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How to Test Your Pet's Blood Glucose at Home (starring Harry)

Harry, our reluctant star, age 13

In memory of Harry, diagnosed diabetic 14 May 99 at age 13 years... the reluctant star of our BG testing photos. Harry succumbed to the combined effects of Feline Leukemia and Feline Infectious Peritonitis on 31 Dec 1999. We miss him.

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Disclaimer This information was developed through the experiences of many owners of diabetic pets, who have begun to test Blood Glucose at home with meters designed for human diabetics. Managing Diabetes is a long term commitment. A veterinarian who is knowledgeable about the disease and committed to ensuring the best quality of life for your pet is ideal. While many veterinarians have not yet had experience with clients who do home BG testing, most of those that do have come to appreciate its value. It is very important to find a veterinarian that will work with you on interpreting the results of your BG testing, finding the right insulin and dose for your pet, and who will be familiar with the case history when your pet needs medical attention. While not every diabetic pet needs to have BGs tested at home, it is a valuable tool.

This web site evolved from our personal experiences in testing Blood Glucose in our cat, Harry, with the Elite XL, using the Ear Prick method. Our methods may or may not work for you and your pet. Be flexible and try other approaches. We have expanded the site to include other meters and the lip prick technique for dogs, but the most complete descriptions are found in the section about doing an Ear Prick on a Cat and using the Elite XL, please read that section and excuse the bias when it appears elsewhere.

Glossary of Diabetic Terminology Abbreviations

Monitoring your cat or dog's blood glucose level at home with a glucometer like human diabetics use can help you to manage their diabetes more wisely.

Many factors affect insulin activity.  The primary task is to balance the amount and type of food given with the characteristic absorption and  metabolism of  the insulin administered to your individual cat.  A cat or dog that eats more than usual, will have a higher BG, one that eats less or vomits will have a lower BG and may need less insulin than usual to prevent  hypoglycemia. Stress and  infection tend to raise BGs, exercise tends to lower them.  Medications can affect either way--always ask your veterinarian to check how any new medication might affect BG levels.  With so many things affecting BG levels, your diabetic pet may have different responses to the same dose of insulin on different days.

Advantages of Home Blood Glucose Testing for Diabetic Pets.

Validity of Home Blood Glucose Testing

The measurement of glucose level in cat (or dog) blood is really no different from its measurement in human blood. The experience of many pet owners indicates that the use of instruments designed for people is appropriate, though no large scale research studies have been done to prove it. The skill of the tester improves with practice. The newer models of glucometers are designed for use by and extensively tested with young diabetics who monitor their own BG levels at home. They are simple to use and provide consistent and reliable readings, as long as a sufficient sample fills a fresh, appropriately-coded, test strip and fresh control solutions are routinely used to validate meter results. The newer models of glucometers provide plasma/serum glucose results, the same standard as hospital laboratory equipment. Because every lab must set up its own "normal" reference ranges, results on the same blood sample at 2 different labs will be different, though neither is wrong. You shouldn't expect your glucometer which measures capillary blood to exactly match the reading the vet gets with a venous blood sample on a lab instrument, though they can come pretty close. You will get to know what the numbers mean as far as how your cat or dog feels and acts, to know what numbers are too high or too low, and what range is normal for your pet.

Your cat won't hate you for doing ear pricks.  Your dog won't hate you for doing lip pricks. Most pets accept BG tests as routine, especially when food regularly follows.  If you can stay calm while you do it, your pet will likely be calm too.  Some cats purr through the whole procedure. As impossible as it may sound now, BG testing can be a pleasant, bonding experience, a special attention time for your pet.


Blood Glucose Meter Considerations

The primary considerations are small sample size, ease of meter use, and ease of obtaining a reliable sample. Pets will move when you try to test them. If a meter is fussy about the angle that you have to hold it to get an accurate sample or prone to getting blood in places it isn't supposed to go (such as the Dex), that may outweigh all the other advantages.

Sample Size

Sample size 30 - 10 - 3 uLSample Size 5 - 10 -15 uL

Required sample sizes are measured in microliters.

How big a blood drop is needed for your meter?


Popular Meters 9/99

From May to September 1999, the Bayer Elite (XL) and LifeScan FastTake meters were most often recommended to owners of newly diagnosed diabetic pets on the Feline Diabetes Message Board and Muffin mailing list. While essentially similar, there are some differences between the newer Bayer Elite XL and the older Elite model which doesn't have a button. The Bayer Dex model has the advanced features of the Elite XL, plus more. The LifeScan FastTake is also very popular with diabetic pet owners.

All meter manufacturers have Customer Service Representatives available 7 days a week, 24 hours a day who are happy to answer your questions. Phone numbers are included in the "Detailed Comparisons of Some Meters Used with Pets" table. Meters frequently come with rebate offers of US$20 or more and often an additional trade-in of US$20 or more if you send in another manufacturer's meter, working or not. Customer Service can tell you of current offers and supply the rebate form, if it was not provided by your pharmacy or included with your meter.

Upon request, Bayer will send you a free video(s) on how to use your their Glucometer(s). Other manufacturers offer free videos too. Watch the videos for the meters that you are interested in to learn more about their features and procedures before you buy. Watch again as you prepare to test yourself and your pet for the first time.

Bayer Elite XL and Elite MetersBayer Dex MeterLifeScan FastTake Meter

Detailed Comparisons of Some Meters used with Pets

Other Meters

Blood Glucose Units: mg/dL (U.S.) or mmol/L (Canada/Europe)

Try Out Some Steps Before you Buy a Meter

  1. Figure out where you have good lighting, or set up a lamp that you will use.
  2. Take your pet to where you plan to test and give positive attention with the light on to get him or her used to being in that place and position, to relax and feel comfortable with it. Some pets like to be brushed, others just like to be petted or hugged, avoid active or rough play.
  3. Gently massage the ears whenever you are interacting, especially if this is new to your cat. For a dog, massage lip area.
  4. Add the warming the ear step for a cat (warm washcloth in the plastic bag or the heat of the light bulb).
  5. One vet suggested actually pricking the cat's ear with a lancet before buying the meter, to see if it would tolerate pricks. It's up to you. I was nervous enough about doing an ear prick, I wanted it to be for a BG value when I did it.

First, Get to Know Your New Meter

  1. Read the manual and do initial setup. You may need to install the batteries, set date and time, pick U.S. or European units of BG measurement, and use a special Check strip to verify the meter electronics are working correctly.
  2. Most manufacturers' test strips and meters have codes that must be set to match. Each new box of Elite strips will have a Code strip (has F-number on it) to set the meter. The FastTake code must be entered with the C button.
  3. Get the free video from the manufacturer's Customer Service and watch it until you are ready to try testing yourself.
  4. Go through all the steps of doing a BG Test, using a Normal Control Solution to confirm the strips you have are ok.
  5. Test yourself (your finger is fine), but make sure it is clean, dry, and WARM. Try the lancet device that comes with the meter on yourself to learn what the prick feels like and how to aim with it. Try different depth settings to see how they feel. If you think you may want to hand-hold the lancet, try that too. You can judge how much it might hurt your pet, by how much it hurts you. We had already been using the BD Ultra-Fine II 3/10cc short needle syringes to give insulin for a week with hardly any reaction from our cat , before we bought the corresponding lancets. They don't hurt us or him.


It's good to learn to do the BG tests solo. If you have a partner and can both do it solo, that's twice the coverage.

Testing Supplies

FastTake Supplies, Penlet IIElite Supplies

The supplies you will need depend on whether you are testing a cat or a dog and which approach you choose, as well as on your own preferences. At a minimum, you will need a Blood Glucose meter, the test strips (or cartridge of sensors) that the meter requires, and a lancet to get the blood drop. A tissue is handy for all--folded behind the cat's ear to protect your finger while you prick, and to apply pressure after the sample is obtained. For a dog, use it to dry the saliva from the test area before the prick. Vaseline applied very thinly to the furry side of a cat's ear can help the blood drop bead up instead of spreading into the fur. Some cats also think a lick of Vaseline is a treat. A small reward after the BG test helps your pet accept a necessary intrusion. A hot damp washcloth in a plastic bag will warm an ear or paw without wetting it and diluting your blood sample. Some people like to position a flexible-arm desk lamp close to the cat's ear to warm it less intrusively from the bulb's heat.

Most meters come with some sort of lancet device (though it may not be an adjustable one). Try it on yourself, and also try pricking yourself with lancet alone. Try the different depth settings on the lancet device to see what they feel like to you. A shallow setting and a fine or ultra fine lancet will be plenty for cat's ear or a dog's lip. A paw pad or a dog's leg callous will require a deeper lancet setting and possibly a lancet that is not labeled "fine" or "thin". Some FastTake meter users have found a transfer pipette helpful in getting the blood drop onto the test strip.


Lancet Devices

Urine Test Strips - Check for Ketones

Where to Buy Supplies at Good Prices

Cat Treats

BG Test Method

How to do an Ear Prick on a Cat w/Elite XL -Back of Ear

How to do an Ear Prick on a Cat w/FastTake -Front of Ear

How to do a Lip Prick on a Dog

Feline Blood Glucose Curves

Guidelines to BG InterpretationReview with your Vet, tailor for your pet

When your Pet Won't Eat--Anorexia

Ketones & BG levels

Use Computer to Plot Your BG Data

Helpful Information on Other Sites

Web Sites Featuring Feline Diabetes

Web Sites Featuring Canine Diabetes

Web Sites Featuring Health Information

Specific Diseases

General Health/Disease Sites

Blood Tests

Drug Information

Happy pets Pets with Diabetes WebRing Insulin injections can save your pet's life
Join the Pets with Diabetes WebRing 
e-mail Nancy Johnson the site owner
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Created by Nancy Johnson, 8/8/99. Last update 5/25/2001.
Open Directory Cool Site Award received 5/24/2001
Site contents moved to www.sugarcats.net/sites/harry/index.htm on 3/18/2001
Please email feedback and suggestions for this page to Nancy Johnson at johnsonnd@hotmail.com.

With sincere thanks to the sponsors of and contributors to the Felinediabetes.com, Petdiabetes.org, and Sugarcats.com websites and to the many who have generously shared their knowledge and experiences on the Feline Diabetes Message Board and the Muffin Mailing List. We also thank the manufacturers that provided information for these pages, but please note that this site is not sponsored by or affiliated with Bayer, LifeScan, Abbott Medisense, Roche, or any other manufacturer of meters or diabetic testing supplies. The mention of their products does not imply an endorsement by these manufacturers for use of these products for animal testing.

Bayer asked that we include the following disclaimer:

"The Bayer diabetes testing products were developed for human use. We have not conducted studies in animals and we do not make any claims regarding the use of our products for animal testing. While we understand they can be used to improve and prolong animal life, such use is beyond their intended use".

Visitors since 03/18/2001