Desensitization entails getting Kitty “used to” being touched in different ways in order to reduce stress and struggle during blood glucose testing and insulin injections. While working with Kitty, this can also help desensitize the nervous fur parent. Nine times out of ten, moms and dads are way more stressed and nervous than Kitty. If we are really nervous around testing time, Kitty will be stressed, glucose numbers can jump, and/or Kitty will take off to hide somewhere. Since you are more than likely reading this because Kitty has been diagnosed with diabetes, it is very likely that an extended period of gradual desensitization would not be wise or practical. As there are a ton of materials online and from veterinary resources regarding desensitizing techniques, and I am not going to repeat that over and over. Our goal is to tailor the techniques to our own sweet kitty.
Places everyone! Find a good spot to treat Kitty every day. Kitty knows and likes routines, and they are much more relaxed when they know what to expect. A table or desk is ideal in order to have all the supplies out and ready to go. Use some low-carb or carb-free treats at first so Kitty will associate the place and the activity with something pleasant. If Kitty likes catnip, open some of that and sprinkle on the treatment surface. I have gotten through many an unpleasant activity for Kitty by distraction with catnip and rewards with treats. If this does not do it for Kitty, do they have a favorite perch? Do they have a certain blanket, article of clothing, or pillow they like to knead on? If there is a cat tower Kitty spends a lot of time in, is it close enough to a surface for supplies? Are you able to get down on the floor with Kitty for testing (think next to an end table or coffee table)? Even the bed will work if Kitty is comfortable there. Any place will do as long as Kitty is okay with it, you have easy access to all needed supplies for efficiency, and the area is clean.
Testing 1… 2… 3… It is recommended to test on the very outside of the ear. There are far fewer nerve endings in the 2 to 3-millimeter space from the edge of the ear to the visible line where the abundant nerves and larger capillaries are located. It is not going to be painful for Kitty. Have you noticed that the tips of Kitty’s ears are usually cool to the touch in comparison to the rest of their body? If you are very nervous about testing, use a fresh lance and poke your finger. It will sting for a bit, but understand humans have a ton more nerve endings in their fingers than Kitty does at the tips of their ears. Using the lance on yourself and knowing that it is quick and not too painful should lessen the stress on both you and Kitty. You will have an idea of what to expect and be more confident. If you are not keen on using a lance on yourself, take your fingernail and push firmly into the top half of the pad of your index finger. Kitty will feel much less than that even, and this can also help you go in with more confidence.
Injections: This can be scary for a fur mom or dad. We do not want to hurt our babies if we can avoid it. I am here to tell you that a diabetic syringe is so super thin, even I do not feel injections from those. A 28-gauge or higher needle is TINY. As long as the needle is sterile and sharp, the injection should cause very little pain for Kitty. Again, if you need to try this on yourself, you can use a needle, sterilize the area, pull up some skin around your abdomen or thigh region and insert the needle. Obviously, we are not injecting anything, but experiencing the sensation yourself will likely calm your fears of “hurting” Kitty. Insulin injections are subcutaneous, meaning just under the skin. Therefore, we are able to use short and tiny needles to get the job done. Also, because of the small amounts of insulin required, the injection will be rather quick. As long as we don’t pinch Kitty’s skin too hard, it is very likely Kitty will not feel the injection. Once in a while, I have had kitties that cannot take an injection near the scruff of the neck. I had one that had the thickest skin there, and I could not get a needle in there no matter what I did. Also if you are going at this alone and using the clipnosis technique (using a soft clip on the scruff of the neck to calm kitty), this area may not be the most convenient. Kitty has a lot of places where the skin is loose enough for a subcutaneous injection. The hip area would be my second choice, as Kitty is used to being touched there, and there is plenty of room to rotate injection sites on two sides of the body. Kitty’s belly also has a ton of loose skin, but many kitties will not tolerate being touched on the belly and will likely not cooperate in rolling over for you in any event. Keep track in your diabetic journal where Kitty was tested and injected. This will avoid the possibility of re-poking a sensitive spot from testing or injections earlier in the day or the evening before.
Desensitizing Kitty is a process. Every single day during petting time, we should focus on the areas where Kitty is going to be injected or tested. For instance, if you tested on the right ear today, give the left ear some rubs and a gentle massage. This will eventually get Kitty used to being tested on either side, and we want to rotate testing and injection sites to avoid scar tissue buildup. The same goes for injection areas. If you used the right hip this morning, focus on massaging the neck, left hip, or other unused possible injection sites. We will eventually get Kitty used to being touched in all of these places which will make Kitty’s diabetic care easier on both you and Kitty. While your veterinarian will help you learn and likely give you generalized guidelines, you will also need to sprinkle in creativity that works with Kitty. No two are alike, and I think all cats are stubborn each in their own unique way. It is okay if you have to go to them at first. It is okay if you need a second person to help while you learn to test and inject. It is completely normal to be wary because unless we are doctors, nurses, veterinarians, or other similar caregivers, we have not been desensitized ourselves. It is completely okay to be nervous or scared, and you need to go outside or to another room, do your freaking out, and then come back to Kitty for treatment. You are not going to be a super hero right out of the gate, and Kitty is going to have days where they get sick of being poked and prodded. Associating diabetic care with treats and/or getting hopped up on the catnip will make things easier in the short term. Even cats will get sick of the same old treats, catnip, etc. It is best to have as many options available as you can to keep Kitty (and you) comfortable with the process. Eventually, Kitty will start reminding YOU that it is time for pokies and feeding as they will eventually consider this another part of the list of included services Kitty will expect from their entourage and staff members (a.k.a. you). Now, take a deep cleansing breath, and go!
The Feline Diabetes Support Group on FB is always available for support.
*Shipping Update: Things are moving with some delays here and there still. As COVID cases continue to rise, I have had a few supplier e-mails stating deliveries will be delayed because an employee tested positive, and they are, of course, taking steps to clean and mitigate the spreading of the disease. Some brick-and-mortar businesses have closed some locations, so it is wise to double check before heading out.