Diabetic Ketoacidosis in Dogs: What Every Dog-Owner Needs to Know – KetoNatural Pet Foods

Diabetic Ketoacidosis in Dogs: What Every Dog-Owner Needs to Know


KetoNatural Pet Foods is committed to providing the owners and guardians of diabetic dogs with all the evidence-based information they need to make good decisions for their beloved pets. And a healthy working knowledge about canine ketoacidosis is absolutely imperative for all responsible diabetic pet parents. To help ensure we give you exactly what you’re looking for as efficiently as possible, we’ll jump right into our usual question and answer format.

What is Ketoacidosis in Dogs?

Ketoacidosis is a very serious (potentially deadly) metabolic condition that diabetic dogs may experience if their bodies don’t produce sufficient quantities of the hormone insulin.

The condition is characterized by abnormally high levels of a metabolic substrate called ketones. Many of the tissues in your dog’s body can use a number of different molecules for metabolic fuel, notably including glucose and ketones. Glucose levels fluctuate in response to a cluster of different factors (most importantly, they skyrocket after ingestion of a carbohydrate-rich meal) and when they get low many of the tissues in your dog’s body naturally shift to metabolizing ketones for energy instead of glucose. (That’s where the “keto-” in “KetoNatural Pet Foods” comes from.)

This isn’t a problem. It’s perfectly natural and perfectly healthy for your dog to use ketones for energy instead of glucose. In fact, it’s preferable! Because chronically high blood glucose levels have been associated with all manner of negative health outcomes in dogs, cats, and people.

But under very specific conditions, things can go way too far. Ketones are types of acids and if their levels are allowed to get too high, they will make your dog’s blood so acidic that its body will begin to shut down. And that’s ketoacidosis.

Are Ketoacidosis and Ketosis The Same Thing?


We’ll say it again. No, ketoacidosis and ketosis are not the same thing. They sound similar but they are very different — ketosis is perfectly healthy while ketoacidosis is extremely dangerous.

Ketosis is what happens when your dog produces ketones for energy instead of glucose. It’s actually happening all the time at one level or another. But the process ramps up when glucose levels are relatively low, such as when dogs haven’t eaten for a while or are eating low-carbohydrate diets.

Usually ketone production is a demand-driven phenomenon. If there’s enough glucose on hand to power all of your dog’s metabolic needs, ketone production is limited. If there isn’t, then ketone production accelerates to meet the additional demand and slows back down again once the demand is met.

Ketoacidosis is different. It’s what happens when the demand-driven system breaks down and goes haywire. A train makes for a good analogy. Ketosis is like a train, traveling along its rails to whatever destination needs metabolic fuel, speeding up or slowing down along the way. Ketoacidosis is what happens if the brakes fail and it becomes a runaway train, spiraling dangerously out of control.

What Causes Diabetic Ketoacidosis in Dogs?

All dogs that develop diabetic ketoacidosis have something in common: an absolute deficiency of the hormone insulin and (as a result) persistently high blood glucose levels. In other words, the condition only occurs in animals that have lost most or all of their ability to produce insulin, which is the primary characteristic of diabetes

This means that, unlike ketosis (which is normal and healthy), ketoacidosis is not a demand-driven phenomenon. If your dog doesn’t have trouble producing insulin (i.e., it doesn’t have diabetes or one of a very limited number of other conditions), ketone production will always stay well within healthy limits, no matter what the animal’s diet looks like. 

However, while insulin deficiency is necessary to produce ketoacidosis, it is not sufficient. For the condition to occur, very high levels of other regulatory hormones (such as glucagon, cortisol, and growth hormone) must also be present. 

In healthy dogs, these other hormones serve to counter-regulate insulin: they tend to go up when insulin goes down and vice-versa. But when dogs are unable to produce insulin at all these hormone levels can get (and stay) dangerously high, resulting in the uncontrolled ketone production and acidity that characterize diabetic ketoacidosis.

This deadly combination can occur when diabetes is left untreated (i.e., if a diabetic dog isn’t given any supplemental insulin by its owner) and/or paired with an infection, acute pancreatitis, renal failure, severe stress, or a lack of fluid intake. For further reading, this study provides some data on the commonality of these cooccurrences in ketoacidosis cases.

The Signs and Symptoms of Canine Diabetic Ketoacidosis

Ketoacidosis is a scary condition with scary symptoms. If your dog is diabetic, it may be displaying the signs of ketoacidosis if one or more of the following are present:

  • Persistent vomiting
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Refusal to eat
  • Weight loss
  • Persistent water consumption
  • Unquenchable thirst
  • Dehydration
  • Increased Unrination
  • Increased respiratory rate
  • Unkept Coat

While some of these symptoms can occur in other (far less severe) circumstances in otherwise healthy dogs, if they arise in a dog that has underlying diabetes, that should raise serious alarm bells. 

What to Do If You Suspect Your Dog Has Ketoacidosis

If your dog has developed diabetic ketoacidosis, it is experiencing a medical emergency and it needs to be brought to a veterinarian immediately. This is not the time for at-home remedies or a “wait and see” attitude. The animal’s life is in danger.

Your veterinarian will use blood and urine tests to evaluate your dog’s ketone, insulin, and blood sugar levels and make a diagnosis based on the results. If diabetic ketoacidosis is confirmed, insulin therapy, intravenous fluids, and dietary/nutritional modifications will be used in an effort to bring it under control. 

Treatments for Diabetic Ketoacidosis in Dogs

The initial step in treating diabetic ketoacidosis in dogs is to stabilize the pet's condition. This typically involves administering intravenous fluids to counteract dehydration and correct electrolyte imbalances. Insulin therapy will also be initiated to lower blood glucose levels and halt excessive ketone production.

In some severe cases, additional treatments such as antibiotics, antiemetics, and antacids might be required. The dog will need to be monitored closely, with frequent blood glucose, electrolyte, and acid-base balance checks to ensure the therapy is working as planned. After stabilization, the dog will usually be transitioned to a regimen of subcutaneous insulin injections, to be administered at home by the owner.

Conditions That May Occur in Conjunction With or Secondary to Diabetic Ketoacidosis in Dogs

A variety of conditions can occur alongside diabetic ketoacidosis or may develop as a result of it. Infections are common, as high glucose levels can suppress the immune system and provide an optimal environment for bacterial growth. Acute pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas, may also occur and can further exacerbate the condition.

Kidney failure is another potential complication due to the high volume of glucose that the kidneys must filter out. Finally, some dogs may experience neurological problems as a result of severe acidosis, ranging from mild depression to coma.

How Ketona Can Help With Diabetic Ketoacidosis in Dogs

Diabetes in dogs is a complex condition requiring a comprehensive approach to management. One crucial component of this management strategy is diet, and this is where Ketona comes into play. Developed with an evidence-based nutritional profile, Ketona has been carefully formulated to offer a dietary solution that could help to manage diabetic conditions in dogs, potentially reducing the risk of serious complications such as diabetic ketoacidosis.

Why Low-Carbohydrate Diets Matter

In the wild, dogs typically consume diets high in protein and fat, with only a minimal carbohydrate intake. However, many conventional commercial pet foods are high in carbohydrates, which can contribute to elevated blood glucose levels after meals, creating a demand for increased insulin production to maintain homeostasis.

For diabetic dogs, who may not produce sufficient insulin or be unable to utilize insulin efficiently, this post-meal surge in blood glucose can exacerbate their condition, potentially leading to hyperglycemia and, in extreme cases, diabetic ketoacidosis.

The Ketona Difference

Ketona sets itself apart by offering a low-carbohydrate alternative to most mainstream kibbles. Made with high-quality natural ingredients, Ketona provides a balanced diet that's rich in proteins and healthy fats, with only a minimal carbohydrate content.

This approach offers several benefits for diabetic dogs:

  1. Reduced Post-Meal Glucose Spikes: The limited carbohydrate content of Ketona helps to prevent significant post-meal blood glucose surges, reducing the strain on the body's insulin system.
  2. Stable Energy Supply: With a high protein and fat content, Ketona offers a steady, long-term energy source, avoiding the quick energy peaks and crashes associated with carbohydrate-heavy meals.
  3. Safe Ketone Production: By reducing the body's reliance on glucose for energy, Ketona encourages a safe level of ketone body production. In moderation, ketones are an efficient alternative energy source, and they can help protect against the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis.

Complementing Medical Management

While diet plays a crucial role in managing canine diabetes and its potential complications, it should be seen as a component of a broader treatment plan that may also involve insulin therapy, regular vet check-ups, and close monitoring of your dog's condition. As always, any dietary changes should be undertaken under the guidance of a veterinary professional.

It's essential to remember that every dog is unique, and there isn't a one-size-fits-all approach. With the right care and management — and with the help of specifically formulated products like Ketona — it's possible to help your diabetic dog lead a happy, active, and fulfilling life.

For More About Managing Diabetes in Dogs

For more detailed information on diabetes in dogs and the importance of maintaining proper blood sugar and body weight, we invite you to visit our extensive collection of articles and resources on the KetoNatural Blog. Our experts delve into the intricacies of canine diabetes, providing insights on everything from diagnosis and treatment to daily management and long-term care.

Dr. Bruce D. Armstrong, DVM

Dr. Armstrong is a veterinarian with decades of experience in private practice, primarily focused on treating companion animals.

He reviews all articles to ensure that discussions of scientific topics are fair, balanced and accurately reflect the state of the peer-reviewed evidentiary record.

Learn more about Dr. Armstrong