Management of Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic State (HHS) in Dogs and Cats: A Clinical Guideline for Small Animal Practitioners


This guideline created by the VETEMCRIT Academy is based on the most current veterinary and human medical literature, encompassing both adult and pediatric research. It was designed as a practical clinical tool for small animal veterinary practitioners.

What is HHS?

HHS (Hyperosmolar Hyperglycemic State) is a form of diabetic crisis characterized by severe hyperglycemia (>600 mg/dL or >33 mmol/L), minimal or absent urine/plasma ketones, and serum osmolality greater than 325 mOsm/kg in dogs or 350 mOsm/kg in cats (Koenig et al. 2022).

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) and HHS are both forms of diabetic crises. They can be viewed as different manifestations along the same spectrum, as evidenced by the fact that some veterinary and human patients present with a combination of HHS and DKA.

However, there are distinct features of HHS that differentiate it from DKA. Veterinarians must be aware of these differences, as they may impact clinical management.

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Avoiding Overcorrection: Rebound Hyperkalemia Awareness

Potassium functions as the primary cation inside cells. More than 95% of the total body potassium resides within the cells. Abnormal serum potassium levels may arise due to disturbances in potassium intake, imbalances in internal potassium distribution, or issues with external potassium excretion.

Changes in how potassium is distributed within cells, such as when ß-adrenergic stimulation (as seen in albuterol toxicosis) prompts the movement of potassium in the liver and muscle cells, are usually temporary. On the other hand, a prolonged lack of potassium intake or excessive potassium loss can lead to sustained hypokalemia.

Even though hypokalemia caused by the shift of potassium within cells is temporary, potassium supplementation may be necessary when hypokalemia is moderate to severe, especially if there are observable symptoms like arrhythmia and/or muscle weakness. However, the rate at which potassium is supplemented may need adjustment to prevent a condition called ‘rebound hyperkalemia,’ which can occur after the cause of the potassium shift is resolved. 

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