The Diabetic Ketoacidosis in Cats

Diabetic ketoacidosis or DKA develops when a diabetic cat’s body can’t properly use insulin to break down glucose for energy. Without insulin, the body starts breaking down fat for fuel instead, producing toxic byproducts called ketones.

Ketones make the blood acidic, a life-threatening condition known as ketoacidosis. DKA is a medical emergency and can be fatal if left untreated. As a cat owner, it’s important to recognize the signs of DKA and get your cat to the vet right away.

Common Symptoms and Warning Signs of Diabetic Ketoacidosis

If your cat is diabetic, be on the lookout for symptoms that could indicate diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). This is a life-threatening complication of diabetes that requires emergency vet care. Recognizing the signs early on can help get your cat proper treatment right away.

1. Increased thirst and frequent urination

While increased thirst and urination are common symptoms of diabetes itself, if your cat’s water consumption becomes extreme and they are urinating almost constantly, it could signal DKA. Their body is trying to flush out the excess glucose and ketones building up in the bloodstream.

2. Loss of appetite

DKA often causes a loss of appetite, as your cat will not feel well. If your diabetic cat is not eating at all or eating very little, especially over 12-24 hours, contact your vet immediately. Lack of food means lack of insulin, allowing DKA to rapidly develop.

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3. Weakness or collapse

Due to the metabolic changes and dehydration associated with DKA, your cat may become very weak or even collapse. If your cat seems extremely lethargic or has an episode of collapse, seek emergency care right away.

4. Difficulty breathing

DKA can lead to acidosis, which causes the blood to become too acidic. This acidic blood then circulates to the lungs, causing difficulty breathing. If your cat’s breathing seems very rapid, shallow, or labored, call your vet or emergency clinic without delay.

Treating Diabetic Ketoacidosis – From the Vet’s Office to at Home Care

Your vet will start by stabilizing your cat and reversing the ketoacidosis. This typically involves hospitalization for a few days. During this time, your vet will administer intravenous (IV) fluids to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. They will also give your cat insulin injections to help lower blood sugar levels. Antibiotics may also be used if there is an infection present.

Once your cat’s condition is stable and ketone levels start decreasing, your vet will determine if there are any underlying conditions that may have triggered the episode. Additional tests like blood work, urinalysis, and imaging may be needed. Identifying and properly managing the underlying cause is key to preventing future episodes of ketoacidosis.

After your cat is discharged, you will need to continue treatment at home. This includes:

  • Administering insulin injections: Your vet will show you how to properly give injections and determine an initial dosage and schedule. Frequent monitoring of blood sugar levels and ketones is needed to determine if adjustments are needed.
  • Dietary changes: Your cat will need to be on a high-protein, low-carb diet to help control blood sugar. Meal feeding, instead of free feeding, is also usually recommended.
  • Increase fluid intake: Encourage your cat to drink more water to prevent dehydration. You can also add water to their wet food to increase moisture.
  • Return visits: Your cat will need frequent vet checkups, especially in the first few months. Blood work will be done to monitor blood sugar control and check for other issues. The vet may adjust the insulin dosage and schedule based on the test results.
  • Watch for recurrence: Carefully monitor your cat for signs of recurrent ketoacidosis like increased thirst/urination, lethargy, vomiting, and loss of appetite. Seek vet care immediately if symptoms develop.
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With proper at-home management and follow-up care, diabetic ketoacidosis can often be well-controlled. But some cats may experience recurrent episodes, so diligent monitoring and care is essential. Early detection of symptoms can help prevent life-threatening complications. Working closely with your vet, you can get the necessary treatment to stabilize your cat and minimize health risks.