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Hypoglycemia in Cats

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Hypoglycemia is defined as a blood glucose (sugar) concentration of less than 70 milligrams per deciliter(mg/dl) of blood. Symptoms depend on how quickly the blood glucose concentration decreases, but rarely occur until it falls below 50 mg/dl.

Symptoms reflect the rate of decrease of the blood glucose concentration, the underlying cause of hypoglycemia, and the chronicity of the problem. One common form of hypoglycemia is called juvenile hypoglycemia because it occurs in kittens less than 3 months of age. Juvenile hypoglycemia is common in kittens because they have not fully developed the ability to regulate their blood glucose concentration and have a high requirement for glucose. Stress, cold, malnutrition, and intestinal parasites are problems that may precipitate a bout of juvenile hypoglycemia.

Other Causes

  • Fasting before vigorous exercise
  • Excessive insulin administration (may occur in cats with diabetes)
  • Insulin-producing tumors of the pancreas
  • Severe liver disease
  • Other tumors that produce insulin-like factors
  • Portosystemic shunts
  • Hereditary diseases arising from abnormal storage of glucose
  • Serious systemic bacterial infection

    What to Watch For

  • Loss of appetite
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Incoordination
  • Trembling and muscular twitching
  • Weakness
  • Seizures
  • Unusual behavior
  • Dilated pupils and apparent blindness
  • Stupor or coma

    Diagnosis

    Diagnostic tests are needed to identify hypoglycemia and determine its cause. Your veterinarian may recommend the following diagnostic tests:

  • A complete medical history and thorough physical examination

  • Measurement of blood glucose concentration

  • Other diagnostic tests such as complete blood count (hemogram or CBC), routine serum biochemistry tests, urinalysis, and serum insulin concentration to establish the underlying cause of hypoglycemia

  • Ultrasound examination of the abdomen to identify a pancreatic or other tumor that could be causing hypoglycemia

    Treatment

    Ultimately, treatment for the underlying cause of hypoglycemia is necessary, but initially, your veterinarian may administer glucose orally or by intravenous injection to increase blood glucose concentration.

    Home Care and Prevention

    At home it will be necessary to observe your cat's general activity level, appetite and attitude. If you have reason to suspect hypoglycemia, you should rub Karo® syrup or other high sugar concentration syrup on your cat's gums and call your veterinarian immediately.

    Some preventative measures can help. Provide a warm environment, frequent feedings, routine vaccinations and de-worming procedures for kittens as recommended by your veterinarian. Also, provide frequent, regular feedings. Young kittens should be allowed to eat as much as they want. Be sure to feed a high quality pet food.

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