Feline Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Feline diabetic ketoacidosis is a buildup of ketones in the bloodstream of a cat's body. Ketoacidosis is a result of diabetes that has worsened or hasn't been treated sufficiently.

What's Happening in the Cat's Body

A lack of insulin means that the cat's cells can't properly use glucose for energy. Insulin is a hormone distributed by the pancreas that enables cells to receive and break down glucose, to create energy for the entire body. Since the body is lacking its source of energy, it begins to starve. At this point, the body starts breaking down reserved fats and proteins to create energy. The result is a toxic byproduct (the ketones), and an excess amount of unused sugar in the bloodstream. Ketones are organic acids naturally created by the body when fats are broken down. An excess amount of these acids is what defines ketoacidosis. As the ketones build up, the electrolyte levels become imbalanced, and the pH level of the cat's blood becomes dangerously acidic.

Symptoms of Diabetic Ketoacidosis

In the early stages of the disease, the effects are not obvious. Your cat will remain alert and active. However, the symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis become very visible. These are the physical changes to look out for in your cat:

  • Excessive drinking of water
  • Excessive urinating as a result
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Increased respiratory rate

Diagnosing Ketoacidosis

The first way to diagnose whether or not a cat is suffering from ketoacidosis is whether or not he is showing the clinical signs listed above. Your vet will perform physical examinations and laboratory tests. If there are abnormal amounts of sugar consistently present in the urine and blood of the cat, it most likely has ketoacidosis.


The treatment required for a diabetic cat depends on how severe the disease has become. A cat that is suffering from ketoacidosis will likely require intensive care. In intensive care, he will be cured of his dehydration and abnormalities in electrolyte levels. Diabetic cats that have not yet developed a serious case of ketoacidosis require insulin injections twice a day, or sometimes can be treated with an oral hypoglycemic medication. All diabetic cats need a carefully monitored diet. Obesity is a major factor in keeping insulin balanced. It's important to find a way to help your cat lose weight gradually, without stressing out his body. If your cat is underweight, a high calorie diet is necessary until his ideal weight is reached.

Who's at Risk?

Diabetes in cats is not limited to any particular breed, age or gender. With that said, cats are more likely to develop diabetes (and potentially ketoacidosis) if they are older, and obese. Male cats are more likely to develop the disease than females. Although it is not entirely certain that these are causes, the disease has been linked to felines who have had other hormonal diseases (such as hypothyroidism or Cushing's disease), chronic pancreatitis and certain medications.