A friend recently told me that she always comes up with the perfect comeback. Her problem is that she thinks of it 20 minutes too late. Yep, sometimes timing is everything. When it comes to diabetes care of our pets, timing can make the difference between a well regulated diabetic pet and a “mostly” regulated diabetic pet.

Routines may not be exciting, but routines make for a well-regulated diabetic pet! After two plus decades practicing veterinary medicine, I sometimes think I have heard it all. Then a client comes along and proves me wrong. Recently one of my own veterinary clients told me he routinely gave his cat the insulin then waited an hour before feeding his pet. I don’t know where this client got this notion as I had told him what I tell all my clients, to feed and give insulin at the same time every 12 hours.

Now, whether one waits to see if Fluffy is eating before giving the injection is another story. For folks who have a pet with a hearty appetite that couldn’t imagine missing a meal, they may give the injection as the pet dives into dinner. A feeding frenzy is definitely a distraction to the quick poke of an insulin needle. For folks who have a finicky eater, they might watch to make sure the pet truly eats before giving the injection. Nonetheless, I would feed the pet essentially at the same time as the injection rather than waiting any length of time. The insulin needs something to work with. If food is not given with the insulin the pet could become hypoglycemic.

How about the timing of meals? Does it matter if a pet eats in between insulin injections? Yes. Just as giving insulin without food can cause a low blood glucose reading, giving food without insulin will cause an elevated blood glucose test result. If you give a snack in the middle of the day, the blood glucose will likely rise due to the snack.

If I had my way, diabetic dogs and cats would be fed twice a day with their insulin injections. That sounds all very good on paper, but the truth of the matter is that our pets may have a different opinions. Cats especially are notorious for nibbling throughout the day. I joke that in my home pets get the same authority as humans – that it is a “democracy” in the Sutton household. In all honesty, however, the truth is that the cats wear the pants in my family. I have never had a dog boss me around so much as my cats do. If I were to feed my cats a mere two times daily, there would be no end to them telling me about it. My particularly food-motivated cat sometimes looks at the empty food bowl and then looks at me. I’m certain she is thinking, “Human, are you daft?”

My compromise for diabetic pets who think they are constantly starving is to try to get them to eat the majority of their calories at the same time as the insulin injection. For dogs who insist on a mid-day treat, I encourage a low-calorie veggie such as green beans as the snack. For cats, it is the same low-carbohydrate food as they receive as a meal, but hopefully the majority of food is given with the insulin. This stubborn food-nibbling preference of cats is likely why we tend to have greater success with longer-acting insulin for putty tats (i.e. glargine, PZI and demetir). Glargine has a relatively steady action over its duration and has been referred to as a “peak-less” insulin. Most dogs readily accept “meal” feeding twice daily, so we tend to go with intermediate-acting insulin as our first choice, such as Vetsulin and NPH.

Life sometimes get is the way of our plans, but do your best to give the injections every 12 hours. Occasionally I hear of clients giving insulin injections 10 and 14 hours apart or 11 and 13 hours apart due to their family’s work and sleep schedule. Strive for 12 hours apart. Consistency is key to diabetes regulation. I encourage consistency of timing of injections and consistency of portions fed. Every family has individual quirks and schedules, but we all do our best for the love of Fluffy.

If you have a suggestion worth sharing or questions about diabetes, feel free to email me at Joi.SuttonDVM@adwdiabetes.com.


NOTE: Consult your veterinarian to confirm that my recommendations are applicable for the health needs of your pet.

Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr . Joi Sutton

Dr. Joi Sutton is a 1993 graduate from Oregon State University. She has practiced both in emergency medicine and general practice. Dr. Sutton has done extensive international volunteer work and is the President and Founder of Veterinary Ventures, a nonprofit organization that takes teams of veterinarians to undeveloped countries for humane medical care. She also runs a small animal practice in South Florida.
Dr . Joi Sutton