Monitoring is an essential part of managing your dog’s diabetes in the long term
Monitor your dog’s symptoms for any changes in their appetite, drinking or urinating, weight, general demeanour, and any signs of low blood sugar levels.
Monitoring blood sugar levels is an important indicator of how well insulin therapy is controlling your dog’s blood sugar levels. It can indicate whether the dose needs to be adjusted.
It can also be useful to monitor your dog’s urine for signs of glucose and ketones.
There are many resources and apps available to help you monitor your dog’s diabetes.
What is Diabetes Mellitus?
Diabetes mellitus (often shortened to just “diabetes”), is a hormonal condition which affects a dog’s blood sugar levels. It usually occurs due to the body failing to produce enough insulin. Insulin is the hormone responsible for controlling the level of sugar (glucose) in the blood.
Monitoring is a very important part of managing your dog’s diabetes in the long-term. There are three main ways to monitor your dog’s diabetes: monitor its symptoms, its blood sugar levels and its urine.
Monitoring their symptoms
This should never be underestimated as a method of monitoring your dog’s diabetes.
Within a week of starting insulin therapy, you should start to notice an improvement in your dog’s clinical signs (symptoms). They should begin to drink less, and wee smaller amounts and less frequently. You should also see an improvement in their weight.
Once they’re on insulin therapy it is important to constantly monitor these signs in your dog and to tell your vet if you notice any changes in their drinking, peeing, weight, appetite, or demeanour. A change in any of these symptoms could be an indication that their diabetes is not fully managed.
There are a number of resources now to help you track and record symptoms. This is really useful for you and your vet to ensure your dog’s diabetes remains under control.
It is also particularly important to monitor your dog for signs of low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia), in particular when starting insulin therapy or when the dose of insulin has just been altered. (See article “Diabetes – insulin therapy what to expect” for the signs of hypoglycaemia and what to do).
Monitoring Blood Glucose Levels
It is important that your dog’s blood sugar levels are monitored, especially in the early stages of starting treatment, to check they do not drop too low.
A one-off blood test is useful to find out what a dog’s blood sugar levels are like at that moment in time, such as if we are worriedthat they may be low in blood sugar. However, taking a series of blood tests gives a better idea of how well the dog’s blood sugars are being managed over a longer period. This is known as a ‘blood glucose curve’.
Blood Glucose Curve
This is one of the best ways of monitoring a dog’s blood glucose levels as it gives multiple readings throughout the day. This lets us seehow quickly the insulin is working, how long the insulin is working for and, importantly, makes sureyour dog’s blood sugar levels are not dropping too low between insulin injections.
Traditionally the blood glucose curve is performed in the vet clinic and involves testing the blood every 1-2 hours and tracking the results on a graph. In a typical blood glucose curve, the blood glucose levels are usually highest first thing in the morning before a dog’s first insulin injection. This is often referred to as ‘the peak’. The blood sugar levels then usually drop to their lowest around 6-8 hours later and this is known as ‘the trough’ or ‘nadir’. The blood glucose then rises again before the next insulin injection.
Unfortunately stress and alterations in your dog’s routine such as being at the vets, can alter your dog’s blood glucose and therefore affect the blood glucose curve. In this case it canbe really helpful for owners to perform a blood glucose curve at home. To do this, you will need a glucometer. A glucometer is a handheld device which gives a glucose reading from a drop of blood. Your vet will be able to advise you of the options available, and which might be most suitable.
Taking a blood glucose sample at home
It is not essential that you take blood samples at home to test your dog’s blood sugar levels but it can be very useful and reassuring. Taking a blood sample can seem very daunting initially but with a little training and practice, it will become very easy. You only need a small drop of blood to do the test. The most common site for blood sampling is the ear, but you can also take blood from the tail, lip and footpads.
Insert the test strip into the glucometer and ensure the glucometer is on the correct setting
Make sure the ear is warm. A cold ear will not have a good blood supply and will make taking the sample more difficult.
Prick the ear with a sterile needle on an area of ear that is clean and with not much fur (the underside of the ear is usually best for this).
A drop of blood should appear at the site that was pricked. Touch the test strip to the drop of blood. The glucometer should then give a signal when it has received enough blood.
Apply gentle pressure to the pricked site using a clean tissue or gauze to help stop the bleeding.
Read the result given by the glucometer and record it so the results can be shared with your vet.
Top Tip: Vaseline applied to the skin before pricking helps the blood to form a nice droplet
Fructosamine is another type of blood test which your vet may perform when checking on your dog’s diabetes. This test is useful for assessing long-term diabetic control as it gives an average blood sugar level over the past 2-3 weeks.
This test is more often used in patients which have been controlled diabetics for a while and is often taken at the time of vet check-ups.
Monitoring Urine Glucose levels
This is another way of monitoring your dog’s diabetes, although it is less frequently used as it is not as accurate as measuring glucose in the blood.
This test looks for the presence of glucose and ketones (a product produced as a result of the breakdown of fat for energy) in your dog’s urine. This is a very simple test which can be carried out at home and useful for those owners who do not like the idea of performing a glucose blood test at home.
If you are doing repeated urine tests it is important to try and do them at the same time each day. Your vet may specify when they would like them performed.
Performing a urine test at home
Using a clean, dry container such as a dish or pot, collect a sample from your dog whilst they are urinating.
Read the instructions on the urine dipstick packet.
Dip the test strip into the urine so that all the test strip is covered.
Immediately remove the strip and tap away any excess urine
Wait for the allocated time specified on the instructions
Read the results by holding the dipstick against the colour chart on the dipstick container and compare the colours
Record the results so they can be shared with your vet
Recording and tracking results
There are lots of resources available to help you manage your dog’s diabetes. Many of these resources enable you to track symptoms, their food and water intake, insulin dosage, injection times, weight, blood sugar and urine levels, and will even help you to create a blood glucose curve. This is all extremely useful information for your vet as they help you keep your dog’s diabetes under control.
www.caninsulin.co.uk have a number of information sheets, videos and downloads to help you record all the useful information.
And there are apps designed specifically to help you keep track of your dog’s diabetes:
RVC Pet Diabetes App – Royal Veterinary College
Pet Diabetes Tracker App – by Caninsulin, Merck Animal Health
Diabetes is a complicated disease to manage so if you would like any further advice or support, one of the vets at MyDogDoc will be happy to help.