Metabolic acidosis, a silent summer enemy

Animal Nutrition Views

Dr. Ioannis Mavromichalis is an animal nutritionist holding graduate degrees from Kansas State University (MSc) and University of Illinois (PhD). He is the Principal of Ariston Nutrition Consulting International. He may be contacted at [email protected]. See all author stories and blogs.

Metabolic acidosis, a silent summer enemy

How to avoid a common but unrecognized animal nutrition issue that robs productivity during summer months.

Before we analyze metabolic acidosis, let’s first declare what it does so we all realize its importance. Animals suffering from metabolic acidosis will reduce their feed intake. I believe this is a good enough reason to pay attention to this barely acknowledged (summer) disorder. 

So, what is metabolic acidosis? It is a condition in which the organism produces too much acid, or it does not get rid of enough acidic compounds. Such can be the case when the organism receives too much of any organic acid in their feed and/or water, or too much sodium bicarbonate (acidic buffer agent) again in the feed. It can also be caused by kidney failure or malfunction, such as when we do not pay enough attention to electrolytes like sodium and potassium. There are also diseases and genetic issues that can contribute to this problem, but hey, I am just a nutritionist, so I will leave the medical stuff for the real experts — the veterinarians!

Why only in the summer? — you may rightly ask. Simply, because during hot weather, the conditions for metabolic acidosis are more likely to be encountered. For example, dehydration occurs easily during summer, and this leads to acidosis, too, as it upsets the electrolyte balance among other negative aspects. And believe me, electrolyte balance is invariably off during the summer in most cases I have been called to review. Another reason is because we add too many organic acids, or too much sodium bicarbonate (in the water or feed). Any and all are good enough reasons to cause even a mild metabolic acidosis. So we must design our summer diets and supplements (feed and water) with more care.

By the way, there is also metabolic alkalosis — the opposite of acidosis, which is equally undesirable. And, before I close, let me remind you that respiratory acidosis and respiratory alkalosis are not the same thing, although they have similarities. During summer, excessive panting (hyperventilation) will cause respiratory alkalosis, which partly cancels out the negative effects of metabolic acidosis. But we should not revert to having our animals run on a treadmill just to get them panting only because we cannot design a proper summer nutrition program.