Hypokalaemia or low potassium levels in dogs
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Hypokalaemia or low potassium levels in dogs

Dogs
Health & Safety

Hypokalaemia or low potassium levels in the blood is a potentially serious health condition that can affect dogs, and that causes a range of generalised systemic symptoms that can be hard to pin down. Diabetic dogs treated with insulin and the long-term use of antibiotics in dogs can both increase the risk of hypokalaemia developing, and so it is a good idea for the owners of dogs with certain chronic health conditions to be aware of the symptoms of the condition, and know how to spot a potential problem in the making.

In this article, we will look at hypokalaemia in dogs in more detail, covering how the condition develops, the effect it has on dogs, and how to recognise the symptoms of hypokalaemia in your own dog. Read on to learn more.

What is hypokalaemia?

Hypokalaemia means low potassium levels in the blood, which compromises the ability of a large number of the dog’s bodily functions and prevents them from performing their roles properly.

The dog’s body requires potassium to regulate and manage the nerves and muscles by means of a mineral in the blood called electrolytes, and having lower than normal potassium levels affects the dog’s bodily processes on a cellular level, preventing electrical impulses from transmitting messages across the nerves and muscles.

Why does hypokalaemia develop?

Hypokalaemia in dogs may develop as a secondary complication of a range of other health problems and in some cases, medications used to treat chronic health problems, and the owners of dogs who suffer from any of these issues should be aware of the additional risk factors their dogs will develop for the condition.

Some of the main conditions and problems that can cause hypokalaemia to develop in dogs include:

  • Dialysis treatment for kidney problems.
  • Chronic vomiting.
  • Digestive and metabolic diseases.
  • Kidney disease.
  • The use of diuretics.
  • Long term antibiotic use, or the use of particularly strong antibiotics.
  • Malnutrition that involves low potassium levels in the diet.
  • Intestinal cancers or blockages.
  • Insulin usage in diabetic dogs.
  • Supplementary glucose administration for dogs with blood: glucose or insulin imbalances.

What are the symptoms of hypokalaemia in dogs?

Reaching a diagnosis of hypokalaemia in your dog requires investigation and testing to be performed by your vet, as the symptoms of the condition can be fairly broad and generalised, and shared with a range of other health conditions too.

However, appraising yourself of some of the common symptoms and indicators or hypokalaemia in dogs can help you to spot a problem during its early stages, which allows you to seek help from your vet promptly and so, intervene before the problem becomes very acute.

Some of the most common symptoms of hypokalaemia in dogs include:

  • Sickness and acute vomiting.
  • Loss of appetite or refusing to eat.
  • Weight loss.
  • Exercise intolerance and general lethargy, and lack of interest in physical activity.
  • Painful muscles, which can hamper the dog’s willingness or ability to display a full normal range of movement.
  • Muscle wasting for no obvious reason, which leads to weakness of the muscles.
  • Increased desire to drink water, and associated increased need to urinate. For diabetic dogs in particular, this symptom can be complicated because it is also common to improperly controlled diabetes.

The symptoms that any given dog displays can be highly variable, and will be more acute in some dogs than others.As is the case when you have any concerns about your dog’s health or notice changes in their normal behaviour, it is important to ask your vet to check your dog over and consider your concerns, in order to ensure that the condition is diagnosed or ruled out as soon as possible.

In order to diagnose the condition, your vet will need to examine your dog and run some blood and urine panels, which will flag irregular levels of potassium present within the body. Your vet may also wish to use ultrasound examination, x-rays or even MRI or CT imaging scans to pinpoint the underlying cause of the condition once a diagnosis has been reached.

Treatment and management of hypokalaemia in dogs

When your dog is diagnosed with hypokalaemia, they will be treated in the first instance to correct the body’s low levels of potassium by means of supplements to rebalance your dog’s levels. If the condition is acute at the time of diagnosis, this may mean that your dog will require an inpatient stay at the clinic until their condition becomes more stable.

If an underlying health condition can be pinpointed as the originator of hypokalaemia, bringing this condition under control or resolving the originating issue can help to prevent your dog’s potassium levels becoming dangerously low in the future.

Some dogs will need to have their potassium levels monitored and receive supplemental potassium on an ongoing basis, in order to keep the condition under control if it cannot be reversed.

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