Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar) in Puppies

This common condition should be managed carefully

Man getting licked by a puppy
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Low blood sugar can affect puppies much more often than adult dogs, even when a puppy is healthy. The technical term is hypoglycemia and it happens most often with adult pets that suffer from diabetes. Sugar moves into the cells with the help of insulin, and too much insulin can cause hypoglycemia.

How Do Puppies Get Hypoglycemia?

Puppies almost never have diabetes, but can develop low blood sugar due to intestinal parasites that compromise digestion. Very small puppies, especially toy breeds like the Chihuahua or Pomeranian, are so tiny, they have very few fat stores. Fat is body fuel, and when there’s not enough, the blood sugar levels fall. Adult pets can make up this difference when their liver churns out the necessary sugar.

But immature livers can’t manufacture enough necessary sugar and as a result, these tiny pups develop hypoglycemia.

What Are Low Blood Sugar Symptoms?

The signs of low blood sugar can be vague. It’s important to watch out for them especially if your puppy is a tiny breed that’s most susceptible. Without enough sugar, the puppy’s heartbeat rate and breathing slow down, triggering a cascade effect of other symptoms.

Be alert for any one or combination of the following signs.

  • The puppy acts weak.
  • The puppy becomes sleepy.
  • The puppy seems disoriented.
  • He develops a wobbly “drunk” gait.
  • His eyes look ‘glassy’ and unfocused.
  • The puppy starts to twitch, shake or tremble/shiver.
  • His head tilts to one side.
  • He develops seizures.
  • The puppy falls unconscious and can’t be awakened.

Without prompt attention and first aid, your puppy could die. But fortunately, when you recognize the signs early in the process, low blood sugar is easy to treat and reverse at home.

In almost all cases, the puppy will respond very quickly to treatment, within five or ten minutes. However, if treatment doesn’t reverse the symptoms within this time frame take your puppy to the veterinarian immediately as something else could have caused the signs.

Even when your dog responds quickly it’s a good idea to have the vet check it sometime that day to be sure everything is as it should be.

Treating Hypoglycemia in Puppies

When you catch the symptoms early and seek treatment immediately, most puppies are fine. But without prompt help puppies can fall into a coma, and their breathing and/or heartbeat may stop.

  • For all symptoms: When the blood sugar drops, puppies can’t regulate their body temperature. It’s important to keep the dog warm until the glucose level rises enough to burn for energy. Wrap your puppy in a blanket, and snuggle it with a hot water bottle or heating pad. This can also slow down the effects of shock.
  • For sleepy behavior: Getting sugar into the puppy will counteract all these symptoms. Often, you’ll notice the wooziness when it’s been a while since the puppy’s last meal. So as soon as you notice puppy woozy behavior, offer it something to eat. Make it something smelly and yummy that you know he’ll eagerly snarf up, like a tablespoon or two of canned food.
  • For "drunk" behavior: A highly concentrated sugar source like Karo syrup, pancake syrup or honey can work even more quickly. Just be sure your puppy is still able to swallow before giving about a teaspoonful of the sugar source. If the dog is very groggy, offer a bit of water first. You can use a syringe if the dog doesn't lap up the sugar water. Check to be sure the dog swallows, and then offer the syrup. It should be able to lap it up from the spoon.
  • For seizures: Once the seizure has finished, or when the puppy has fallen unconscious, you can still administer a sugar source; the dog doesn’t need to be able to swallow. It will be absorbed directly through the mucous membranes in the puppy’s mouth and transferred into the bloodstream. Honey works best for this. Rub the honey on the inside of the dog's lips and gums, and watch for recovery in five to 15 minutes. You can drive your puppy to the vet clinic during this period.

Preventing Low Blood Sugar

When your puppy has suffered from a bout of hypoglycemia, you’ll know to be alert for the signs of low blood sugar in the future. You can also take steps to prevent the problem, especially if your puppy is a high-risk pet.

  • Add two tablespoons of Karo syrup to your puppy’s water for all day sipping. Be sure to dump it out and add fresh each day or the sugar water could grow bacteria.
  • Schedule several meals every day. Toy breed adults and any young puppy have trouble eating enough food at one setting. So a small meal several times a day helps keep the blood sugar levels normal.
  • Put dry food out all the time, in a puzzle toy ball, for intermittent snacking. You can measure this amount, too, and regulate how much the puppy gets. This will help prevent puppy obesity, but provide healthy blood sugar levels.

Most adult dogs won’t have problems with hypoglycemia. However, playing and running too hard without rest can cause low blood sugar even in adults that are not toy breed dogs. It’s up to pet parents to stay watchful and make sure the puppy and maturing dog eat right and maintain healthy food habits.