: The newest devices on the market look like beepers and are attached to a sensor that’s pushed in under the skin. They measure glucose in the subcutaneous tissues every five minutes. These systems are seen as a breakthrough for humans and have been tested on animals and shown to be effective, but at this point they’re bulky, especially for a small cat. It’s also easy for the sensor to pop out in an active animal.
In addition, they’re still very expensive — typically, they cost more than $1,000 initially, not counting the price for the sensors. They are being purchased by veterinary offices to eliminate the need for serial blood glucose curves, but are not yet practicable for the average pet owner.
Dr. Mahony says, “It’s really just the beginning for glucose testing. In the future, there will be devices that will monitor people’s glucose levels and administer the appropriate insulin dose simultaneously.”
Whether these devices will ever become cost effective for animals is yet to be determined.