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Diabetic Koala at the San Diego Zoo Gets Help from the Latest in CGM

Quincy is believed to be the first zoo animal to wear a continuous glucose monitor.

Image of Quincy, a diabetic koala, courtesy of San Diego Zoo

Quincy, a diabetic koala at the San Diego Zoo, is rocking a wearable new technology these days that may make his life—and maybe even other animals lives—much easier. Turns out that humans aren’t the only ones that suffer from diabetes. Many mammals also get it.

To manage diabetes, patients must monitor their blood glucose closely. Sometimes this means finger sticks multiple times a day to get correct readings and to make sure that insulin doses are accurate. In humans, this is unpleasant. But for animals, it’s worse because of course they don’t understand being disturbed frequently for painful pokes in the toes.

So, to minimize the sticks, and better monitor his glucose levels, the San Diego Zoo and Dexcom recently teamed up to give Quincy the company’s latest offering, the G6 continuous glucose monitor (CGM). The monitor does not require confirmatory finger sticks or calibration, which were required in previous generations of the device. It is approved to let the patient (or caregiver in Quincy’s case) make treatment decisions based solely on the readings on their screens.

Now, Quincy “only occasionally needs to have toe sticks to check on his blood glucose, mostly during the time between [changing the] monitors,” said Cora Singleton, DVM, senior veterinarian, San Diego Zoo, in an interview with MD+DI. The sensor can be worn up to 10 days before it needs to be replaced.

The G6 continuously measures glucose levels and sends data wirelessly to a display device, which can be a touch screen or compatible smart device that his caregivers keep. It can take measurements up to 288 times a day and can sense trends, either up and down and how fast, and transmit customizable alarms and alerts.

(Image at right of the Dexcom G6 family courtesy of Dexcom.)

To address concerns that Quincy could remove his monitor, he wears a small tube top that covers it for at least the first 24 hours after it is applied. “This helps to protect the monitor from accidentally getting snagged on eucalyptus or a toenail while the adhesive cures,” Singleton said.

Quincy is not the only animal at the San Diego Zoo with diabetes. There are about eight primates there with either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes, according to Singleton.

And diabetes in companion animals such as dogs and cats continues to grow. The prevalence of diabetes in dogs increased from 13.1 cases per 10,000 in 2006, to 23.6 cases per 10,000 in 2015. This is a 79.7 percent increase. Feline diabetes cases increased by 18.1 percent over the same period, according to Banfield's State of Pet Health Report.

The primates are not good candidates for CGM technology, Singleton said, because although they could benefit from it, she believes they would likely remove the monitor immediately after it is placed.

However, she said there is “potential for the use of this technology with certain other zoo animals and companion animals. But the monitor is attached to the skin so it could only be applied to animals in places where they either cannot or choose not to remove it.”

Susan Shepard

Susan Shepard

Susan Shepard is a freelance contributor to MD + DI.

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