Diabetic Ketoacidosis in Cats

Diabetic ketoacidosis requires urgent veterinary treatment. With ketoacidosis, the lack of insulin causes the body to burn fat and muscle creating ketones. The kidneys are unable to filter all of the ketones from the blood. As a result, these ketones build up in the bloodstream, turning the blood extremely acidic. This is a dangerous stage of diabetes that causes blood chemical and blood sugar imbalances, and also impairs brain function. Left untreated, diabetic ketoacidosis can lead to diabetic coma and death.

Understanding Diabetes Mellitus

Diabetes mellitus is more commonly referred to as diabetes. With this disease, the feline's pancreas fails to properly regulate the flow of insulin within the body. Without the proper levels of insulin, the cat eats more, but fats and protein break down into energy, so the cat loses weight. Sugar levels within the blood skyrocket and are released in the urine.

Cats often require insulin injections to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. With non-insulin dependent diabetes, diet, weight loss and exercise may be enough to keep blood sugar levels down.

If a cat's blood sugar levels are properly monitored, a cat with diabetes is unlikely to face any serious health issues. If diabetic ketoacidosis does occur, call your vet immediately.

Signs of Diabetic Ketoacidosis

The most common signs of ketoacidosis in cats are excessive thirst and frequent urination. However, you should also watch for:

  • Breath smells of nail polish remover/acetone
  • Dehydration
  • Excessive appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Vision changes/blindness
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss

Ketoacidosis can occur with an infection or illness. It can also happen if the insulin amounts need altering. Your vet will find a cause and create a new treatment plan you will follow at home.

Diagnosis and Treatment

When you bring your cat into the veterinary office, blood is drawn to check sugar levels. Ketone and electrolyte levels are also checked by testing the blood and the urine. Once your vet has this information in hand, treatment begins.

Ultrasounds and x-rays may be ordered if your cat has never shown signs of diabetes before. Some tumors cause symptoms that are similar to diabetes. It's important for your veterinarian to have as much information as possible to help quickly treat your cat.

If the ketoacidosis occurred due to an underlying infection, such as a UTI, antibiotics will be started. This helps kill the bacteria behind the infection. You'll likely keep giving your pet antibiotics when you take him home.

Once a diagnosis of diabetic ketoacidosis is given, insulin injections are given to start lowering the blood sugar levels. The insulin is usually administered through an IV to get it into the system and give continual doses over the next 24 hours, or until the blood sugar levels are normal.

Electrolytes are given through IV fluids. This helps restore potassium, phosphorus and magnesium levels that are essential to heart function.

After the cat's blood fluids are restored to normal levels, bags of dextrose are given to maintain levels while flushing out any ketones that remain. Additional blood is drawn regularly to monitor the levels and ensure the cat is improving.