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Diabetic Ketoacidosis

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Diabetic Ketoacidosis (commonly referred to as DKA) is a medical emergency that occurs in animals when there is not enough insulin in the body to control their blood sugar (glucose) levels. This may occur for many reasons including, but not limited to, a diabetic dog undergoing a stressful event of some kind and releasing hormones that prevent the insulin from working normally. It can also be due to hormones getting released as a result of a certain disease processes. The body needs insulin in order to use glucose properly, therefore when blood glucose levels become very high due to lack of insulin, the body uses fat stores to create ketone bodies as an emergency energy source. An increase in ketone levels can result in an imbalance of the body’s acid/base levels. This is also known as acidosis – a condition that causes inappropriate fluid and electrolyte imbalances. These electrolyte imbalances can lead to severe conditions such as abnormal heart rhythms and abnormal muscle function, if left untreated.

The signs of diabetic ketoacidosis include:

  • Excessive thirst/drinking
  • Increased urination
  • Lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Vomiting
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss (unplanned) with muscle wasting
  • Dehydration
  • Unkempt haircoat

Treatment of diabetic ketoacidosis typically involves hospitalization, where the patient is placed on IV fluid therapy to reverse dehydration and maintain adequate fluid levels in the tissues. The patient receives short-acting insulin to bring down blood sugar levels quickly, and they are typically supplemented with electrolytes such as potassium. Patients being treated for diabetic ketoacidosis often spend several days in hospital to monitor and regulate their blood sugar levels, electrolyte levels and acid-base balances.

Although diabetic ketoacidosis is life threatening, it is also preventable. The most important aspect to prevention is ensuring proper insulin dosing. In order to ensure proper insulin dosing, it is crucial to maintain a blood glucose-monitoring regimen. Owners can do this at home by taking a very small “pin-prick” sample of blood from the ear and taking a reading on a glucometer. Your veterinarian can help guide you on how often to take readings and when to report them, in order to make decisions about modifying your pet’s insulin dose.

If you ever find your pet in a diabetic crisis and require assistance getting them to the vet to seek medical care, Toronto AMS is here to help! Our registered veterinary technicians and animal care attendants are trained in recognizing signs and symptoms of critical conditions and will ensure your pet gets to a medical facility safely. Visit or call (416) 449-7387 to schedule a pickup.

Caitlyn A. is a registered veterinary technician and a valued member of Toronto AMS. 

Photo by Ryan Stone 


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