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
- A 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 a 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 might 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 its 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.
The Many Causes Of Hypoglycemia In Dogs And Cats
Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a potentially life-threatening situation for a dog or cat. Your pet’s blood sugar, or glucose, is its primary source of energy. When glucose levels drop below normal, it results in a loss of energy and decreased ability to function. In severe cases, a pet may lose consciousness or even die.
Hypoglycemia is not a disease. It is instead a symptom that points to an underlying medical condition. Here we will look at the causes of hypoglycemia in dogs and cats and what symptoms to watch for in your pet.
Causes of Hypoglycemia in Dogs and Cats
There are many causes of hypoglycemia in pets, but the most common is related to diabetes treatment. Diabetes occurs when the body is not able to properly produce or process insulin, the hormone that allows glucose to travel to cells and transform into energy. Without insulin, glucose remains in the bloodstream, and this is what is referred to as high blood sugar.
Insulin injections are given to diabetic pets in order to even out blood sugar levels. However, if a pet parent accidentally gives their pet too much of the drug, it can cause the body to metabolize too much glucose, resulting in low blood sugar or hypoglycemia.
Glucose can also be over-metabolized as a result of insulin-secreting tumors or conditions that require a great deal of energy from the pet, including certain cancers, infections, sepsis, and pregnancy.
While the most common, over-metabolization of glucose is not the only cause of hypoglycemia. Low blood sugar can also occur due to decreased production of glucose by the liver (often caused by liver disease, liver shunts, or Addison’s disease) or low levels of glucose in the blood from starvation or malnutrition.
Other conditions -- such as pancreatitis, kidney failure, and ingestion of toxins (especially antifreeze) -- can also cause blood sugar levels to drop.
Which Pets Are at Risk for Hypoglycemia?
- Puppies and kittens under 3 months old, since they have not fully developed their ability to regulate glucose levels. Hypoglycemia can be brought on as a result of stress, cold weather, parasites, over-exercise, or improper feeding (even a short period of not eating enough can do it).
- Small and toy breed dogs, because they often use more glucose than they are able to store.
- Pets who use a great deal of energy, such as hunting or working dogs, pregnant animals, and those with certain medical conditions.
Symptoms of Hypoglycemia in Dogs and Cats
Symptoms of hypoglycemia may come and go or remain persistent. Common symptoms of hypoglycemia include:
- Low energy
- Exercise intolerance
- Loss of coordination
- Unusual behavior
- Vision impairment
- Lack of appetite or increased hunger
- Increased thirst
- Tremors (shivering)
- Heart palpitations
The sooner your veterinarian can diagnose and treat hypoglycemia, the better your pet’s chance of recovery. Contact your veterinarian at the first sign that something is wrong.
Frequently Asked Questions
What toxins cause hypoglycemia in cats?
Xylitol is a toxin that can cause hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) in cats. Xylitol is a sugar substitute commonly found in sugar-free gum, candy, baked goods, and other products. When ingested by cats, xylitol can cause a sudden release of insulin, leading to a rapid drop in blood sugar levels. This can cause a variety of symptoms in cats, including weakness, lethargy, vomiting, seizures, and even coma or death in severe cases. Other toxins that can cause hypoglycemia in cats include ethanol (found in alcoholic beverages), insulin (injected by humans with diabetes), and certain medications such as sulfonylurea drugs. It is important to keep these toxins away from cats and to seek immediate veterinary attention if a cat shows signs of hypoglycemia.
Which organ is most affected by hypoglycemia?
The brain is the organ that is most affected by hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). The brain relies on a constant supply of glucose (sugar) to function properly, and when blood sugar levels drop too low, the brain is one of the first organs to be affected. This can cause a range of symptoms, including confusion, irritability, dizziness, headaches, seizures, and even loss of consciousness. In severe cases, hypoglycemia can lead to permanent brain damage or death. It is important to monitor blood sugar levels and seek immediate medical attention if hypoglycemia is suspected, especially in individuals with diabetes or other medical conditions that can affect blood sugar levels.
What helps hypoglycemia immediately?
If you suspect that your cat is experiencing hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), it is important to seek veterinary care immediately. Hypoglycemia in cats can be a serious and potentially life-threatening condition, and prompt treatment is essential. In the meantime, you can try to provide your cat with a source of glucose by offering them a small amount of honey or corn syrup. You can also try to encourage your cat to eat by offering them a small amount of their regular food or a treat that is high in carbohydrates. However, it is important to do this only if your cat is alert and able to swallow safely. It is also important to keep your cat warm and comfortable, as hypoglycemia can cause lethargy and weakness. You should avoid giving your cat any medications or supplements without veterinary guidance, as these can potentially make the condition worse. Remember, seeking veterinary care as soon as possible is the best way to ensure your cat's safety and well-being.
How long does a hypoglycemic episode last?
The duration of a hypoglycemic episode in pets can vary depending on the cause, severity, and type of animal. For example, in cats and dogs with diabetes, a hypoglycemic episode can typically be resolved quickly with a source of glucose or simple carbohydrates, and blood sugar levels can return to normal within 10 to 20 minutes. However, the duration of a hypoglycemic episode can be longer in pets with other underlying medical conditions, such as liver disease or insulinoma (a type of tumor that produces insulin). In these cases, the underlying condition may need to be treated in order to prevent future episodes of hypoglycemia.
How much honey should I give my hypoglycemic cat?
If you suspect that your cat is experiencing hypoglycemia and you want to offer them honey, as a source of glucose, it is important to do so carefully and only under veterinary guidance. The amount of honey, Karo syrup, or maple syrup that is safe to give your cat will depend on their size and the severity of their hypoglycemic episode. As a general rule, you should offer a small amount of honey (such as 1-2 teaspoons) and monitor your cat closely for any signs of improvement or worsening of its symptoms.
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