Hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, is one of many causes of seizures in dogs. It occurs most commonly in young puppies of small breed dogs but can also occur secondary to other disease processes in older dogs. Emergency first aid for a dog with hypoglycemia requires administering a high-sugar substance orally, but you'll need to do so carefully to avoid hurting yourself or your dog.
Blood Sugar Deficiency
Hypoglycemia results when blood sugar levels fall below a normal range. Blood sugar, also known as blood glucose, is important for all cellular function because it is converted into energy by the cells of the body. The brain has an especially high demand for glucose, so when blood glucose levels fall severely, seizure activity can occur in the brain. In addition to glucose circulating in the blood, the body packages some glucose into storage molecules called glycogen that are stored in skeletal muscle and the liver. These glycogen stores can be rapidly broken down into glucose molecules during exercise and other periods of high energy demand.
Emergency First Aid for Hypoglycemia
Initial symptoms of hypoglycemia in dogs and puppies include weakness, depression, staggering, or trembling. Feeding a small amount of a sugar-rich food such as vanilla ice cream, Karo syrup or honey can rapidly improve the animal's condition. If the dog is not coherent enough to eat, rubbing a small amount of one of these substances on the gums will help -- but be careful to avoid being bitten. Never feed chocolate to a dog, as chocolate causes toxicity in dogs. If a dog is having a hypoglycemic seizure, do not put your fingers in the dog's mouth; often, a dog will chomp his jaws involuntarily. Instead, use something else to squirt a small amount of a sugary substance into the mouth, such as honey from a squeeze bottle or transferred to a syringe, or squeezable cake icing. If a dog is having a seizure, he will be unable to swallow. Do not put too much into the mouth or the dog may aspirate the substance into his lungs. The sugar will be rapidly absorbed through the gums, and the dog should improve quickly if the seizure is caused by hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia in Puppies
Puppies, especially those of small breeds like Yorkshire terriers, toy poodles and Chihuahuas, are especially vulnerable to hypoglycemia due to the small size of their glycogen stores. Since they are not able to store large amounts of liver or muscle glycogen, they are dependent on frequent meals to maintain their blood glucose levels in a normal range. Stressful events and cold can precipitate hypoglycemia in small-breed puppies. If a small puppy is ill for another reason and is vomiting or not eating, he may need treatment with fluids containing glucose to prevent hypoglycemia.
Hypoglycemia in Adult Dogs
Insulin is bodily protein that helps transport glucose from the blood into the muscle cells. People and dogs with diabetes receive supplemental insulin to help move glucose out of the blood and into the cells. If an overdose of insulin is given, or if a dog did not eat normally prior to receiving his normal insulin dose, too much glucose can move into the muscle cells and become unavailable to the brain, leading to hypoglycemic shock and seizures. This can also happen to non-diabetic dogs if they have an insulin-secreting tumor of the pancreas, known as an insulinoma. Severe infections and other diseases including Addison's disease can also lead to hypoglycemia in adult dogs.