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Hypoglycemia in Dogs

Dog with hypoglycemia
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Severity: i Medium - High
Life stage: Puppy, Adult
  • Hypoglycemia is known as low blood sugar in dogs.
  • In severe cases, dogs may act confused, experience seizures, or collapse.
  • Liver disease, endocrine diseases, xylitol poisoning, and diabetes can all contribute to hypoglycemia.
  • Blood and urine tests are important for diagnosis.
  • Treatment may involve hospitalization to stablize glucose levels.

A dog’s body needs glucose in order to function normally. Dogs digest carbohydrates in dog food, which are converted into glucose—the sugar that fuels the body. The hormone insulin is released to help carry the glucose in the blood into the cells.

The brain, heart, lungs, muscles, and every other part of a dog’s body need glucose to live. But if your dog is suffering from hypoglycemia, he’s not producing enough glucose to support optimum brain and organ health.

Let’s take a closer look at hypoglycemia in dogs including the symptoms and treatment options available.  

What is Hypoglycemia in Dogs?

Hypoglycemia is known as low blood sugar in dogs. It typically affects small-breed puppies and dogs with certain medical conditions, such as cancer, endocrinological diseases, or infectious and inflammatory diseases. 

When hypoglycemia becomes severe, a dog’s brain may not receive enough glucose and it can start to shut down. If this happens, a dog may act confused, experience seizures, or collapse and be unresponsive. 

Hypoglycemia Symptoms in Dogs

Puppy lying on dog bed

Hypoglycemia affects how active a dog may be and may also affect how the dog behaves. Dogs with hypoglycemia may be lethargic, sleep more, or tire easily with exercise. 

Some dogs actively seek out food because they are hungrier. This may mean that they eat their meals more quickly, may grab food items off the table, and may become destructive trying to get into any items containing food. 

The dog may be overall more irritable and less tolerant of interactions with people, similar to how a person with low blood sugar may behave. 

Some signs of hypoglycemia in dogs include:

  • Seizures
  • Collapse
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Loss of motor coordination (i.e. stumbling around)
  • Muscle twitches
  • Increased appetite
  • Exercise intolerance
  • Changes in behavior

Some dogs with hypoglycemia may act normal. Or the dog may only experience these signs intermittently.

Causes of Low Blood Sugar in Dogs

puppy eating food

There are various causes of hypoglycemia. They can be classified in one of following categories:

Reduced glucose intake. This is primarily seen in young, small-breed puppies due to the puppy not eating often enough. The puppy is active, exploring and playing, and then he runs out of glucose and collapses. The puppy does not know he needs to eat often to maintain his glucose level, and he may not have enough reserves in his body.

Overuse of glucose. The body uses up the glucose in cases where the dog may be overexerting himself or herself—such as in hunting dogs or pregnant mothers that are not fed enough food. It can also occur in cases where the dog experiences sepsis, which is a condition where there is widespread infection in the body. This may lead to organ failure and the body shutting down.

Endocrinological disorders. Certain types of pancreatic cancers—including insulinoma and extrapancreatic paraneoplasia—can produce more insulin than is needed. The higher insulin level in the blood moves more glucose into the cells, leaving a low overall blood glucose level in the body. Dogs with the endocrinologic disease hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s disease) can also experience hypoglycemia. 

Dogs receiving insulin injections for diabetes mellitus may also experience hypoglycemia. This may occur after the initial diagnosis as the veterinarian is adjusting the insulin dose or due to pet parent error if the dog is given too much insulin or given insulin when the dog has not eaten his meal.

Liver disease. A dog who is experiencing liver disease, such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, or portosystemic shunts, can also experience hypoglycemia. Liver disease interferes with the breakdown of glycogen (excess glucose).   

Ingestion of toxins. Dogs who eat human food items that contain xylitol are in danger of experiencing hypoglycemia and damage to their livers, since dogs cannot metabolize xylitol. 

Diagnosing Hypoglycemia in Dogs

Dog getting blood test

If you suspect your dog may be hypoglycemic, have him examined by your veterinarian right away to prevent him from having seizures. 

Your veterinarian will take a detailed history, perform a physical examination, and perform baseline diagnostic tests, such as blood work and urine tests. Based on the results of the bloodwork, your veterinarian may recommend more specialized bloodwork and an abdominal ultrasound to determine the exact cause for the hypoglycemia.

Treatment for Hypoglycemia

After diagnostic tests are performed to determine the cause for the hypoglycemia, your veterinarian can discuss the best medical treatment for your dog. 

Depending on the severity and cause of the hypoglycemia, this may be outpatient treatment or your dog may require hospitalization for several days. 

If your dog is hospitalized, he will likely need to have an intravenous catheter placed and dextrose solution given through the catheter. During this process, your dog’s vital signs will be monitored. Throughout the stay, the medical team will continue to check the glucose level of your dog. 

Your dog can only be discharged from the hospital when his glucose level has stabilized. Even after hospitalization, your veterinarian may refer your dog to be seen by a specialist for ongoing treatment and care. 

In case of an emergency where your dog appears weak, lethargic, or collapses, you should immediately take him to the veterinarian for specialized care.

Cost to Treat Hypoglycemia in Dogs 

The cost of treatment can vary depending upon the type of treatment needed. The cost can range from $500 (outpatient treatment) to $2,000-$3,000 or more for several days of diagnostic testing and intensive care.  

How to Prevent Hypoglycemia in Dogs 

Woman watching dog eat food

There are only a few situations in which a pet parent can prevent hypoglycemia. 

Small breed puppies should be fed a small meal every 2-4 hours until about 16 weeks of age. Pregnant dogs should be provided plenty of food to eat. Hunting dogs should be given meals with complex carbohydrates, fats, and proteins a few hours before the hunting excursion and be given snacks or smaller meals every 3-5 hours during the hunt. 

Dogs with infectious or inflammatory disease should have their food intake and medical condition closely monitored. If they do not receive enough nutrients during this time period, they can potentially experience hypoglycemia. Or if the dog’s condition worsens and he becomes septic, then hypoglycemia can occur. These dogs will need further medical care. 

If you have a diabetic dog, make sure that he is eating, and then administer the correct type and amount of insulin. Make sure you are using the appropriate-size syringes to administer the insulin. If your dog does not eat, contact your veterinarian, who can advise you on whether you should administer insulin. 

In addition, make sure that any food item that contains xylitol is out of your dog’s reach. 

There are certain conditions and liver diseases where a dog may need medications, special diets, supplements, and management for the rest of his life. To prevent hypoglycemia, follow all veterinary instructions to manage the disease.  

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