Even though Penny has crossed the Rainbow Bridge, I’m still a member of the Feline Diabetes Facebook Page and Feline Diabetes Message Board because I want to continue to share Penny’s story to help others. I also want to stay on top of my knowledge on how to treat this disease since it’s so prevalent these days. All of it had become second-nature to me and I don’t want to lose that! You can read more about our journey with Feline Diabetes here: Feline Diabetes Category-Penny & The Kits.
I’m writing this today because I recently encountered a new member on the Facebook page whose vet had advised against home testing. And this vet has this cat, in my opinion, on a dangerously high dose of insulin. When I heard that their vet increased the dose, my heart started POUNDING. I feel it’s only a matter of time before this cat has a hypoglycemic episode and possibly sustains permanent neurological damage or dies if they don’t start home testing. If I can save ONE cat’s life with this post, my job is done.
I’ve also recruited the help of some members on the Facebook page by asking them to share some common vet or pet parent objections to home testing.
#1. The general: “You don’t need to home test because I (vet) don’t want to overwhelm you.”
I will start with my story. When Penny was diagnosed with Feline Diabetes, I FREAKED OUT. I already THOUGHT I knew enough about Feline Diabetes to know that it’s expensive, time consuming, and I’d be torturing my cat with blood glucose curves and home testing all hours of the day and night. I mean, who has time for THAT, right?
And my vet KNEW I was freaking out because it seems like it’s such a complicated disease and I was OVERWHELMED already! I think I even said to him that I would NEVER be able to home test Penny’s blood sugar because she was a “difficult” cat to handle. When my vet told me that I didn’t have to home test her, I remember saying, “Oh thank GOD!”
I went home with my insulin, needles, heartbreak and fear. That first night, I wasn’t even able to get the first shot into her.
And I’m SO glad! She was prescribed much too high of a dose of a much-too-harsh insulin for cats!
The next day I was more successful and got the insulin into her. And she SLEPT the ENTIRE day. She slept SO deeply that I thought she was dead at one point because she was so difficult to rouse. I knew enough about diabetes in general to know that her blood sugar may have dropped too low, but I had no way of knowing because I didn’t know how to home test. I remember making sure she ate that day and hopped online with a more open mind and started talking to my new Feline Diabetes friends. I came across THIS post on the Facebook page that evening..
“By a cruel turn of fate, on Thursday evening my most precious and special sweetheart Baxter went into a diabetic hypoglycemic coma and I almost lost him that night. As of now, his body vitals and sugar are stable, but he was fighting continuing seizures and was not fully conscious. We don’t know how much neurological damage has occurred and how much can be reversed. Right now it’s a waiting game. Yesterday, we saw a bit of progress for the first time. To my animal loving friends and family — I welcome all prayers for Baxter’s healing and recovery.”
He partially recovered, but it took SEVERAL months, vet hospitalizations, vet visits, and rehab to teach Baxter how to walk, eat and groom himself again because of the neurological damage he sustained from the insulin shock. Some of the damage was permanent, including blindness. His treatment cost over $30,000.
Susan’s posts were enough to convince me that shooting insulin without home testing was downright DANGEROUS. When I adopted Penny, I promised her a happy and healthy life. I had to keep that promise to her!
I had decided that Penny will NOT get any more insulin until I switched her to a low-carb kibble I had read about, changed her insulin from Vetsulin to Lantus (much safer for kitties!) and learned how to home test.
And we did. And it saved Penny’s life MANY times. Some cats are known to spontaneously go into remission from Feline Diabetes, and Penny was one of them. Not once, but TWICE. Had I not been home testing, I would have never had four more beautiful and fun-filled years with her! See her blood glucose numbers here: Penny’s Blood Glucose Spreadsheet.
#2. “Home testing is expensive!”
Like bringing your cat to the vet every three weeks for a fructosamine test is NOT expensive? Like the $30k+ that my friend Susan spent on Baxter to save him is NOT expensive?
The meter the vets recommend, AlphaTrack (AT), is expensive, although still cheaper than NOT home testing. But many of us use human meters. There IS a variance between the human meter and the AT, but we are testing to watch trends and keep the cat safe.
I use the Relion Confirm meter, which can be purchased at Walmart. It uses the smallest blood drop of any of the human meters and the strips are under $20 for 50 of them, which is MUCH less expensive than other human meters’ strips or the AT strips!
I tested my meter against the vet’s and there was a 30-point variance. But, we also adjust the “normal” numbers accordingly based an the variance. The goal is to keep your cat under renal threshold (the point where excess glucose spills into the urine) yet keep them safe! You can learn more at Feline Diabetes Message Board.
#3: “Home testing is not as accurate as vet testing! Regular fructosamine tests are adequate.”
Let me explain something. When a diabetic becomes stressed out, their blood sugar rises. Humans, cats, dogs, armadillos (okay..not really sure about that last one but you get the point, right?) Now, think about it…when was the last time your cat was actually HAPPY about going to the vet?
So when you have a stressed out cat at the vet getting a blood draw, or worse yet, an 8-hour blood glucose curve, don’t you think that’s stressful for them?
Of course it is! So what do you think will happen to your diabetic cat’s blood glucose reading when she is stressed out? There is a very real thing called “vet stress”. There have been times that Penny was at the vet and her reading was around 160 because she hated the vet and hated blood draws. I would test her JUST before we left for the vet, at home under “normal” conditions, and it would be anywhere from 60-90. And when you have a vet making insulin dosing decisions based on those falsely elevated numbers taken at the vet, the result can be deadly. And I’ve seen that happen time and time again with the members of the Feline Diabetes group.
Fructosamine tests are kind of like A1c tests in humans. They only show averages to see how well the insulin is managing the diabetes. They will NOT give you data at shot time to know whether or not it’s safe to administer insulin to your cat. They will NOT tell you mid-cycle that your cat is too low and needs Karo or high carb wet food ASAP to steer them out of low numbers. Which is the MAIN reason why we test our cats! And I had been there PLENTY of times with Penny!
#4. “Home testing is too stressful for my cat! They will hate me and hide from me forever!” and any and all variations thereof.
I thought so too. But I knew we were facing life or death here. Penny was only 5 years old when she was diagnosed and too young for me to give up on her. So I watched countless YouTube videos of nice, agreeable cats sitting there like little angels while their pet parents poked and prodded their ears for blood.
THEN there’s Penny! She’s HARDLY agreeable! This is what REAL LIFE looks like…
My beautiful, dear sweet Penny who I couldn’t even brush without getting swatted at or a warning nip. She was the cat that the vet techs had to wear those rubber gloves up to their armpits just to handle her. The boss lady who ALWAYS had to be in charge! And I thought, “How in the world am I gonna poke her ears??”
Penny was a foodie. And I mean she would walk over hot coals for something she loved to eat, such as raw chicken breast. So, do you know what I did? I TRAINED her. I trained her to associate positive things with the experience. Feline Diabetes-How I Conditioned my Diabetic Cat to Home Test.
This write-up by my friend Kay also helped! Ear Testing Psychology.
It worked so well that when my diabetic dad was dying, I used her old meter to test his blood sugar. When she heard the beep of the meter, she came running from across the house and clobbered all over my poor, sick father because she thought there was raw chicken in it for HER. I kid you NOT! I used to test her after my workout, about 2pm most days. She would STALK me while I worked out, just WAITING for me to test her so that she could get her raw chicken.
Doesn’t sound too stressful, right?
#5: “Testing the Edge of the Ear Will Cause Cancer”
Did YOU or someone you know EVER get ear cancer from having your ears pierced?
I didn’t think so.
#6: “Kitties don’t like their ears being messed with!” or any other variation thereof.
I’m pretty sure kitties don’t like to be dead, either. Again, BRIBERY works wonders!
#7: “A slow acting insulin (ie Lantus or Levemir) won’t cause hypo’s.”
While Lantus and Levemir are longer acting insulins than Pro-Zinc and much safer for cats than Vetsulin/Caninsulin or Novolin, it’s still insulin and too much of ANY insulin can and will kill.
#8: “My vet told me to just watch for symptoms of a hypo.”
Okay, are you home all day with your kitty, always watching her? Are you up all night with your kitty?
Furthermore, I’ve seen countless people whose cats’ blood glucose levels drop dangerously low and they have shown NO symptoms. They would have never figured it out until it was “too late”. This has happened MANY times with Penny, as well! I’ve probably steered her out of potential hypoglycemia at least 30 times when she was heading full speed toward her second remission. And she never once showed any symptoms of low blood glucose.
#9. “It will ruin my bond with my beloved kitty!”
Au contraire, it will only STRENGTHEN your bond with kitty. When they told me this, I thought they were full of shit. But they were RIGHT. Although I only had Penny in my life for a short 5 1/2 years (she was 3 1/2 when I adopted her), I had a bond with her like no other being on this Earth. Between her diabetes and her kidney disease, it only strengthened over the years. Believe it.
#10: “I don’t want to hurt my kitty!”
So you’d rather kill her? Maybe I’m being flip, but, that’s always my first thought when I hear this one. Penny never once yelped or snapped when I poked her. The part she hated the most is when I held the rice sock up to her ear to warm it. Not because it was too hot; she just didn’t like me holding that thing up to her ear! I used the One Touch Delica lancing device, which seemed to be much more effective and gentle than the generic one that came with my meter. But I never hurt her. She would get a little sore when I had to test her often to steer her out of low numbers using high-carb food, but I didn’t hurt her. As long as she got her chicken afterwards, all was right in Penny’s world!
#11: Simply, “My vet told me not to!”
Vets are lifesavers. I know many vets who I respect greatly. I couldn’t do their job. However, they are not ALWAYS right. Nobody is! If they give you a reason not listed on this post, I’d love to hear it in the comments! I cannot think of ONE good reason why not to home test. And MANY good reasons why it’s SO, SO important!
Here it is. Would you administer insulin to yourself without knowing if it was safe to do so? Would you administer insulin to your diabetic child without knowing if it is safe to do so?
Then please don’t for your cat, either!
My friend Darcy brought up an excellent point when I was looking for feedback from Feline Diabetes members on Facebook…
“When Lebowski was diagnosed, I remember SO clearly…The vet came from the back and said “I’m so sorry, he has diabetes . . . ” Then SHE had the look on her face as if she’d just told me he was riddled with cancer.
I looked at her and said “Huh, well THAT sucks. Okay, what now?”
Then she smiled as I obviously was going to take this well. But I’ve never forgotten HER reaction. I almost wish that she’d have said “Okay, he has diabetes, this is NO biggie and it is totally manageable!” But that wasn’t what I got. I don’t think she knows how much HER delivery could possibly affect how clients see it.”
I know how I felt and I reacted when we got the diagnosis. The vet may as well have told me that she was going to die any minute. It’s scary and overwhelming! But, when I joined these groups and started to learn, it really all became just a regular part of our day and an intrinsic part of my thinking. When Checky was sick and was being tested for this and that and the other, I remember WISHING it was Feline Diabetes because it’s SUCH a manageable disease and remission is very possible with the right treatment and food!
Also, there are cost-effective ways to manage Feline Diabetes. I will share my tips and tricks in separate post. You can also join the Facebook page that I linked to above or join FDMB (link above). You can also like OUR Facebook page and shoot me a private message there or comment here!
Please heed the warnings of experienced people who live, eat and breathe this disease day in and day out! We see the tragic stories every day. Some of us have lost our babies to insulin shock. And people like me have learned from their mistakes to keep our cats safe! I thank God every day for people like Susan who shared her and Baxter’s journey so freely to save other cats from the same fate. Penny and I are forever indebted to Susan and Baxter and ALL of our Feline Diabetes friends!
Special Note: IF you feel that diabetes is too much of a burden to bear or you just don’t have time to treat your cat safely, PLEASE try to re-home her with somebody who you KNOW will give her the care she needs. And if you don’t know anybody, please contact an organization that works tirelessly to help diabetic cats, Diabetic Cats in Need. They also help people who want to treat their diabetic cat but do not have the funds to do it.
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All treatments, foods and supplements mentioned in this blog are based on my own research, experience and done with my vet’s knowledge and consent. Consult with your vet as necessary.