Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) is a condition that occurs in diabetic dogs. The diabetes deprives the body of much needed glucose, the energy source used by cells. Without energy from glucose, the body will look for alternative sources such as the fat that is stored in the body.
Your dog's body will start to break down the fats causing small deposits to accumulate in the blood. These deposits are called ketones. The condition is called canine ketoacidosis. Since the sugar cannot enter the cells, it builds up in the blood causing a condition called hyperglycemia.
Ketocacidosis can be caused by untreated diabetes or ineffective treatment of canine diabetes such as insulin therapy that is not working. Stress,medications, not drinking enough water and a bacterial infection can also cause the insulin to not work as planned.
The disease is seen most often in females (up to 80%) and dogs older than 7 years of age. Breeds with a higher predisposition to the disease are Poodles (Miniature and Toy), Miniature Schnauzers, Cairn Terriers and Beagles.
When you go to the veterinarian it is common for dogs to be comatose or in shock.
Symptoms of Canine Ketoacidosis
Symptoms associated with ketoacidosis in dogs are related to both canine diabetes and DKA.
- Excessive thirst (polydipsia)
- Frequent urination (polyuria)
- Lethargy/Tired Behavior
- No appetite (anorexia)
- Weight Loss
- Abdominal Pain
Diagnosis of Canine Ketoacidosis
Your veterinarian will ask if your dog is on other drugs such as glucocorticoids or any other illnesses that your dog is suffering from.
During a physical exam your veterinarian will look for signs of dehydration, pain, high temperature, jaundice, low pulse and neurological problems. They will also look for muscle decline, weight loss, cataracts and skin problems.
Sometimes dogs with DKA will have a "fruity" smell to their breath.
Laboratory tests of the blood will look for glucose levels (hyperglycemia, glucosuria), and the presence of ketones. They will look for other abnormalities in the blood and urine as well.
Treatment of Ketoacidosis in Dogs
To successfully treat DKA, 70% of the time it is necessary to identify other diseases or medications that are contributing factors. Those also have to be treated or medications removed at the same time, to have a successful outcome.
Factors that are potentially life-threatening are treated first. These include making sure your dog is hydrated (dehydration is caused by vomiting and diarrhea), the replacement of electrolytes, and acid problems in the blood.
For high sugar levels (canine hyperglycemia) your veterinarian will use insulin therapy. Insulin should help with any sugar/glucose problems. Once the cells are receiving glucose, the body will stop trying to digest fats, which will reduce the level of ketones in the blood.
Fluids provided to your dog will help to restore electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, phosphorous and magnesium.
Another issue, the balance between acids and base in the blood (the
PH), does not always require treatment. Acidosis, the name for this
problem, occurs when the body is trying to digest fats (ketones in the
blood problem as mentioned above). If needed, bicarbonate therapy
(sodium bicarbonate) will be used as part of the fluids provided to your
Understanding Diabetic Ketoacidosis
Thomas Schermerhorn, VMD, DACVIM
Assistant Professor of Small Animal Medicine