Hypoglycemia in Dogs
The medical term for critically low levels of sugar in the blood is hypoglycemia, and it is often linked to diabetes and an overdose of insulin. The blood sugar, or glucose, is a main energy of source in an animal's body, so a low amount will result in a severe decrease in energy levels, possibly to the point of loss of consciousness.
There are conditions other than diabetes that can also cause blood sugar levels to drop to dangerous levels in dogs. In most animals, hypoglycemia is actually not a disease in and of itself, but is only an indication of another underlying health problem.
The brain actually needs a steady supply of glucose in order to function properly, as it does not store and create glucose itself. When glucose levels drop to a dangerously low level, a condition of hypoglycemia takes place. This is a dangerous health condition and needs to be treated quickly and appropriately. If you suspect hypoglycemia, especially if your dog is disposed to this condition, you will need to treat the condition quickly before it becomes life threatening.
- Loss of appetite (anorexia)
- Increased hunger
- Visual instability, such as blurred vision
- Disorientation and confusion – may show an apparent inability to complete basic routine tasks
- Weakness, low energy, loss of consciousness
- Seizures (rare)
- Anxiety, restlessness
- Heart palpitations
These symptoms may not be specific to hypoglycemia, there can be other possible underlying medical causes. The best way to determine hypoglycemia if by having the blood sugar level measured while the symptoms are apparent.
There may be several causes for hypoglycemia, but the most common is the side effects caused by drugs that are being used to treat diabetes. Dogs with diabetes are given insulin to help control the condition, but an overdose of insulin, or higher does of insulin given when blood glucose levels are higher than normal, can cause the body to process too much glucose, decreasing the levels of glucose in the blood to levels that are too low for the body's needs. This is when a state of hypoglycemia may occur, and if it is not treated quickly, the brain may be damaged irreparably, leading to death.
If you notice any of the symptoms of hypoglycemia in your dog, it is advisable to see a veterinarian immediately. If your dog has already lost consciousness, or is visibly at the point of collapsing, you will need to call your veterinarian for instructions on immediate at-home treatment, followed by a visit with the doctor.
Even if you are able to treat your dog at home during the episode of hypoglycemia, you will still need to see your veterinarian so that blood work can be done. Your veterinarian will need to do a complete blood profile, a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis. You will need to give your veterinarian a thorough history of your dog's health, onset of symptoms, recent diet and any medications you have been giving to your dog.
There are two types of treatments for hypoglycemia, one of which is given when the episode is occurring, to raise blood sugar levels immediately, and the other to treat the underlying condition, to prevent hypoglycemia from recurring.
The initial treatment for hypoglycemia would largely depend on the symptoms. Some of the early symptoms can be treated by consuming glucose or sugar in any form. However, for serious symptoms that impair the ability to take sugar through the mouth, you will need to inject glucagons or give intravenous glucose. Your veterinarian will need to identify the underlying cause and treat it in order to prevent recurrent hypoglycemia. According to the underlying conditions that are found to be causing your dog's blood glucose levels to drop, the treatments could include medications or tumor treatment. Your doctor will only know which treatment plan to pursue once the laboratory tests have returned and have been analyzed.
Living and Management
Diet and management are the only way to control hypoglycemia and prevent recurrences. Prevention, and being prepared should the condition arise, are the best steps you can take in maintaining your dog's health status.