Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar) in Cats

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Overview of Hypoglycemia in Cats

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.

Below is an overview of Hypoglycemia in Cats followed by detailed information about the causes, diagnosis and treatment of this condition. 

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 of Hypoglycemia in Cats

  • 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 of Hypoglycemia in Cats

    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 of Hypoglycemia in Cats

    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.

    In-depth Information on Hypoglycemia in Cats

    Common causes of hypoglycemia include the following disorders:

  • Insulin-producing tumors of the pancreas, such as beta cell tumor or insulinoma
  • Glycogen storage disease, which is a hereditary disorders in which enzyme deficiencies cause abnormal storage of glucose in the liver as starch
  • Hypopituitarism, a decreased secretion of regulatory hormones from the pituitary gland
  • Insulin overdosage as may occur in pets with diabetes mellitus
  • Juvenile hypoglycemia, which is hypoglycemia in puppies associated with stress, cold, infrequent feeding, and intestinal parasites
  • Laboratory error. Blood glucose concentration can decrease by as much as 10 milligrams per deciliter of blood for every hour the blood is allowed to stand before being processed by the laboratory. Improper sample handling is a common cause of apparent hypoglycemia in blood samples shipped long distances to laboratories. To avoid this error, your veterinarian can use a machine called a centrifuge to spin the blood cells down and separate serum from the blood before shipping the sample to the laboratory for analysis.
  • Liver disease
  • Malabsorption, or impaired intestinal absorption of nutrients
  • Malnutrition. In actuality, prolonged fasting or loss of appetite in otherwise normal adult dogs is not a common cause of hypoglycemia.
  • Tumors of organs other than the pancreas that produce insulin-like substances that can cause hypoglycemia
  • Orally-administered hypoglycemic drugs such as the sulfonylureas, more commonly used to treat diabetes mellitus in some human patients
  • Portosystemic shunt, which is an abnormal blood vessel present at birth that causes blood from the intestines to by-pass the liver
  • Advanced pregnancy rarely can be associated with hypoglycemia
  • Glucose in the urine due to abnormal function of the kidney tubules rarely can be associated with low blood sugar concentration
  • Severe systemic bacterial infection (sepsis)
  • In-depth Information on the Feline Hypoglycemia 

    Other medical problems can lead to symptoms similar to those encountered in cats with hypoglycemia. It is important to rule out these conditions before establishing a definite diagnosis:

  • Hepatoencephalopathy. This is abnormal brain function caused by severe liver disease or shunting of blood around the liver
  • Hypocalcemia. This is blood calcium concentration that is lower than normal
  • Central nervous system disorders
  • Spinal cord disorders causing hind limb weakness
  • Syncope or fainting
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