Hypoglycemia (Low Blood Sugar) in dogs can be caused by a range of things, from serious illnesses such as cancer or other underlying health disorders. But more commonly, the condition can be induced by fasting a dog or in this case hunting. Hunting requires a lot from a dog. I have written about the mileages recorded by the GPS collars worn by my dogs being upwards of 36 miles in a single day. Most upland birds do not live in conditions which mirror pan flat parking lots. They do live in some incredibly rugged country. Can you imagine running a marathon in Hell’s Canyon? Not running the shore line, but up and down while busting through thickets of dense brush repeatedly the whole day. Working dogs are extreme athletes with incredible energy demands! Because of this exercise induced Hypoglycemia is something we need to be aware of.
I wrote not so long ago about the need for quality veterinary care for the older dog. Like people, as dogs age some of their systems just don’t work as smoothly as they once did. When in doubt get with your Vet and have them run those panels and observe your dog. Know what is going on so you know how to spot an onset of Hypoglycemia and how to manage it. Well, as you might have guessed, I have an older dog who is susceptible to Hypoglycemia.
When Hypoglycemia strikes, typically it will come on quickly and the sooner you can recognize and acknowledge what is going on the easier the episode will be on your dog. The most common symptoms to look for are: extreme lethargy, muscle twitches, possible loss of appetite (this can make recovering the dog super challenging), trembling, loss of coordination, unusual behavior, blindness, and unconsciousness. Please note, this list is far from being all inclusive of all symptoms a dog can display when Hypoglycemia presents itself.
In my case Booker, ten and a half years old now, goes from a hard charging bird finding machine, still capable of covering twenty miles in a day, rather abruptly. From hero to a dog who appears lost, confused, lightly trembling, and uncoordinated. It happens fast and to be frank it can be scary. Worst of all, it’s not entirely predictable other than after a good chunk of intense and prolonged activity the odds of an episode increase.
Once an episode is underway and detected, what you need to do is: Step 1: Stop doing whatever you are doing and get yourself and the dog to a safe area as quickly as practical. Step 2: You have to raise the dog’s blood sugar levels as quickly as possible. Hunters I know use energy gels used by human endurance athletes, they are cheap, small, easy to find and full of maltodextrin. Some use packets of honey. I prefer using pouches of soft dog food, as they pack much more than sugar… If you don’t have any of those options readily at hand, what do you have? How far are you from being able to have something – time is of the essence? Get what you have into your dog! Step 3: “If you were able to feed your dog” Just wait. See if they will take water. Encourage them to sit or lay down. Help them to remain calm. In a few minutes they should perk back up and become themselves again. Step 3: “If you have nothing to give your dog” my friend, you are in a jam. You need to get something into your dog immediately, and you need to be prepared to carry your dog out. He cannot afford expend any more energy. Good luck! Step 4: monitor your dog, don’t be afraid to feed him a small amount again in a little while.
If your dog has gone unconscious, you have a high order emergency on your hand and irreversible permanent damage is likely to be happening to your dog. Time is of the essence. You really need to get to a veterinarian – any veterinarian immediately. The vet will most likely have to administer an intravenous cocktail of dextrose and other fluids to stabilize and save your dog.
Once you know that your dog is susceptible to Hypoglycemic episodes there are a few things you can do. Talk to your veterinarian, run those panels, and see what is going on. What your dog needs may not be what someone else’s dog needs. If your dog suffers from the exercise induced variety which I am mostly writing about, make sure your dog has eaten but has had time to settle before intense activities. Pack, gels and/or soft food packets and feed the dog well before an episode occurs. Be cautious about feeding gels indiscriminately! I feed Booker soft foods periodically during the day if I am out for a long period of time* this is a better strategy for the soft foods versus the gel packs. *This is subjective based on conditions: is it Cold? Wet? Super hilly? Deep cover? Some or all of those conditions? Etcetera... Feeding could begin only 2 hours in, easier conditions 3 or 4…
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I'm just a guy suffering with an infatuation with gundogs since childhood. Forty some years later this is what you get.