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not so sweet: dr. kim smyth explains hypoglycemia

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

We’ve talked extensively before about the disease diabetes, where pets suffer from either a relative or an absolute shortage of insulin. This lack of insulin results in a condition called hyperglycemia, or increased blood sugar level. Today, we’re tackling the opposite problem—hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar.


The term hypoglycemia is used to describe cases where a pet’s blood sugar drops below 70, either because of decreased sugar production, increased utilization or increased loss. It is a common occurrence in veterinary patients and has many different causes, including (but certainly not limited to!):


  • End stage liver disease
  • Increased insulin levels, due to either insulin producing tumors or accidental overdose of insulin injections
  • Glycogen storage disease
  • Systemic infection
  • Cancer
  • Hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s disease)
  • Starvation or malnutrition
  • Xylitol toxicity in dogs (found in some sugar free candies and gums)


Signs that your pet may be suffering from hypoglycemia are weakness that can lead to collapse, and seizures. These signs may be especially noticeable after exertion, such as exercising or excitement.


Your veterinarian can perform a quick blood test to determine your pet’s blood sugar level (the same way that diabetics can). Finding a blood sugar level that is below normal in conjunction with clinical signs confirms hypoglycemia, but it doesn’t give an underlying reason for the problem.


Your veterinarian will then take into consideration your pet’s signalment. Your pet’s signalment is his age, breed, and sex. Some underlying causes for hypoglycemia are more common in certain breeds, or in pets of a certain age. For instance, young toy breed dogs are prone to transient hypoglycemia, while older pets are more prone to endocrine disease, like Addison’s disease. Glycogen storage diseases and insulinomas are more common in certain breeds of dogs, like Akitas and Boxers, respectively, so your vet will take that into consideration when she finds hypoglycemia.


Treating hypoglycemia will vary, depending on the underlying cause. Often, getting the cause under control leads to the resolution of low blood sugar, but some pets will need to be hospitalized for IV fluids that contain an extra sugar “boost.” Karo syrup can be administered orally at home in a pinch—if you have a dog or cat prone to hypoglycemic episodes, be sure to ask your veterinarian for advice on at home care.

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