Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar) in Dogs

Hypoglycemia is a syndrome that occurs primarily in toy breeds between 6 and 12 weeks of age. A hypoglycemic attack is often precipitated by stress. The typical signs are listlessness, depression, staggering gait, muscular weakness, and tremors-especially of the face. Puppies with a severe drop in blood sugar develop seizures or become stuporous and go into a coma. Death can follow. This particular sequence of symptoms is not always seen. though. For example, some puppies exhibit only weakness or a wobbly gait. Occasionally a puppy who seemed just fine is found in coma.

Episodes of hypoglycemia often occur without warning-for example, when a puppy is stressed by shipping. Other common causes of acute hypoglycemia are missing a meal, chilling, becoming exhausted from too much play, or having an upset stomach. These events place an added strain on the energy reserves of the liver.

Hypoglycemia can occur in adult hunting dogs as a consequence of sustained exercise and depletion of liver glycogen. It is important to feed these dogs before hunting and to increase the protein content of their diets. Hypoglycemia in diabetic dogs is caused by insulin overdose. Unexplained hypoglycemia that occurs in older dogs is likely to be caused by an insulin-secreting tumor of the pancreas.

Prolonged or repeated hypoglycemic attacks in toy breed puppies can cause brain damage. Puppies with frequent attacks should undergo veterinary testing to rule out an underlying problem, such as liver shunt, infection, or an enzyme or hormone deficiency.

Treatment: The treatment of an acute attack is aimed at restoring the blood sugar. Begin immediately. If the puppy is awake and able to swallow, give corn syrup or sugar water by syringe, or rub corn syrup, honey, or glucose paste on the gums. You should see improvement in 30 minutes. If not, call your veterinarian.

If the pup is unconscious, do not give an oral solution because it will be inhaled. Rub corn syrup, honey, or glucose paste on the gums and proceed at once to your veterinarian. This puppy will require an intravenous dextrose solution and may need to be treated for brain swelling.

Oral glucose paste is sold at pharmacies. If you know your dog is subject to hypoglycemic attacks, keep this product on hand.

Prevention: Susceptible puppies should be fed at least four times a day. It is important to feed a high-carbohydrate, high-protein, high-fat diet. It is essential that the diet be high quality. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate premium food.

Food supplements and table scraps should not exceed 5 to 10 percent of the total daily ration. Owners of toy puppies should take precautions to see that they do not become excessively tired or chilled. Many (but not all) puppies outgrow this problem.

This article is excerpted from “Dog Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook” with permission from Wiley Publishing, Inc.