Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar is a common problem in small breed puppies and young kittens. Young animals in general do not have the energy stores yet developed that adults have, allowing them to maintain an adequate blood glucose (BG) in times of fasting or stress. Small breed puppies are at an even greater disadvantage because they have a relatively higher metabolic rate and energy requirement per unit body mass than larger breed puppies. Small breed puppies may also be more likely to suffer from hypothermia (decreased body temperature) for a similar reason, which can then lead to decreased food intake, decreased gastro-intestinal utilization of food and hypoglycemia. Hypoglycemia in young patients can also be caused by an underlying portosystemic shunt (abnormal blood vessel around the liver).
Clinical signs of hypoglycemia include weakness, lethargy, poor appetite, altered mentation, twitching, tremoring, seizures and coma. If left untreated, hypoglycemia will be fatal. If an owner suspects hypoglycemia, they can help to increase blood sugar by rubbing a small amount of Karo syrup on the gums. Care must be taken not to administer too much or to get it in the back of the throat, causing aspiration or obstruction of the air way. It is most important to get your puppy or kitten to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.
Treatment includes initial IV dextrose boluses, warming to a normal body temperature, IV fluids with a constant rate infusion or dextrose and other supportive treatments. Full bloodwork will usually be recommended as well. If caught relatively early, the prognosis for a hypoglycemic animal is good. If presented after seizing for a prolonged period or comatose, the prognosis worsens. A hypoglycemic puppy or kitten is always an emergency situation. The key is prevention by ensuring that the pet is consuming frequent meals and staying warm.