When your pet’s blood sugar drops below normal, it can spell serious trouble for their health. Blood sugar, or glucose, is the main source of energy for both the body and the brain. Without adequate amounts of glucose, your pet cannot function properly. In severe cases, hypoglycemia can cause loss of consciousness, coma, and even death.
Fortunately, there are treatment options available, and the sooner you seek treatment for your pet, the more likely they are to recover. Read on to learn about the diagnosis and treatment of hypoglycemia in cats and dogs.
Diagnosing Hypoglycemia in Cats and Dogs
Contact your veterinarian if your pet ever exhibits symptoms of hypoglycemia. Your vet will perform a physical examination, take a full health history, and perform certain diagnostic tests.
Most cases of hypoglycemia are easily diagnosed through routine blood work that reveals low glucose levels. The more challenging part of diagnosis is figuring out the source of the condition. Exploratory testing may include:
- Blood chemistry to assess liver, kidney, and pancreatic health
- Complete blood count to check for blood conditions
- Urinalysis to evaluate the kidneys and check for urinary tract infection or other diseases
- Cortisol test to check for Addison’s disease
- Thyroid test to see if there is a problem with thyroid hormone production
- X-ray or ultrasound to search for tumors, liver shunts, or liver abnormalities
Treatment for Hypoglycemia in Cats and Dogs
Treatment for hypoglycemia is usually a two-pronged attack:
- blood sugar levels must be raised immediately
- the underlying cause of the condition must be treated to prevent recurrence
One way of returning blood sugar levels to normal is to give the pet sugar to eat. If your pet is at home and suffering from a seizure or collapse, your veterinarian may recommend giving them sugar, honey, Karo syrup, corn syrup, or fruit juice before transporting them to the veterinarian’s office. If the pet is unconscious, the sugar substance may need to be rubbed directly onto the gums. (NOTE: Candy is never appropriate for pets, as both sugar- and sugar-free candies are unsafe for cats and dogs.)
If for whatever reason sugar cannot be given by mouth, your veterinarian will most likely administer intravenous fluids containing sugars.
Once blood sugar levels return to normal, the underlying cause of the condition will need to be treated.
- If hypoglycemia was the result of an insulin overdose, the condition may be reversed if the correct dosage of insulin is administered moving forward.
- Working/hunting dogs, toy/small breed dogs, or pregnant pets who are suffering from hypoglycemia due to an overuse of glucose may recover with a modified diet rich in fats, proteins, and carbohydrates as well as more frequent meals.
- Pets with underlying health conditions that resulted in hypoglycemia will be treated accordingly. Some conditions that cause low blood sugar cannot be cured (for example, certain types of cancers) and the pet may require lifelong therapies to keep their blood sugar levels normal. Long-term treatment may include oral glucose supplements, steroids, and anti-convulsant drugs to control seizures.
The prognosis for hypoglycemia can vary and will depend on your pet’s overall health as well as how quickly treatment is sought. Some health conditions cannot be cured and may make treating hypoglycemia extremely difficult. In addition, brain or eye damage caused by prolonged and untreated hypoglycemia often cannot be reversed. However, many cases are manageable, especially if you seek veterinary care right away. Don’t hesitate to contact your vet if you notice any symptoms.
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