This section provides you an opportunity
to learn from the experiences and mistakes of others. Diabetes is a complicated
disease and there's a lot to learn. As with all new or complicated things,
mistakes are inevitable and you will have to deal with them. Read through the
helpful hints and mistakes owners have shared and hopefully you can benefit from their
experiences and avoid some common pitfalls.
tips for daily care
- Have your pet wear an identification
tag that says "DIABETIC". You can
have other information like the
vet's name and phone number.
- Educate yourself. You are responsible for the
daily care of your pet. Eventually you must have a thorough enough understanding
of diabetes to be able to make some of the daily decisions on your
own. You may not be able to contact your regular vet when a minor
question arises and you must have the confidence to make a
- Don't become
complacent. Diabetes can be a changing condition
in your pet. Just because your pet is doing well for a few weeks
or months doesn't mean something can't change. Always be
observant for signs of change.
- Don't panic. Hypoglycemic episodes can be
frightening, but you have to stay calm and think clearly so you can treat
the hypo appropriately. Don't under-treat and don't
over-treat and give your pet so much sugar or junk-food that the bgs
are sky high for days.
- You don't have to master everything all at once.
For example, home bg testing can be stressful for the pet and/or
owner. Take it slowly and give yourself and your pet a chance to
adjust to all the new things you are learning.
- Make changes one at a time. This may be a
change to a new bottle of insulin (same type), a new type of insulin (eg.
NPH to Lente), a new food, more exercise. Don't make lots of
changes at once - unless advised to do so by your vet.
You and your vet
- Don't lie to your vet.
If you don't want to do what your vet advises, don't go home saying
you will, then come back next week saying you followed the
instructions and your pet still isn't better.
This confuses diagnoses,
treatment plans, and can lead to more serious health problems
for your pet. Discuss your concerns and agree on a treatment
- Following your instincts and don't be afraid to
ask your vet questions. You know your pet and it's behaviors and if a
vet gives you advice that seems wrong, ask questions and don't let
your concerns be dismissed without adequate discussion or explanation.
If you don't agree with your vet's advice, seek a second
- Don't go it alone and don't assume you know more
than you do. Diabetes is a complicated disease and even though you
develop enough confidence in your abilities to make some of the day to
day decisions, you must work with a vet to manage your pet's diabetes
for the long-term. Your vet likely has a lot more veterinary
knowledge and experience than you do.
Hypoglycemia, and Sugar
- Keep a spare bottle of insulin on
hand. The bottles CAN break or go bad and you don't want to be without insulin.
- Always double check the
dose in the syringe before you inject.
An overdose could be fatal. You can make a "guide" to
double check how you filled the insulin syringe by making some ink
marks on a piece of masking tape stuck on the counter. Then you can
lay the syringe on the tape, line up the syringe properly, and match
the mark on the tape with the position of the plunger in the syringe.
This won't tell you the precise dose, but it might help prevent huge
overdoses, for example filling the syringe to 17 units instead of to
- When we have a pet sitter,
I take a red Sharpie pen and draw a line on the outside of every
syringe at the exact spot they are to be filled with insulin. Then I
show the person that the bottom of the plunger should line up exactly
with that line and the insulin should fill the syringe to that
mark. Read more tips about choosing and
preparing a pet sitter.
- Start a new vial of
insulin, new type, or new dose on a day when you're home to observe
your pet. The
new bottle of insulin might be slightly stronger than the old one -
especially if you used your old bottle for several months. And an
increased dose requires observation for signs of hypoglycemia.
- Never, never, never leave home without sugar. This means when you're out on walks, going to the store,
groomer, vet, anywhere. Some people keep packets of honey or a small plastic bottle of
corn syrup ("Karo") in their purse or in the glove box of the car. You can also purchase liquid glucose
packets at the pharmacy. It's better to have a liquid sugar, but even little packets of
table sugar would work. In an emergency, you don't want to spend valuable time trying to
find some sugar. Read how other owners have carried
their emergency sugar supply.
- Learn your pet's normal
behaviors. Abnormal behaviors, even the slightest ones, should
make you ask "could this be hypoglycemia?" If you are
not home bg testing, assume hypoglycemia and treat accordingly. Many pets do not show any physical signs of
hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). This is called asymptomatic hypoglycemia. Suspect hypoglycemia whenever your pet is not acting normally. Read some personal experiences.
- Develop a daily
routine and stick to it. If you get distracted while
preparing the injection, start over. Throwing away a syringe and a bit of
insulin is much better than giving an incorrect dose.
- Devise a way to
tell if you've given the injection. This might be to give
the injection, then record it in your daily care
- If you can't
remember if you gave the injection, don't give another one.
You may double-dose your pet.
- Ask your vet
what to do in case you give a partial injection. It's
probably best to NOT try to give another injection with the remainder of the
dose because you probably don't know how much actually got into your
- You will miss an
injection. Really, you will, and
it won't be the end of the world. You might forget, you might be sick one
day and oversleep through the morning injection, or you might have to work
late or attend a function one evening and can't get home for the evening
injection. If you can arrange for someone to come check on your pet or give
a shot, great. Just use common sense, and if you have any questions, ask your
- If you are
home bg testing and get a very high or very low
number, try to retest. The number may be incorrect due to
miscalibration, too small blood drop, or some other reason.
- Be flexible.
Diabetes is a long-term disease and it is important for the owner to be flexible so
that they don't stress themselves, or stress their pet. The owner also has to have a
happy, normal life. Or you might not be able to give the injections at
exactly 12 hour intervals. Check with your vet and discuss what kind of flexibility
you have in your pet's routine. Maybe it's okay to give a shot and feed at 7am, and
then give the evening shot and food at 5pm.
- Give the insulin to
the diabetic pet. This sounds obvious, but if
you have a multi-pet home, you must pay attention to what you're
doing. Yes, it has happened....the non-diabetic pet got the
insulin injection. If you make this mistake, call your vet immediately
for advice. You may be advised to give corn syrup (Karo) and food,
or you may be advised to bring your pet in for observation.
- Give the proper
insulin and the correct dose to the right pet.
Again, this sounds obvious, but there are owners who have more than
one diabetic pet, and the pets are likely getting different doses or
even different types of insulin. Pay attention to what you're doing, develop a
routine, and double-check yourself. If you make a mistake, call your
vet immediately for advice.
- A tip for the multi-pet home: it might help you
to put a certain color collar on your diabetic pet. Then when you give
the injection, you can always double check the collar to be sure you
have the right pet.
miscommunication in a multi-person household. If
there are two or more caregivers, you must develop a system for
communicating who has done what - insulin, feeding, exercise. It
is too easy for both caregivers to give an insulin injection and
accidentally double-dose your pet.
- Keep a daily journal.
Record the amount of insulin, shot time, bg levels (if you are
home bg testing), exercise schedule, eating habits, drinking habits, pee habits,
behavioral observations, and unusual events (for example vomiting or diarrhea) is very
useful. You can decide what type of notes to keep on your pet. A journal will
help you keep track of your pet's history, progress, and you can take it to the vet and
have all the information in one place. We found the journal especially useful when
Barney was sick. For example, each time he didn't eat or vomited, I would note it
in the journal. I could then call the vet and say "Barney didn't eat much on
Monday, and he vomited 4 times on Tuesday and twice Wednesday evening." It helped us
keep very detailed notes on what was happening and try to figure out what was causing the
problems. We used a spiral bound notebook type calendar, or just a plain notebook
would work well too. There are several notebook
- Keep a chart of how frequently
and how much your pet urinates. Some owners keep a daily chart of the
number of times their pet peed throughout the day. If you take your pet outside to
pee, or if you have only one cat using the litter box and you can check the box at certain
times, you can even keep track of morning, mid-day, evening, and overnight pees. For
dogs, you can count the numbers of seconds it took them to pee. For cats using a
clumping litter, you can note if the clumps were small, normal or large. Some pets
are very tolerant and will let you slip a cup under them when they pee. I took a 1/4 cup measuring cup and would slide
it under Barney just as he started to pee. I could get a very good estimate of his
urine volume. You can't do this every time your pet pees, but it can be done
- Weigh your pet's food
with a food scale or use a measuring cup to determine how much your pet did or didn't eat.
- Mark your pet's water bowl
like a measuring cup. Make the top mark 0 and each mark farther down
into the dish in some practical increment. For example, marks for a dog might be in
1/4 or 1/2
cup increments, while marks for a cat might be in 1 ounce increments. Fill
bowl to the '0' line every time you refill it, and make a note of how much your pet drank.
Over a period of a few weeks it will become clear what is 'typical', and then any change
from typical is a sign that something may have changed and it might be time to have your
pet's regulation checked.
- Be realistic with your pet's care.
Your pet needs a normal life too.
As a diabetic, your pet has to put up with a lot of needle sticks, bg testing, vet
trips, special diet, and maybe a special exercise routine. So it's important to let
them do things that are fun and healthy for them, and for them to have a little adventure
once in a while. An occasional healthy treat, a small lick of ice cream or a
mouse-catching adventure through the back yard is not the end of the world. Their
psychological health is just as important as their physical health.
Updated May 2004
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