Hypokalemia, or low blood potassium, is usually a symptom of chronic kidney failure or another medical condition. In mild cases, dogs may not display low potassium symptoms, but as the deficiency becomes more severe, your dog may show signs such as muscle weakness and loss of appetite. Hypokalemia can be life-threatening, so if your dog has a condition that may cause low potassium, it is important to recognize the symptoms and contact your veterinarian.
Low potassium symptoms
Potassium plays a critical role in muscle and nerve function, as well as maintaining proper fluid balance. A dog with low potassium may not display any initial symptoms when the hypokalemia is mild. However, severe hypokalemia can be life-threatening and cause cardiac arrest, so it is important to provide treatment as soon as you notice symptoms.
One of the primary symptoms of low potassium is muscle weakness. An affected dog may have difficulty walking or getting up. In some cases, the dog may not be able to lift his head, causing him to hold his head down or causing the neck to bend. Hypokalemia can also cause a dog to have poor coat quality, constipation, loss of appetite, depression, and lethargy.
Hypokalemia treatment options
In most cases, hypokalemia is easily treated by giving your dog a potassium supplement, usually potassium gluconate or potassium citrate. Oral supplements usually take effect in one to two hours and stop working within 24 hours. Potential side effects include nausea or discomfort. Monitor your dog and contact your veterinarian if symptoms of low potassium don't subside. Do not give more potassium unless directed to do so by your vet as dogs can overdose on potassium salts.
If the potassium deficiency is severe, your vet may decide to administer the potassium intravenously. This required close monitoring as correcting the deficiency too quickly may cause an abnormal heartbeat.
Depending on the cause of your deficiency, long-term supplementation may be necessary. Overcorrecting a deficiency, resulting in excess potassium, is also a cause for concern and may cause heart problems. Monitor your dog's symptoms and response to supplements and work with your veterinarian to evaluate blood samples to ensure your dog maintains normal potassium levels.
Causes of low potassium
Treating hypokalemia is important to restore normal potassium levels in dogs, but it is also important to diagnose and treat the underlying condition that is causing the potassium imbalance. Kidney failure is one of the most common causes of low potassium in dogs. The kidneys are responsible for filtering waste from the body and they help to maintain a balance of fluids and electrolytes in the body. Kidney failure usually progresses gradually and symptoms are easy to miss in the early stages.
The condition is diagnosed with a blood test, but watch for symptoms such as increased thirst and urination. Unfortunately, there is no cure for kidney disease and the damage is irreversible. However, with proper treatment, your dog can continue to live for years with a good quality of life. Your veterinarian will recommend a diet that is low in protein and phosphorous and prescribe medications to manage high blood pressure and other complications. In addition, you should make sure to get blood work done as recommended to monitor kidney function and potassium levels.
Some dogs with malnutrition may experience low potassium levels. When refeeding an animal that is malnourished, electrolyte imbalances are fairly common. Phosphorous deficiency is most common, but deficiencies in potassium and magnesium may also occur. A veterinarian should monitor the refeeding process. Diabetes is another condition that may cause hypokalemia. Administering intravenous fluids that are low in potassium, chronic vomiting, and excessive diarrhea may also cause hypokalemia.