This week I received an email from a customer and diabetic pet owner asking if veterinarians are in collusion on making insulin so pricey. I promise you, we are not! Shoot, most of the insulins I prescribe these days (Glargine, NPH, Levemir) I have owners get at their own pharmacy. We veterinarians don’t have a whole lot of say in the price of insulin.

Nonetheless, we often are left pondering the costs of things. Just this week I had a load of dirt delivered to my house to fill in ruts made in my yard by a cement truck when I had my driveway repaired. I believe that is probably the most unappealing way I’ve spent $175 in a very long time. And then I got to shovel and wheelbarrow the expensive dirt into the ruts. During that exercise, I got to spend several hours shoveling and wondering how that pile of dirt was worth so much money!

Enough grumbling about the price of my dirt and back to the costs of insulin…

saving money on insulinOne reason I prefer owners get insulin from a pharmacy is that diabetes is relatively common in humans. Pharmacies will have to be price competitive to get your business. Additionally, when I have ordered a particular insulin for pets (say if I inherited a patient who was on PZI or Vetsulin) sometimes owners may then not want it for some reason. I’m stuck with the choice of keeping product in the clinic fridge that may expire or shipping it back to the manufacturer on ice. Honestly, I prefer having owners get their insulin from a pharmacy! Now, before you think I’m against Vetsulin or PZI let me tell you I’m not. They are great insulin choices! I’m just personally accustomed to using Glargine as my “go to” insulin for cats and I got out of the habit of using Vetsulin for dogs when it went off the market a few years ago.

Today I’m going to share my few pearls on saving money on the cost of insulin. It’s still expensive, but I am happy to share what I know. The good news is that you have already found ADW Diabetes and are already saving money on your diabetic supplies such as meters, test strips and syringes.

If you are using insulin made for humans, pens are very common. Take a Glargine pen for example. It contains 3 cc of Glargine (aka Lantus) instead of the 10 cc in a full sized vial. I routinely have owners buy one pen at a time. Glargine is my favorite insulin for cats. My local pharmacist here in Mayberry sells Glargine pens individually for $90 per pen. If a cat is on one unit twice daily that is 5 months worth of insulin, which is about as long as we’d feel comfortable using a vial of Glargine anyway. (Anything beyond 28 days for a bottle of insulin is “extra-label” use, but many vets will let owners use a vial of Glargine for 3 or more months.) If a diabetic pet owner purchases a 10 cc vial for a cat there is a lot of wasted insulin. I do the same with Levemir pens for dogs.

Last fall I changed one of my long time diabetic doggies from NPH to Levemir. He had been well-controlled on NPH for a couple years. I don’t know why we suddenly couldn’t regulate him. I searched for causes of insulin resistance. Finally I changed him to Levemir. It took a couple months to regulate him on the new insulin, but today he is like a new dog. He’s a big Labrador, so there won’t be as much wasted insulin as if the pet was a small dog or cat, but I still started with a pen instead of a vial since I didn’t know if he would do well on the insulin. It was a lower out of pocket initial expense while we tried a new insulin on him.

Another way to save money if a dog is on NPH insulin is to consider the Novolin brand rather than the Humulin brand (cats don’t tend to do well on NPH as it doesn’t seem to last long enough in cats). Novolin NPH and Humulin NPH are essentially the same insulin, but Novolin is less expensive. I don’t know why. I even asked my local pharmacist a few years back. He doesn’t know why either. Nonetheless, it could potentially save a diabetic pet owner some money. Please take note that pets may not react identically to one brand as the other, but the dosage and effect will likely be similar.

I encourage you to speak with your veterinarian to see if, with their help, you can find ways to save money while still offering your pet the best possible diabetes management possible.


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