Hypoglycemia in Dogs

Hypoglycemia is often referred to as “low blood sugar.” When your dog’s body is deprived of sugar, its main source of energy, his ability to function declines and, in severe situations, loss of consciousness or even death can result.

Low blood sugar is not a disease itself; rather, it is a symptom of an underlying disease or problem. There are many causes of hypoglycemia.

Puppies, especially those under 3 months of age, have not fully developed their ability to regulate their blood glucose (sugar) levels. Hypoglycemia can be brought on when puppies are introduced to other stress factors such as poor nutrition, cold environments, and intestinal parasites. Toy breeds are especially susceptible to this problem. Hypoglycemia can also be brought on by fasting combined with rigorous exercise, or by Addison’s disease. Dogs treated for diabetes mellitus are at risk, as well as dogs with severe liver disease, tumors of the pancreas, or portosystemic shunts.

If your pet is hypoglycemic, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Extreme lethargy
  • Muscle twitches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trembling
  • Incoordination
  • Unusual behavior
  • Blindness
  • Unconsciousness


  • If your dog is suspected of being hypoglycemic, your veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam, take a complete history, and may recommend diagnostic tests that could include:
  • Measurement of blood glucose levels (sugar levels in the blood)
  • Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function
  • A complete blood count (CBC) to rule out blood related conditions
  • Electrolyte tests to ensure your pet isn’t dehydrated or suffering from an electrolyte imbalance
  • Urine tests to screen for urinary tract infection and other disease, and to evaluate the ability of the kidneys to concentrate urine
  • A thyroid test to determine if the thyroid gland is producing too little thyroid hormone
  • A cortisol test to rule out Addison’s disease
  • Ultrasound examination of the abdomen to rule out tumors

Your veterinarian will want to immediately treat the low blood sugar as well as the underlying cause. It may include oral or intravenous glucose supplements. Other treatments will depend on the underlying cause.

Keeping a vigil eye on your pet, especially when she is a puppy, is an important factor in preventing hypoglycemia. Providing proper nutrition on a routine schedule is also very important. Screening for hypoglycemia in situations where your dog must fast, such as prior to surgery or anesthetic events, can also prevent her from becoming hypoglycemic.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Diabetes Assist Dogs

We train Diabetes Assist Dogs to help people with Type I diabetes.

Diabetes Assist Dogs are trained to monitor smells in the air for a specific scent on the human breath that is related to rapidly dropping or low blood sugar levels. They are then trained to “alert” the person with diabetes, usually by touching them in a significant way such as pawing or nudging them. This alerts the person to check his or her blood sugar level. It also informs them that they should get something to eat to prevent hypoglycemia, or their blood sugars getting to a dangerous level. The canine partner can also be trained to retrieve juice or glucose tabs, get an emergency phone, or get help from another person in the house.

Diabetes Assist Dogs wear a backpack identifying them as an assistance dog. This backpack has pockets where medical information, a sugar source, and emergency contact information can be stored. This provides an extra safety net in case the person with diabetes is unable to get help in time. Anyone finding the person unconscious or acting abnormally would know it may be a medical emergency and know how to get help.

How can a dog detect low blood sugar?

The dogs are evaluated throughout “puppy-hood” for a willingness to work and a sensitive nose. Once we have identified their interest in smells, they begin scent training. A person experiencing hypoglycemia produces a particular scent, found on the breath, due to chemical changes in their body. All people produce the same scent when they have low blood sugar. Our training methods are similar to those used to train drug sniffing or search and rescue dogs trained to find people.

Due to the generosity of supporters like you, all of our assistance dogs are provided to clients free of charge.

Sugar Highs and Lows – What You Need to Know About Blood Glucose


April 20, 2017 – Blood glucose levels are an important indicator of health in our companion animals. When you take your pet to the veterinarian, blood glucose measurement often is a part of your pet’s basic bloodwork. Glucose numbers that are too high or too low may indicate a health problem that needs attention. A blood glucose level below normal is defined as hypoglycemia hyperglycemia is blood glucose levels above normal.

The body works hard to keep blood glucose levels in a tight range, avoiding wide swings that can affect normal body functions. But some diseases, drugs and physiologic processes can negatively impact the body’s ability to manage blood glucose levels and compromise your pet’s health.

Causes of hypoglycemia include:

  • Liver disease
  • Age – young animals are prone to low blood sugar
  • Cancer
  • Sepsis (bacteria in the bloodstream)
  • Extreme exercise (“hunting dog” hypoglycemia)
  • Starvation
  • Xylitol toxicity in dogs (xylitol is a sugar substitute used in sugar-free gum, some peanut butter, and candies)

Causes of hyperglycemia include:

  • Stress-induced in cats
  • Diabetes
  • Acromegaly (excessive growth hormone)
  • Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Disease)
  • Cancer
  • Corticosteroid use (oral and topical)
  • Hyperthyroidism in cats

Pets with either low or high blood glucose can have signs related to these conditions. Signs of low blood glucose include:

  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Incoordination
  • Weakness
  • Aggression
  • Collapse

The only sign of high blood glucose is increased thirst. Other signs are associated with the underlying disease process, such as weight loss in cases of hyperthyroidism in cats, or panting in dogs with Cushing’s disease. The first step in diagnosing a problem with blood glucose is confirming test results. Blood glucose levels can be lowered artificially if blood samples are not separated immediately. Stressed cats can have elevated blood glucose (and most trips to the veterinarians are stressful for cats), so re-testing a cat at another time, or drawing a sample at home is important to rule out stress as a cause for increased glucose. Confirmed abnormal results coupled with clinical signs can help your veterinarian diagnose the underlying cause of either high or low blood glucose. Although some causes of hypo- or hyperglycemia can be challenging to treat (for example, sepsis or cancer) others are much easier. Young dogs and cats are prone to episodes of low blood glucose, but this improves as they mature. Newer insulin preparations have made diabetes easier to treat in both cats and dogs. Advances in the treatment of glandular disorders, such as hyperthyroidism and hyperadrenocorticism, have improved our ability to effectively treat these disorders. Golden retrievers enrolled in Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study had their baseline bloodwork evaluated to determine abnormal blood glucose measurements as dogs were beginning the study. As expected so early in the study, the number of dogs having abnormalities was low, with 71 dogs (of 3,044) having blood glucose levels outside the normal range. Seventy dogs had low levels, and one had a high level (but the value was only slightly above normal range). Low blood glucose levels were either noted in young dogs, or were the result of a delay between when the sample was drawn and when the sample was centrifuged and the red blood cells removed resulting in falsely low results. No diseases were reported as the cause for abnormal levels. The Golden Retriever Lifetime Study gives us an unprecedented opportunity to follow multiple variables, including blood glucose, and look for potential risk factors between disease, genetics, environment, nutrition and lifestyle.

Treating Hypoglycemia in Dogs

If you think your dog may be suffering from hypoglycemia it is an emergency situation and you need to get him to your vet, or a 24 hour pet hospital/clinic immediately.

With hypoglycemia things can get serious very quickly, so it's important to raise your dog's blood sugar level as soon as you can.

Luckily there are certain things that most of us have in our kitchen which will take care of this and buy your pet some very valuable time so that he can get the expert attention he needs.

Due to the weakness, confusion and loss of appetite shown by dogs with hypoglycemia, you are unlikely to be able to convince Fido to eat anything helpful.

However, you CAN drizzle or syringe about one teaspoon of some type of sweet solution such as Karo syrup or maple syrup directly into his mouth and also rub it onto his gums so that it will be absorbed into his bloodstream quickly.

If you don't have any of the above, even some Haagen Dazs vanilla ice-cream could help.

Once the sugar levels stabilize your dog will feel better and should start to act more normally.. but this doesn't mean he is fine!

Don't attempt to do this to a dog who is having a seizure as you may get hurt.

It's vital to have him examined by a veterinarian right away to make sure that his glucose levels stay within normal range (he may still need an IV glucose solution to stabilize him) and to find out what causes the drop, and resulting symptoms.

Symptoms [ edit | edit source ]

  • depression/lethargy
  • confusion/dizziness
  • trembling[15] ,
  • ataxia (loss of coordination and/or balance)
  • loss of excretory/bladder control
  • vomiting, and then loss of consciousness and/or seizures [16] .
  • sleepiness/unresponsiveness
    An important sign, easily missed, that blood glucose levels are becoming too low calling you pet and he/she either fails to respond or is slow to respond. [8]
  • Pets can also become more vocal as a hypoglycemia symptom . [11] --some may possibly become aggressive [17]

As soon as possible, administer honey or corn syrup by rubbing it on the gums (even if unconscious, but not if in seizures), and rush it to the vet. Carry more honey or corn syrup with you on the way and keep rubbing it on the gums, where it can be absorbed -- it could save the pet's life. Every minute without blood sugar causes brain damage. Some recommend administering syrup anally, with a feeding syringe or dropper, if the animal is in seizures!

NEVER try to make an seizing or unconsicous animal swallow. The food or liquid could possibly choke him/her. There is also a chance that the materials could be aspirated (wind up in the lungs instead of being swallowed). [18] [19] [9]

Intervet suggests an especially good place to also rub sugar, syrup or honey is under the pet's tongue. [20] [9] Reading the Wikipedia definition for the medical term of administering a drug or substance under the tongue, sublingual. [21] makes it clear that the high concentration of blood vessels present means rapid absorption and passage to the carotid artery, which is directly connected to the brain. In hypoglycemia, this would provide the brain with the glucose fuel it needs to make proper use of oxygen.

A photo link below [22] of how to apply corn syrup to gums.

Symptoms of hypoglycemia should always be taken seriously and addressed promptly. Better to risk treating a "non-legal" hypo than to fail to respond quickly to the signs of actual hypoglycemia. [8] [23]

From the DVM 360 2007 article by Dr. Audrey Cook: [24] [25]

"Hypoglycemia is deadly hyperglycemia is not. Owners must clearly understand that too much insulin can kill, and that they should call a veterinarian or halve the dose if they have any concerns about a pet's well-being or appetite. Tell owners to offer food immediately if the pet is weak or is behaving strangely."

Treatment [ edit | edit source ]

Serious hypoglycemic episodes need medical attention. At a hospital or Emergency facility, infusions of dextrose can be administered, and if need be, the hormone glucagon can also be used, as in the treatment of people with diabetes when there is a serious low blood glucose problem. [4] [32]

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