Ketoacidosis is one of the most extreme complications of diabetes mellitus that can be experienced. Unfortunately, most cases of ketoacidosis are in patients that were not previously known to be diabetic so the owner (and pet) must deal with two serious diagnoses: one acutely life-threatening and expensive and the other requiring on-going commitment and daily treatment.
Ketoacidosis represents an extreme metabolic derangement. Stress of some sort, usually some kind of infection, inflammatory disease, or pancreatitis, creates a severe loss of glucose regulation. The cells are starving for glucose and, even though there is plenty of glucose in the blood, without insulin this glucose cannot enter the cells. In response to the starving body, all stored fuels are mobilized including fats. The extreme fat burning situation leads to the production of ketone bodies. When ketone bodies are burned for fuel, pH and electrolyte imbalances occur and the patient’s life is at risk. Shock and dehydration are only part of this body-wide crisis. Nausea and appetite loss with marked listlessness is typically what the owner notices; prior signs of diabetes (excess thirst, appetite and weight loss) may have been ignored or unnoticed but at this point the pet is clearly very ill. Blood glucoses are typically extremely high, and ketones can usually be detected in the urine.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN THE HOSPITAL
The sooner the crisis is noted, the faster treatment can be instituted. Because eletrolyte changes can be moment by moment, blood testing is necessary throughout the day to keep track and keep the imbalances corrected. Ideally a facility that offers 24 hour care is employed. Aside from the monitoring required to manage the ketoacidosis, testing to determine the precipitating stress is necessary as well.
Fluid therapy is felt to be the key to treatment of this condition. The patient is invariably dehydrated from the high circulating blood sugar levels (which cause excess fluid loss in urine) as well as from vomiting and/or diarrhea (which are common in this condition). Aside from simply providing fluids, the IV fluid provides a vehicle by which other metabolic derangements can be repaired.
Very low levels of phosphorus also accompany diabetic ketoacidosis and if levels drop too low, the patient’s red blood cells will begin to burst, unable to maintain integrity. Phosphorus is also supplemented through the intravenous fluid solution.
Page posted: 8/15/10