Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is a potentially life-threatening situation for a dog or cat. Your pet’s blood sugar, or glucose, is their 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, the 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, infection, 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.
More on Hypoglycemic Pets
Will My Diabetic Cat Need Prescription Cat Food?
7 Signs Of A Sick Puppy - And The Solutions
Treating Your Dog's Or Cat's Diabetes