As a veterinarian, I have a strong preference for my clients with diabetic pets to run their blood glucose curves at home. It is less stressful for the pet at home than to be kenneled in a vet clinic for the day. Anxiety in the clinic can falsely elevate the blood glucose, a phenomenon known as “stress hyperglycemia”. Furthermore, the cost of a handful of glucose test strips is much more affordable than paying the vet staff to run the blood glucose curve for you. Over the years, that’s a big savings. You’d think no one would have a glucose curve run at the clinic. Wrong! Some folks are very resistant to checking Fluffy’s blood glucose at home. Especially when they hear they have to get a blood sample.
Perhaps the biggest deterrent to clients checking a pet’s blood glucose is that they feel like meanies by poking their darling pet to get the blood sample. Yes, they poke Fluffy with a needle to give an insulin injection, but blood is rarely seen with an insulin injection! Maybe if the pet has a very short hairdoo we might see a hint of blood at the injection site, but most of the time no blood is seen. I know some really brave people who turn green at the sight of blood.
The good news is that current blood glucose meters require a very small droplet of blood to yield a glucose reading. And as you get proficient, the sight of blood, if you are the squeamish sort, will become less of an impact visually, particularly if you follow my tricks.
Prepping for the Blood Sample
First off, warm the area where you plan to poke your pet. Whenever I diagnose a diabetic pet I give the client a sock of uncooked rice or uncooked beans. I put 3 or 4 tablespoons in stockingette material with a knot on each end. You could use a baby’s sock with a knot in the end to keep the rice enclosed. The point is that it would be soft and suitable to put in the microwave for a few seconds to warm up the rice or beans. This little “warm pack” only needs to be an inch or 2 in diameter, just big enough that when slightly warmed can be placed on the blood collection site and not be offensive to your pet. This warmth causes the blood vessels to dilate and makes it easier to collect blood with the lancing device.
Next, always have a tissue or piece of gauze to place over the blood collection site after you collect the blood. Use it to absorb any excess blood and apply pressure to prevent a bruise.
Where to Poke Fluffy
Finally, we will discuss where to poke your sweetie. I won’t lie. Some pets are easier than others. Most pets are compliant, particularly if you have an extra human to distract the pet. Rarely, a pet of the grouchy variety that might nip the pet owner. In those situations I’d just as soon have the curve run at the vet clinic where we have trained staff. Or, we might utilize a fructosamine or A1c level in that situation if the pet is sincerely too grouchy even for trained staff. Again, stress of a clinic stay can cause stress hyperglycemia.
Assuming your pet is compliant, then we survey potential look collection sites. It’s usually easier if the pet is larger. It’s just harder when the dog or cat weighs 5 pounds compared to a bigger pet!
Lancing devices are not complicated machinery. I like when lancing devices have an adjustable depth. It your pet bleeds easily you would adjust it to a more shallow penetration depth.
My favorite spot on cats and small dogs is usually the marginal ear vein. If you shine a flashlight on the edge of the ear you can usually see the vein. You can ask your vet to shave the fur off a spot on the ear to make this vein even easier to view. You might aim the lancet/lancing device right at this marginal ear vein, or if the ear is meaty you can sometimes just get a sample from the non haired part in the inside of the ear. Again, the sock trick is very helpful. Warming an area before using the lancet can make all the difference in the world. Heat the sock with rice or beans in the microwave until it is warm but not hot.
Some folks have good luck, especially with big dogs, by using the inside of the cheek. They flip the lip inside out, dab off any spit and proceed. If you have a relaxed, knucklehead Labrador this might be the perfect spot for you.
I love it when older dogs have hairless elbow calluses. They are one of my favorite spots to get blood! I’m not much of a fan of using feet or toes though because so many pets are foot sensitive already. I don’t wish to add to that. You can have your vet shave a spot on the hip, especially if your pet has some meat on his bones. Have a look with your veterinarian to determine what may be the best spot on your pet!
Poking your pet takes bravery and perseverance. Sometimes I show clients how to do check a blood glucose and they get home and can’t remember! It’s a lot to take in. I tell them they can come back every day for me or one of my vet nurses to show them again and again until they get it. Practice makes perfect.
Have a question or comment? Post below or email me at [email protected]. I always enjoy hearing from my readers!
NOTE: Consult your veterinarian first to make sure my recommendations fit your pets special health needs.
Starting Monday on using lancets on my newly diagnosed Min Pin, both diabetic and Cushings. Have help in distracting her at meal times shots, but worried sick I will not be able to get blood draws. First day requires every two hours for the draws. LOVE this site.
Warming the ear or site of blood collection really helps, doesn’t it!
So glad I found this. I have a Puggle and she’s easy to work with. But have NO luck getting blood. I had no idea about warming the spot or using adjustable depth lancets. Any brand recommendations?
When she was in the hospital a month ago we were given a freestyle libre monitor. My vet told me to ask the pharmacist for the correct lancet and test strips. I got with the pharmacist recommends and went poking my dog. Eight times! I tried toe pads on all paws, ear, hip and lip… No blood at all. My vet was no help, other than saying to do an overnight for the insulin curve. I won’t do that, it’ll just stress my girl out and give incorrect results.
Warming the spot helps significantly. Placing a cotton ball between the ear and your finger and putting a bit of pressure between the landing device and the ear also helps. You may try different lancing devices, the Alphatrak meter is far and away my favorite meter, it the current lancing device that comes with the kit isn’t as user friendly as the lancing device that used to come with the meter. You can use whichever lancing device and lancet you wish. What needs to be paired is the meter and the test strip for that particular meter.
My Minpin also has diabetes and Cushings. Also heart murmurs. Diagnosed about a year ago. Have you been able to get glucose levels under control?
How many times can I use the same lancet for my dog or do I need to use new one each time I’m going to purchase Alpha Track 2 blood glucose kit it doesn’t come with a lot of lancets.
Good question. Lancets should be used only once as they will dull after use and more 8 portantlyif there is dried blood from the first use it could affect the subsequent reading. If you are in a pinch, you can use any lancet. Lancets are universal to lancing devices and and you can use any brand with your Alphatrak meter. Meters and strips are another story—-those need to be paired with the same brand.
My 16year old Romanian rescue’s blood doesn’t always bead. I do the rice sock. If it doesn’t bead we can get an incorrect low reading or an error code E1 on the Alphatrak. Any advice please, I use the Genteel lancer. Thank you very much.
It sounds as if you aren’t getting enough blood. Or perhaps the blood is smearing into the fur. Perhaps ask your vet to clip the fur on the ear!
Do I push the lancet into the skin of the ear and then push the trigger?
Here is my approach to a lancet: Have a cotton ball between the pet’s ear and your finger. Press the lancet snugly against the inside (non haired or shaved ) aspect of the ear. Then push the lancing trigger. If you don’t hold it snug with light pressure you may not get adequate blood. When you first learn you will want the lancing device set at the deepest setting til you you now how shallow you can set it and get blood.
Of course if you are using a site other than the ear you won’t put your finger behind the area for support but still want it snug to the skin.
For diabetic glucose testing, I’ve been having issues with the ear flap test. I saw some get the blood sample from Lansing a shaved area at the tail base. Is it OK to try this other site? My 19 lb puggle shakes his head and its hard to keep him still using the ear flap method.
Hi Dr. Sutton and thanks for the article. Can you recommend a lancet? My 15 pound chihuahua mix was diagnosed this month, and I have purchased testing equipment. I just can’t bring myself to poke home more than the two insulin shts. I read safety lancets are helpful, but the spring clicks and I’m worried that will startle him. I was searching for silent safety lancets and came across your article. If you know of such lancets, can you please tell me? Thank you I’m advance.
First, try the lancet that came with your meter. Your pet might not react as badly as you worry may happen. Do remember to warm up the ear (or wherever you plan to poke) before getting the sample. My trick of putting some uncooked beans or uncooked rice in a baby sock may help. Warm the sock of beans or rice in the microwave to warm up the area so blood flows readily. You can do this! And your veterinarian or his nurses can help you til you have mastered the technique.
I wish I was aware of a quiet lancing device. They tend to make a clicking noise.
I have a senior Doxie (17yo) that is hard to get a blood sample from him. He just doesn’t bleed with the needle puncture even at 5 deep… I will try the warm RICE soak this evening to see if it works. I hope so because I have tried many times and he is grouchy and tries to bite the glucose puncture tool.
I hope that the warm sock of uncooked rice or beans helps! If not, ask your family vet or vet nurse for assistance. Good luck!
Hi Dr Joi,
Thank you for the tip on using a sock with rice. I have a 6 year old pug and I am having trouble getting a blood sample. The ear and lip he would not let me do, since his face is so small he just shakes me away! I can do his foot pad, but only if I distract him with food. I have been using a little low sodium canned chicken, but sometimes he eats it before I can get the test! I was wondering what other foods I can distract him with while trying to get a sample?
I’d recommend you ask your vet about which foods are appropriate for your pet considering any conditions he has. If you have help you could have a friend help pet your dog. Or, a friend could hold the treat in the hand while you check the blood glucose. If your vet likes pill pockets you could smash one onto the table to make it more difficult and buy you some time. I think the friend idea is the best option.
I hope the warm sock of rice helps!
Ihave a 12yr old male diabetic cat, Tiger. I feed Tiger can food but my Vet has always wanted me to keep dry food available
incase his sugar drops during the day. Right now TIger is recoverng from an intestial blockage. He is starting to eat on his own, at this point I’m just happy he is eating can or dry food and drinking. His sugar has elevated and is high right now. He was on 3units insulin but because of vomiting with blockage there were days his BG was low and didnt give insulin. Started back with insulin 0.75units and working our way up with BG monitoring. Now he is at 1.5units for the next few days. It’s been just over a week since the trip to the ER Vet and hadnt vomited the whole time until just last night. That makes me very nervous.
He isn’t eating his meal twice a day like he used to but has been grasing throught the day. At this point I pray he eats and keeps the food down and we can get back on track. Tiger is a chewer of paper and straps of tote bags. I try to keep everything high or in plastic container. Even closed off sewing/office room for now.
Last night Tiger was on a search and find mission. First time since he has been back from ER visit he was up and going through every room of the house. Seems like he was checking for paper to chew. Is he looking for paper to make him throw up, thinking it would calm his stomach? But the paper is making him threw up and could be causing the blockage. I wish he would use his words and tell me whats wrong.
Some tmes I want to remove dry food because I think his BG levels would be lower but what happens when his sugar drops to low?
Tiger’s BG has been as low as 46 before the blockage problem and as high as 545. Recently BG went from 345 midday to 545 at evening feeding 6hrs later. Guess I just have to wait it out unitl we get Tiger back to a normal insulin amounts. Been very stressful last 2 weeks.
Oops! I somehow didn’t receive notification that you had written a response. Please forgive my delayed response!!
Dry food does tend to throw a wrench in a diabetic cat’s blood glucose compared to canned food. Diabetic cats tend to do much better with canned food an dry food due to the carb content of canned versus dry. The low carb diet tends to result in better blood glucose regulation for diabetic cats.
I hope he is doing better!