Hypoglycemia is also known as low blood sugar. This condition occurs when the glucose in the blood drops below normal levels. Because of their small size, low body fat, and late development as puppies, toy dog breeds, such as toy poodles, Yorkshire terriers, and Chihuahuas, are more susceptible to hypoglycemia than other small breeds. Recognizing the hypoglycemia symptoms in dogs can mean the difference between life and death.
What is hypoglycemia in dogs?
Hypoglycemia in dogs is low blood sugar or low blood glucose levels (as opposed to hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, as in diabetes mellitus). Hypoglycemia is especially problematic in toy-breed dogs and puppies. Due to their small size, low body fat, and tendency for late development as puppies, toy breeds are more susceptible to hypoglycemia than other dog breeds. Therefore, it is vitally important to watch toy-breed puppies closely to be sure they are eating enough. For example, if their teeth are not fully developed, they may not be able to eat kibble or other food they are offered. They will not gain the weight they need to have stores of fat to sustain them.
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Hypoglycemic symptoms in dogs
Some of the clinical signs and symptoms of hypoglycemia to watch for in toy-breed dogs include:
- Lack of coordination
- Muscle spasms
- Difficulty exercising
- Visual deficiencies and even blindness
- Signs of being cold, like shivering or trembling
- Difficulty standing or walking
- Weakness, tiredness, and lethargy
- Disinterest in eating
- Bluish tinge/discoloration around gums or on skin
- Slow response time
- Unusual behavior/personality changes
- Involuntary twitching
- Partial paralysis of hindquarters
- Collapse and/or unconsciousness
What causes hypoglycemia in dogs?
Numerous situations and conditions can be underlying causes of hypoglycemia and hypoglycemic symptoms in dogs, such as:
- Poor nutrition or malnutrition, especially in toy-breed puppies
- Xylitol toxicity from the ingestion of sugar-free foods
- Inability to make stores of energy
- Liver disease
- Addison's disease (hypoadrenocorticism)
- Overtreatment of diabetes (excess insulin)
- Uncontrolled bacterial infection (sepsis)
- Cancer (especially tumors of the pancreas, or insulinomas)
- Portosystemic shunt (abnormal draining of abdominal blood)
- Endocrine abnormalities leading to hormonal imbalances
What happens if a dog's blood sugar is too low?
Blood sugar that is too low can lead to serious consequences and even death. Toy-breed puppies are susceptible to hypoglycemia due to their low muscle mass and fat stores. This means if they don't eat regularly, they don't have an alternative source of energy stored in their body.
Because of this, they may need to be fed as often as four to six times daily when they are young. Also, be sure that they are able to eat kibble if offered and provide them with soft food to eat if their teeth aren't fully developed. Ensure that they are eating on a regular basis and observe that they are actually able to eat the food offered.
What should I do if my toy dog breed shows signs of hypoglycemia?
If a toy breed begins to show mild hypoglycemic symptoms and is conscious, aware, and able to swallow, try offering a tasty meal, like a favorite flavor of wet dog food. Getting the dog to eat immediately can help reverse the hypoglycemia. If the dog eats and normal behavior returns, continue to observe them to make sure they are eating regular meals. Toy-breed dogs should be fed small meals three or four times a day to keep their blood sugar at a stable level.
Do not try to force feed a dog. If they show no interest in eating, rub a small amount of Karo corn syrup on their gums and take them in for emergency veterinary care immediately. Hypoglycemia is an emergency, especially when the dog isn't eating. Your DVM (veterinarian) will likely use an intravenous drip to get dextrose directly into their bloodstream and then perform blood tests, such as a complete blood count as well as a urinalysis to determine the dog's blood sugar levels and what is causing the hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia in dogs is a serious pet health condition and even more so for toy-breed dogs and puppies. Because of their tiny size, it is important that they eat regularly and gain weight normally so they will have fat stores to survive when they need them. Watch toy-breed puppies carefully to ensure that they are eating, feeding them three to four times a day. If they do not appear to be eating or show signs of hypoglycemia, take them to an emergency veterinary center for a physical examination immediately.