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What is Too Much Acid in the Body?

Metabolic acidosis is actually the body’s reaction to illness, injury, or other trauma, such as ingesting toxins. All acid irregularities will cause the body to compensate to bring the pH back to normal levels, causing imbalances elsewhere in the body. There are two types of metabolic acidosis, which are high anion gap acidosis and normal anion gap acidosis. Both types have several different causes. For example, high anion gap acidosis is usually caused by a disease that leads to another disorder (i.e. diabetes causes ketoacidosis, kidney disease causes renal failure). Normal anion gap acidosis has many causes which can lead to other disorders as well, such as parvovirus causing diarrhea, which then triggers metabolic acidosis.

Too much acid in the body, or metabolic acidosis, is a condition that occurs when your dog has a decreased bicarbonate and a pH of more than 7.35, which is not uncommon in dogs, especially when they are injured or sick. This is most often found in dogs with cancer or diabetes, but can happen with any trauma or illness when acids accumulate or if there is a loss of bicarbonate that the body cannot compensate for. This is a medical emergency and can be fatal if not treated right away. There are two types, which are described as high anion gap acidosis and normal anion gap acidosis.

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Symptoms of Too Much Acid in the Body in Dogs

The symptoms of metabolic acidosis will vary, depending on the underlying cause. Most often, the only symptoms of acidosis are mild vomiting, nausea, and excessive sleepiness. Other common symptoms are:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Mild fever
  • Diarrhea
  • Acting confused
  • Indigestion
  • Increased sleepiness
  • Decreased interest in play or exercise


  • High Anion Gap Acidosis refers to anion (i.e. lactate) level over 16 usually caused by disease
  • Normal Anion Gap Acidosis refers to anion (i.e. lactate) levels 16 or under caused by many conditions

Causes of Too Much Acid in the Body in Dogs

The two most common causes of acidosis in pets are kidney failure and untreated diabetes. However, there are many causes of too much acid in the body, and they can be separated into two types with several categories.

High Anion Gap Acidosis

  • Ketoacidosis
  • Lactic acidosis
  • Renal failure
  • Toxic ingestions such as methanol, ethylene glycol, propylene glycol, lactic acid, uremia, aspirin, and iron
  • Hemorrhagic shock
  • Respiratory acidosis

Normal Anion Gap Acidosis

There are gastrointestinal disorders that lead to loss of bicarbonate.

  • Diarrhea (canine parvovirus, ulcerative colitis, pancreatic exocrine insufficiency)
  • Pancreatitis
  • Small bowel obstruction
  • Laxative use

Renal causes can be a factor.

  • Renal tubular acidosis
  • Long-term use of carbonic anhydrase inhibitor

Other causes can contribute.

  • Ingesting ammonium chloride
  • Hydrochloric acid or other acidifying salts
  • Iron poisoning
  • Extreme obesity
  • Addison’s disease

Diagnosis of Too Much Acid in the Body in Dogs

Your veterinarian will often be able to determine the cause of the acidosis just by the symptoms and behavior of your dog, although you will need to provide as many details as you can about how and when the symptoms began. Your dog’s medical history is also important, so be sure to provide the veterinarian with any issues you have noticed that may be relevant to the situation, such as injury or illness. A complete physical examination will be done, which will include blood pressure, pulse and respiration rate, body temperature, and weight. Next, your veterinarian will need to run some tests to determine the exact cause of the metabolic acidosis. Some of the tests needed are CBC, ABG, glucose, urinalysis, electrolyte panel, anion and delta gap calculations. If the gap calculations are normal, and there are no obvious reasons for normal anion gap acidosis, the veterinarian will want to perform tests to look for toxin ingestion or an ACTH test for Addison’s disease. Radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, CT scans, and an MRI may also be necessary.

Treatment of Too Much Acid in the Body in Dogs

The first part of your dog’s treatment will be to correct the acid level with lactated Ringer’s solution through IV fluid therapy, and possibly oxygen therapy if necessary. If your dog’s pH is less than 7.2, sodium bicarbonate will be added to the IV. The second part of your dog’s treatment will depend on the underlying cause of the metabolic acidosis. For example, if your dog has ketoacidosis, the veterinarian will admit him to the hospital to stabilize his blood sugar levels and teach you how to treat diabetes at home, including insulin shots. For toxic ingestion, the veterinarian will administer an antitoxin if one is available, and IV fluids until the toxins are out of his system. Renal failure, pancreatitis, and Addison’s disease will all require more testing and treatment which may include medication or surgery.

Recovery of Too Much Acid in the Body in Dogs

If your dog is found to have diabetes, you will have to feed him a special diet, and continue to check glucose levels and inject insulin when needed for the rest of his life. In the case of obesity, you will also have to use a special diet, possibly medication, and an exercise routine. Management and recovery time will all depend on the underlying disorder that caused the metabolic disorder.