Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia is a metabolic disorder that causes low blood sugar or glucose levels in dogs. Low sugar levels affect a dog’s energy levels. Hypoglycemia eventually impacts their organs and brain function. 

Dogs with hypoglycemia may experience pain, loss of consciousness and in extreme cases death. 

Hypoglycemia is not a disease in itself but a symptom of an underlying disease or disorder. There can be several conditions that can cause Hypoglycemia. Liver disorders, excessive exercise, fasting or toxicity are some of them. 

What are the Causes of Hypoglycemia

These can occur because of one of the following reasons:

  • Portosystemic shunt
  • Reduced absorption of glucose because of fasting or malnutrition
  • Toxicity caused by eating synthetic sweeteners 
  • Insulin overdose
  • High glucose usage in pregnancy
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Liver inflammation
  • Glycogen storage disease
  • Unusual increase in pancreatic cells
  • Gastrointestinal or Liver Cancer

Your vet may conduct multiple tests to identify what is causing low blood sugar levels. 

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia

Puppies less than 3 months are not fully capable of regulating their blood sugar levels. They can get hypoglycemia If these puppies are exposed to stress caused by a cold climate, poor nutrition or intestinal parasites.

Low energy levels and delayed response are initial signs of Hypoglycemia. This can advance to more severe symptoms. 

Common symptoms are:

  • Lethargy or weakness
  • Sudden behavioral change
  • Trembling
  • Muscle twitches 
  • Increased Urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Loss of eyesight
  • Unconsciousness
  • Inability to exercise

How is Hypoglycemia Diagnosed?

If a dog has the above symptoms, the vet will conduct a physical examination and discuss your pet’s history. Changes in activity, eating and drinking habits, attitude, urine and bowel function should be shared with the vet. If your dog is being given insulin for diabetes, share how your dog is responding to insulin. This will help them narrow down and confirm the exact cause of Hypoglycemia. 

At first they will measure your dog’s blood glucose with a glucometer. The test is simple because only a drop of blood is taken from the dog and the result is available within a few seconds. Normal glucose range is between 3.3 to 6.6 mmol/L and anything below that means hypoglycemia. 

Your vet may conduct supplementary tests like CBC (complete blood count). CBC gives information like the number, size, and shape of the different types of cells in the blood. Looking at CBC vets can diagnose blood-related conditions that could have caused Hypoglycemia.

Other tests that can be conducted including:

  • Chemistry tests to diagnose pancreatic, liver and kidney function
  • Urinary tests to detect urinary tract infection
  • Cortisol test for determining if your pet has Addison’s disease. 
  • A thyroid test to check if the thyroid gland is functioning normally
  • Electrolyte tests to find out if your pet is suffering from electrolyte imbalance.

If your vet thinks hypoglycemia is because of cancer, an ultrasound examination of the abdomen will be conducted to find the tumor. 

Treatment of Hypoglycemia

The treatment method depends on the medical condition responsible for causing the low blood sugar. The first stage of treatment involves increasing your dog’s blood sugar levels. If hypoglycemia is not severe, rubbing glucose or corn syrup on your dog’s gums should increase their glucose. Dog owners can do this at their homes. 

When hypoglycemia is severe, concentrated dextrose will be administered intravenously on your dog. This restores blood sugar levels. If low blood sugar level has been caused by excessive exercise, giving your dog rest should resolve the condition. 

Endocrine disorders or inflammation are generally treated with medication and toxicity is managed through supportive measures. Hypoglycemia caused by a tumor or portosystemic shunt may need surgical intervention. 

When dogs are treated, vets check them for several hours and prescribe care guidelines before discharging them. 

Recovery and Recurrence of Hypoglycemia

Dogs discharged after treatment should be monitored regularly to check the recurrence of Hypoglycemia. Specific discharge instructions and medication may be given to operated dogs for the treatment of the primary disease.

Small breed puppies, kittens and active dogs need extra care to keep them from having a recurrence. They should be fed smaller meals, multiple times rather than one large meal.  Highly active dogs should be fed before exercise or playtime and they should always have access to snacks. If your dog needs to fast then special care should be taken to make sure their glucose levels don’t fall.

Related Questions

How Much does Treating Hypoglycemia Cost?

Treatment of Hypoglycemia will vary based on the primary disease responsible for low sugar levels. Vet consultation and glucose may usually cost between $80 to $200. If your dog has to be administered glucose then the cost for glucose will be around $200. For surgical treatment or medication, the cost starts at $800. The average cost of treating Hypoglycemia is between $1000 to $8000.

What Dogs are at Risk of Having Hypoglycemia?

Toy breeds are more likely to get hypoglycemia. Dogs who have been treated for diabetes mellitus, have severe liver disease, tumors in their pancreas or liver shunts are at an increased risk. Addison’s disease may also cause hypoglycemia.