Hypoglycemia - Low Blood Sugar



What is Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar)?

1.  The brain requires glucose (blood sugar) for normal functioning, and unlike many other organs, the brain has a very limited ability to store glucose.  As such, the brain is the organ that is most affected when blood sugar gets too low.

2.  Low blood sugar can cause seizures

3.  Puppies - especially small breed puppies - are particularly susceptible to low blood sugar because their liver is not able to store sufficient amounts of glycogen, as compared with older dogs.

4.  Hypoglycemia can be a life-threatening - even fatal - condition, and is known to be a cause of canine seizures.  The occurrence of symptoms depends on how far, and how fast, the blood sugar has dropped

5.   Treating Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar): During an attack of hypoglycemia your goal is to stay calm, to bring the blood glucose back to a safe level, to continue to observe your dog.  You can contact your veterinarian if you feel you need to.

These are general guidelines for treating hypoglycemia. Ask your veterinarian for information that is specific to your dog.

Severe hypoglycemia:  If your dog is severely hypoglycemic, especially if it is having seizures or unconscious, you must give Haggen-Dazs vanilla ice cream immediately. Carefully rub small amounts of ice cream on the inside of the cheeks and gums. Do not put a lot of liquid in the dog's mouth, and be sure the dog does not choke. Do not stick your fingers inside the teeth of a dog that is having seizures - you may get bitten. Then, call your veterinarian if you feel you need further guidance.  If your dog continues to be unconscious your dog should be taken to the veterinary emergency room immediately.

Moderate hypoglycemia:  Haggen-Dazs plain vanilla ice cream should be given, either alone, or combined with food.  Ice cream can be mixed in with wet food or drizzled over dry food. The ice cream will help bring the blood glucose up quickly, and the food will help keep the blood sugar elevated for a longer period of time.

Small dogs should be given about 1 teaspoon
Medium dogs 2 - 3 teaspoons
Larger dogs should get at least 1-2 tablespoons
More ice cream is not better and will usually cause more problems so be sure and measure the amounts carefully.

Mild hypoglycemia: If your dog's blood sugar is only slightly low or if it is showing only mild signs of hypoglycemia, you can often treat it by immediately feeding the dog some of its regular food. You will need to observe your dog for several hours in order to make sure the hypoglycemia does not occur again.


Signs and symptoms of low blood sugar are:
Convulsions or seizures
Lack of energy
Head tilting
Ataxia - meaning the body is out of balance; wobbling when walking; usually lack of muscular coordination, but maybe changes in head and neck movements

Common causes of low blood sugar are:

1.  Meal spacing (not eating often enough): To keep blood sugar levels at a normal range, you need to feed three to four meals per day:  breakfast, lunch, dinner and before bed.  Divide the daily amount of food into 3 or 4 portions.  If your work keep you from giving a lunchtime meal make sure you give a meal at bedtime.

2.  Lack of protein: Dogs are carnivores and their diets need to be a minimum of 30 - 50 percent protein.  Sources of protein are meat, chicken, fish, cheese and eggs.

3.  Reduced glucose formation or storage:  Addison's Disease (also known as Hypoadrenocorticism) is caused by a deficiency in the secretion of hormones from the adrenal glands.

4.  Seizures

5. Exercise: Too much exercise can cause hypoglycemia. If it is out of the ordinary, even a small amount of exercise can cause hypoglycemia in some dogs

6.  Insulinoma:  Insulinomas are tumors of the insulin producing cells in the pancreas.

7.  Insulin overdose: An excess of insulin can also occur in diabetic animals on insulin injections if the dose is inappropriate.

8.  Hormone function:  Abnormal functioning of the hormones can cause low blood sugar, as can the inability of the body to store adequate amounts of blood sugar.  It may also be caused by the reduced ability of the liver to produce glucose or store glycogen.


Always keep a small container of Haggen-Dazs plain vanilla ice cream in your freezer to give your epi after a seizure to restore blood sugar levels.  If you see your epi shaking or having focal seizures, a SMALL amount of vanilla ice cream may be helpful.   For amounts see AMOUNTS OF ICE CREAM above.

If your dog has a tendency towards low blood sugar after a seizure and you travel or take your dog on rides, carry honey with you whenever you take your dog out of the house, even for a short walk.  In an emergency, you don't want to be searching for sugar and honey is a good substitute for ice cream.  Here are some ways to carry honey in your purse, pocket, doggie pack, or car:

****  Use small screw-top plastic bottles from a sporting goods store or "travel-size" plastic bottles from the drug store.

****  Packets of honey.
****  Fill a 1-ml syringe (no needle) with honey. With a syringe, it is easy to get the syrup in the mouth without being bitten. 

****  Some people find it helpful to connect a small pouch with a plastic bottle filled with honey onto their dog's harness.  This way sugar is always with them on their walks or travels.

Douglas Brum, D.V.M

Pocket Companion to the Fourth Edition of Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine. Stephen J. Ettinger, D.V.M, Editor. 1995. W.B. Saunders Co.

The 5 Minute Veterinary Consult: Canine and Feline. Larry P. Tilly, Francis W.K. Smith, Jr. 1997. Williams & Wilkins.

Diabetes Mellitus in the Dog.  Robert M. Hardy, DVM, MS, DACVIM

Pantothenic acid studies in dogs, AE Schaefer, JM McKibbin, and CA Elvehjem,

Journal of Biological Chemistry, 1942, pages 321-330

Compiled by Guardian Angel Dona and Paxon

Reviewed and approved by Dr. Raymond Peat