For diabetics, checking blood sugar levels a few times a day is crucial, and it's equally important for the approximately 500,000 dogs and cats that also suffer from diabetes.
Plenty of glucose meters are available for people. Testing sugar levels at home is a pinprick away -- a drop of blood on the meter's testing strip gives an accurate reading within minutes. But it's not so easy for our furry friends.
Pet owners usually make frequent, expensive veterinarian visits to get accurate glucose readings. Or, they use human meters, which are often inaccurate for animals.
So, two companies have developed glucose meters especially for pets. Abbott Laboratories recently launched AlphaTRAK and Animal Diabetes Management, a small private company in Janesville, Wisconsin, sells a meter calibrated specifically for pets.
Abbott Labs' device is the first pet meter to undergo extensive testing. Researchers used blood samples from 452 diabetic and non-diabetic cats and dogs to compare Abbott's pet meter with two human meters. The AlphaTRAK's results were close to the lab test sent out by the veternarian, while the human meters were inaccurate by nearly 40 percent.
Margo Hupe, diabetic herself, used her own meter on her diabetic dog, but found the results were significantly different from lab tests done by her vet's office. So she switched to Animal Diabetes Management's device.
"It made me a lot more comfortable because I wasn't guessing any more," she said.
The biggest risk diabetic pets face is hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, says Robert Judd, who conducts diabetes research at Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine. So if a meter shows an even lower reading, a pet owner could overshoot and give the animal more glucose than they need.
Pet testing is complicated because the distribution of glucose and red blood cells in plasma is different in pets and humans. So the algorithms used in human meters will underestimate the sugar levels in pets, Judd says.
Kris Dahl, a biochemist who develops Animal Diabetes Management's meters, says they change the test strips on human meters and tweak the meters' calibrations to tailor them for animals.
The company has garnered 500 customers without heavy advertising, Dahl says. And with pet waistlines apparently expanding along with their owners', an increasingly large market exists for pet glucose meters.