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Hypoglycemia in Dogs

Hypoglycemia refers to a condition in which the blood sugar level is abnormally low. In dogs and puppies, this can lead to seizures and coma and immediate quick treatment is necessary. Read on and learn more about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of canine hypoglycemia.

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Canine hypoglycemia refers to a state of abnormally low blood sugar in dogs. Since sugar (glucose) is a primary source of energy for all bodily functions, and because the brain has little capacity in the storage of glucose, hypoglycemia in dogs can cause problems to the nervous system, resulting in seizures and even coma. Prolonged low blood sugar in dogs can lead to severe brain damage.

Hypoglycemia usually occurs in toy breed puppies when they are young (from 6-12 weeks of age), because they are less able to store and mobilize glucose. In addition, toy breeds have more brain mass per body weight compared to other breeds. As a result, they need more glucose for brain function.

Adult dogs who are overly exhausted due to sustained exercise or activities, and those who have certain underlying diseases can suffer from hypoglycemic attacks as well.

Common Causes of Hypoglycemia in Puppies and Dogs

In puppies, hypoglycemia is often caused by stress, such as being boarded in a kennel.

Other common causes of hypoglycemia are things that may happen rather frequently (e.g. the puppy is too cold, too hungry, or too tired; or having an upset stomach). All these can easily cause hypoglycemia in puppies because the energy reserves in the liver are overly-taxed.

Puppies who have had repeated episodes of hypoglycemia should be examined by a veterinarian to see if the problem is caused by some underlying diseases, such as liver shunt, or enzymatic or hormonal deficiencies.

If hypoglycemia is not caused by any underlying health problems, when a puppy gets older, sometimes (but not all) it will outgrow this condition.

In dogs, those with diabetes can suffer from hypoglycemia if given an excessive amount of insulin.

Dogs suffering from Addison's disease do not have sufficient secretion of the corticosteroid hormones from their adrenal glands. Insufficiency of these hormones can bring about hypoglycemia in dogs.

Older dogs with unexplained hypoglycemia are likely to be suffering from insulinomas, which are tumors of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. These tumors can cause an increase in insulin production, resulting in low blood sugar levels.

Symptoms of Hypoglycemia in Dogs

The typical signs and symptoms of canine hypoglycemia include:
  • Depression
  • Listlessness
  • Muscle weakness and incoordination
  • Staggering gait
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Tremors (especially of the face)
  • Seizures and coma, sometimes death (In severe cases)
Sometimes, however, a dog suffering from a hypoglycemic attack does not show most or any of the above symptoms. In fact, episodes of hypoglycemic attacks often happen without much warning. For example, a puppy may be playing and suddenly it just goes into a coma. Or you may just see your puppy walking with a staggering gait.

Treatment of Hypoglycemia in Dogs

Quick action is essential to reverse the state of hypoglycemia in dogs and puppies. The aim is to restore the blood sugar to its normal level.

If the dog or puppy is alert and awake, give him a source of sugar such as corn syrup, honey, jam, or sugar water orally. Improvement should be seen in about 30 minutes. If not, take him to a veterinarian.

If the dog or puppy is unconscious, dip your finger in some honey or corn syrup and gently rub your finger on the dog's gums. Then take him to the vet at once. Do not give any sugary solution by mouth if the dog is unconscious because it will be inhaled.

A dog with a hypoglycemic attack is likely to suffer from hypothermia as well, so be sure to keep the dog warm with a blanket.

Prevention of Hypoglycemia in Dogs

If your puppy is prone to hypoglycemia, be sure to get some oral glucose paste (available at drugstores) and keep it handy.

Feed your pup a diet that is high in carbohydrate, fat, and protein, and food should be given at least 4 times a day.

Keep your pup calm and warm all the time, and do not over exhaust him by too much play or exercise.
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