Understanding Diabetic Ketoacidosis


Diabetic ketoacidosis is an extreme form of hyperglycemia, during which ketones build up in the bloodstream. Ketoacidosis can be fatal, so it’s essential to contact your veterinarian as soon as symptoms arise. Symptoms can include vomiting, weakness, rapid breathing, and the odor of acetone on the breath. Your veterinarian will perform a variety of tests to determine if your diabetic dog is suffering from ketoacidosis, including blood testing, urine dipsticks, and around-the-clock monitoring.

Blood Testing for Ketoacidosis

Your veterinarian will perform a blood test to determine if your dog is suffering from diabetic ketoacidosis. This blood work is performed using a syringe. Your veterinarian will collect a small amount of blood, and test it for high circulating blood sugar levels and blood pH levels, as well as phosphorus and potassium levels. Electrolyte levels can fluctuate, so blood testing will occur many times to create a record of imbalances, as well as determine which intravenous fluids would best benefit your dog. Blood tests will continue until your dog shows significant improvement.

Urine Dipstick Test for Ketones

While still under a veterinarian’s care, a catheter will be placed inside your dog to collect his urine. This urine will then be tested with a urine dipstick. This is a routine urinalysis, which will be performed at many junctures during your dog’s emergency care stay. When a urine dipstick no longer reads positive for ketones, your dog is well on his way to recovery.

Around-the-Clock Monitoring and Fluid Therapy

During ketoacidosis, your dog’s cells are experiencing a severe loss of glucose. This can be very dangerous, so early detection is best. If possible, get your dog into a 24-hour care facility as soon as you notice symptoms. On staff veterinarians will closely monitor your dog, ensuring that he is treated for any infections, including inflammatory disease and pancreatitis. Fluids will be provided to keep your dog in a stable condition and return him to normal functioning. Fluid therapy is a key treatment, as the IV provides your dog with hydration, insulin, potassium, and whatever else his body needs to get well.

At-Home Monitoring for Ketoacidosis

Your veterinarian will discharge your dog when tests show there are no ketones in his blood stream, as well as he is eating well and acting healthy. Although your dog’s functioning may return, he’s still high-risk for ketoacidosis. It’s important to continue diabetic treatments at home. Your veterinarian will provide you with information about basic home care, which may include suggestions for diet and exercise. You may also be required to administer diabetic medications. The ASPCA recommends spaying your female dogs, as female hormones can affect blood sugar levels.  

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