PET PEEVES: FreeStyle Libre lets pet owners check glucose levels in diabetic dogs, cats

Dara Johns

Dear Readers,

Diabetes is difficult to treat in the best of circumstances. Even in humans who recognize the danger of allowing their blood sugar levels to become out of control, diabetes can be mismanaged. The constant monitoring of blood sugar levels and dealing with diet and exercise becomes exhausting.

Now consider the trials that a pet owner goes through when their pet is diagnosed with diabetes. Pets do not understand and cannot be told the importance of following the treatment plan. They may not like the new food they are required to eat. They don’t appreciate the feeding schedule that suddenly needs to be every 12 hours exactly along with a needle prick (even if the needle is very small).

Cats, by nature are the most difficult. Most dogs will eat anything you give them, but cats can be very picky. They will turn their nose up at prescribed foods for diabetics and insist on eating something they are used to. Cats won’t eat “on queue.” They eat when it pleases them. Cats don’t respond as well to insulin. They are often insulin resistant, so the insulin injections don’t trigger as quick or as effective a response as they do in dogs.

And cats are harder to get blood from when it comes time for a glucose check to see if the insulin is working. The actual blood draw causes stress that triggers blood sugar spikes, making the readings falsely elevated and invalid so you cannot even document that the insulin is working properly.

Thankfully, a scientific innovation for humans is making it easier to monitor blood sugar levels in dogs and cats. The FreeStyle Libre, created for human diabetics, allows the pet owner to check blood sugar levels without leaving home.

A rise in the number of diabetes cases has pushed medical tech companies into the wearables business. For example, The FreeStyle Libre by Abbot is a 14 day system that continuously monitors glucose levels. This technology also can be used on diabetic dogs and cats, allowing pet owners to monitor the animals' blood sugar levels without leaving home.

The FreeStyle Libre is a sensor disc the size of a half dollar. On the pet, a patch of hair is shaved off over the shoulder blades. The sensor is then glued to the prepped skin. The round white disc has a tiny needle in the center that goes into the tissue under the skin when the disc is glued down. It begins to check glucose levels in the interstitial space under the skin every 15 minutes for 14 days.

With the FreeStyle Libre reader or with an iPhone app, the owner can download and read the glucose levels for two weeks just by holding the reader or the phone over the sensor. The sensor disc reads and stores data for eight hours at a time, so the pet’s owner must down load the information every eight hours. The data, including graphs, can be emailed to your veterinarian or printed out and taken to your veterinarian’s office.

With this information, true pictures of how the pet’s body is responding to the insulin can be seen. Decisions about how much insulin to give and when and how much to feed the pet can be made more accurately. And the best part is the pet does not have to go up to the clinic except for the day the FreeStyle Libre sensor is applied.

The 14-day sensor costs approximately $65. The Reader costs about $125, but if you have an iPhone, you can just down load the app and use your phone for a reader. If you have a diabetic pet, talk to your veterinarian about getting this to monitor glucose levels. It will improve both monitoring results and quality of life for your pet.

Have a question for Dr. Johns? E-mail her at JohnsDVM@aol.com. Write to Pet Peeves, P.O. Box 2949, Fort Walton Beach, FL 32549. Johns is a Niceville veterinarian.