The pancreas has many important functions including aiding in the digestion of the food your dog eats and secreting insulin, which helps regulate your dog’s glucose (“sugar”) levels. An insulinoma is a tumor of the pancreas that affects the regulation of your dog’s sugar levels, causing hypoglycemia, also referred to as low blood sugar. This tumor usually occurs in middle-aged or older dogs.
Both mixed breeds and pure breeds can be affected by this type of tumor.
Some of the most common pure breeds at risk are:
While you won’t be able to see the tumor causing insulinoma, you will notice the side effects of hypoglycemia (low-blood sugar).
These can include:
- Muscle tremors
- Generalized weakness
- Unusual behavior
- Weight gain
Your veterinarian will give your dog a complete physical exam and take a thorough history of her symptoms.
They will most likely want to run diagnostic tests, which could include:
- Urine tests to rule out urinary tract infections and evaluate the kidney’s ability to concentrate urine
- Chemistry tests to evaluate kidney, liver, and pancreatic function, as well as sugar levels
- A complete blood count to evaluate if there are enough red blood cells present in your dog’s blood
- Electrolyte tests to evaluate hydration status and choose proper fluid supplements, if your pet is dehydrated
- Radiographs (x-rays) and/or an ultrasound to visually evaluate the structure of the pancreas and kidneys
- A thyroid test to determine if the thyroid gland is producing too little thyroid hormone
- Insulin blood levels
- X-rays of the chest and abdomen to check for underlying primary or secondary tumors (metastasis)
- An abdominal ultrasound to check for tumors of the pancreas and/or evidence of metastasis
Treatment recommendations may include surgery or medications to manage the hypoglycemia. Additional medications may be recommended to treat the tumor itself. Your veterinarian may also recommend dietary therapy to control your dog’s sugar levels. Depending on the severity of the tumor or your pet’s symptoms, your veterinarian may recommend that you visit a veterinary oncologist, who specializes in treating tumors and disorders such as insulinoma. Once diagnosed, it will be very important that you monitor your dog’s behavior carefully for any signs of low blood sugar and visit your veterinarian regularly for routine screening of your dog’s blood-sugar levels.
The cause of insulinomas is unknown; therefore, there is no way you can prevent your furry friend from getting this condition. If your dog is diagnosed, though, you can prevent a hypoglycemic situation by following the recommendations of your veterinarian.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.