Cats obtain potassium through their diet. Most potassium is found within the body's cells. Kidneys control levels of potassium by excreting excess via the urine.
Hypokalemia results from depletion of potassium from the body and is usually associated with kidney failure. Other causes include decreased dietary intake, vomiting, diarrhea, diabetes and liver disease.
Potassium is an essential electrolyte which performs several functions including;
- Assists in regulating nerve impulse and muscle contractions.
- Helps maintain blood pressure.
- Maintains heart function.
- Maintains the body's electrolyte balance and acid/alkali levels in cells and tissues.
- It also plays an important role in heart, skeletal, and smooth muscle contraction, making it an important nutrient for normal heart, digestive, and muscular function.
What are the symptoms of hypokalemia in cats?
Symptoms of hypokalemia include:
- Muscle weakness and pain.
- Stiffened posture and gait.
- Reluctance to move.
- Inability to raise the head due to muscle weakness (ventral neck flexion).
- Increased thirst and urination (due to decreased kidney function).
- Weight loss.
How is hypokalemia diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of your cat and obtain a medical history. Some tests he may wish to perform include:
- Biochemical profile: Potassium is decreased and creatinine is increased. Signs of kidney failure and diabetes may also be present.
- Electrocardiogram to measure the electrical activity of the heart.
How is hypokalemia treated?
- Treating the underlying cause of hypokalemia.
- Mild hypokalemia will be treated with oral potassium supplements.
- Severe cases will require intravenous potassium until the cat has become stabilised and potassium levels return to normal, it then may be switched to oral potassium.