What Causes High Ketones in a Canine?

By Susan Paretts

A dog with a high level of ketones in his urine suffers from a condition known as ketonuria, usually resulting from a buildup of these substances in the dog's blood. A ketone is a type of acid, which, if allowed to accumulate in the blood, can lead to ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition. The main health conditions that can cause high ketone levels in a canine are starvation and diabetes.


A dog's body breaks down the food that he eats into sugars, also called glucose, that the cells of the body use for energy. The dog's pancreas then produces the hormone insulin to regulate the amount of glucose that the body will absorb. If the insulin to regulate the glucose is insufficient, typically due to chronic diabetes mellitus, the body breaks down alternate sources of fuel for its cells; a dog's body that is starved of nutrition will do the same. One of these sources is the fat stored in the dog's body. When the body breaks down this fat, it produces as a by-product toxic acids known as a ketones. These ketones then build up in the dog's blood and also his urine, leading to ketoacidosis.


Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet. A dog suffering from high ketone levels in his blood and urine exhibits symptoms of weight loss, vomiting, increased thirst, decreased appetite, increased urination, lethargy, low body temperature and yellowing of the skin and gums, according to PetMD. The dog's breath may also have a sweet, fruity smell due to the presence of acetone caused by ketoacidosis, says VetInfo. To properly diagnose high ketone levels and ketoacidosis in your dog, a veterinarian will take blood tests and a urinalysis, which will also check your dog's blood glucose levels.


Depending on the dog's physical condition, hospitalization at a veterinary office may be required to monitor his condition and administer intravenous fluids to prevent and treat dehydration. The veterinarian will administer insulin to reduce the levels of ketones and glucose in the blood and urine. Potassium supplementation may also be necessary to prevent hypokalemia, a condition that can accompany ketoacidosis, according to PetMD. Treatment for diabetes mellitus is ongoing and once at home, you need to administer insulin through an injection and test the dog's blood glucose levels as directed by your veterinarian. If ketoacidosis was due to starvation, feed the dog a nutritionally complete dog food in smaller amounts as recommended by the veterinarian.


Diabetic ketoacidosis can be triggered by stress, illness, trauma or failure to give your dog insulin for his diabetes. Concurrent conditions that can contribute to high ketone levels include cancer, pancreatitis, asthma and kidney or heart failure. Ketoacidosis requires emergency care to prevent coma or death, from which only 65 percent of dogs recover, according to VetInfo. While this recovery rate is low, a study published in the June 1993 edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association showed that administering insulin in a continuous low-dose intravenous infusion for the first few days of hospitalization can counteract the ketones in his blood. This resulted in a 71 percent recovery rate.