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What is Low Blood Potassium?

Low blood potassium is a medical condition commonly referred to by veterinarians as hypokalemia. It occurs when the levels of potassium in the cat’s blood drop below an acceptable level. Potassium is a necessary electrolyte found in the blood that is required for the normal function of muscles and bodily systems. Hypokalemia can occur in cats that are sick or suffering from fluid loss due to vomiting or diarrhea. In mild to moderate cases that are related to other illnesses, low blood potassium may not be a concern. In moderate or more severe cases, low blood potassium results in extreme muscle weakness and can make walking or holding up the weight of the head difficult. When hypokalemia presents in more severe cases, it has the potential to cause muscle paralysis, which can affect the lungs and heart. Its potential to disrupt proper respiratory and cardiac function can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. 

Low Blood Potassium Average Cost

From 499 quotes ranging from $200 - $2,000

Average Cost

$600

Symptoms of Low Blood Potassium in Cats

A cat with low blood potassium may not present any symptoms unless the potassium levels are extremely low or the condition has been ongoing for a prolonged period. The most common symptoms associated with low levels of potassium are weakness and an inability to hold the head up, resulting in a drooped head or irregularly bent neck. Depending on the underlying cause of the decrease in potassium, other symptoms may be observed. 

Symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Weight loss or loss of muscle mass
  • Pain and associated vocalizations
  • Moderate to extreme weakness
  • Difficulty getting up or walking
  • Inability to support head weight
  • Trouble breathing
  • Muscle paralysis
  • Respiratory failure
  • Nervous disorders and depression
  • Heartbeat irregularities
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Poor growth
  • Poor coat quality
  • Increased drinking and urination
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Causes of Low Blood Potassium in Cats

Loss of blood potassium most commonly occurs from one of three presentations. Either the cat has increased excretion of potassium, suffers from inadequate intake, or potassium is being redistributed within their body. These presentations can be a result of a variety of causes. Common causes of low blood potassium in cats include:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Excessive or prolonged vomiting or diarrhea
  • Diabetes and related conditions, including ketoacidosis and administered insulin or glucose
  • Severe lack of potassium in diet
  • Administration of intravenous fluids that either lack potassium or increase urination
  • Severe or prolonged anorexia or malnutrition
  • Certain medications
  • Metabolic diseases and disorders, including hyperthyroidism or alkalosis
  • Some types of cancer, including aldosterone-secreting tumors
  • Barium poisoning
  • Intestinal obstruction
  • Strong emotional responses like stress and anxiety 
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Diagnosis of Low Blood Potassium in Cats

Your veterinarian will determine if the cat’s blood potassium levels are within normal range by drawing blood and using standard laboratory testing methods. Your pet’s blood sample will be analyzed for a complete blood count, biochemistry panel, and electrolyte panel. In conjunction with the blood test, your veterinarian will require a complete medical history of your cat and information on any symptoms you have observed or conditions that might have affected the animal’s electrolyte balance. Be prepared to discuss any medications, medical treatments, and the cat’s regular diet. A routine physical examination will also likely be conducted. If your pet’s blood potassium levels are determined to be low, additional testing may be needed to determine the underlying cause of the condition, unless the cause is an obvious one. Urine or fecal samples may be analyzed. Veterinary staff may also use x-rays or other imaging techniques to determine the cause of your pet’s electrolyte imbalance. 

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Treatment of Low Blood Potassium in Cats

Treatment methods may vary depending on the underlying cause of low potassium in the blood. In severe cases, hospitalization will be required while your pet is being treated. Hospitalization may be prolonged as it is important for your pet to be supported until muscle weakness is no longer a problem. This is due to the potential for respiratory or cardiac failure. Some treatment methods that are commonly used for low blood potassium include:

Potassium Supplementation

The primary goal of treatment for low blood potassium is to restore the potassium levels to a normal range. This is generally accomplished with supplementation. If your pet is well enough, oral supplements will be provided. Intravenous supplementation may be required in some cases. Your cat will require monitoring of blood potassium levels during the initial supplementation phase. The use of potassium supplements could be temporary but may require use on a long-term or permanent basis depending on the underlying cause of the condition. They are generally administered in smaller doses to lower the risk of cardiac disruption. More rapid delivery may be deemed necessary if your cat’s condition is poor. Close monitoring of levels will also mitigate the associated risk. 

Oxygen Therapy 

Oxygen may be provided using tubing, a mask, or an oxygen cage. This is an important treatment for cats that are experiencing difficulty breathing. Oxygen therapy will be provided during hospitalization or while visiting the veterinarian. It carries a very low risk of side effects. 

Intravenous (IV) Fluid Therapy

This treatment will only be prescribed if dehydration is an issue or intravenous potassium supplementation is required. Although IV fluids are considered a common and relatively low-risk treatment, the use of fluids that do not contain potassium could potentially worsen the condition. This treatment method is generally only used while the animal is hospitalized. 

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Recovery of Low Blood Potassium in Cats

Your cat’s prognosis will depend greatly on the underlying condition that resulted in low blood potassium. With potassium supplementation, levels are usually restored to normal ranges fairly easily. In most cases, the cat’s condition will improve rapidly once potassium levels in the blood are restored. Continued supplementation may be required, however. Be sure to follow all your veterinarian’s instructions while your pet is recovering, including proper dosing of any medications and returning for requested follow-up visits. If long-term potassium supplementation is required, ensure you only use the prescribed amount and continue to monitor your cat closely for signs of low or high potassium levels. Your pet may require continued follow-up visits for a prolonged period in these cases.

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Low Blood Potassium Average Cost

From 499 quotes ranging from $200 - $2,000

Average Cost

$600

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Low Blood Potassium Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Unknown

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5 weeks

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

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Neck Turned To Left

she is 5 weeks old she was fine went to sleep, when she woke up her head was turned to the left. shes walking in circles and meowing

Sept. 29, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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0 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. Kittens can have infections that can affect their neurologic function, and they can have different things that affect their brains that occurred when they were born. Since this seems to have come on all of a sudden from your description, it would probably be a good idea to have a veterinarian examine the kitten, as they can look at the neurologic status and see what might be going on that's causing this. Once they know more, they'll be able to let you know what treatment needs to happen, if any. I hope that all goes well with the kitten.

Sept. 30, 2020

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Siamese

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One Year

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Unknown severity

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Can’T Get Up, Eyes Moving Side To Side

My cat can’t get up and her eyes are moving side to side

Sept. 26, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Thank you for your question. It would be best to have your pet seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine your pet, see what might be going on, and get treatment for them if needed.

Oct. 17, 2020

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Cali

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Domestic shorthair

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17 Years

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Critical severity

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Critical severity

Has Symptoms

Lethargy
Not Eating
Not Urinating

My 17 year old cat Cali, previously diagnosed with hyperthyroid, stopped eating and was losing weight. Tried every cat food, human food and appetite stimulant but didn't seem to work. I took her into the ER and she ultimately saw an internist. Did a bunch of test and they they said she had early stage kidney disease but that wasn't the why she wasn't eating. Ultimately they did an endoscopy to check for irritable bowel syndrome and lymphoma (their two best guesses) and installed a feeding tube on Mon night. She was supposed to come home Tuesday (yesterday) but that morning they told me she had very low potassium (hypoalkemia) and they'd need to keep her 1-2 more days. They indicated they were trying to give her potassium via IV but had switched to an oral supplement since she was "intolerant of fluids". Since they weren't giving potassium via an IV I opted to take her home and do it myself, against the advice of the doctors. My cat has never done well outside of our home...travel, new places, new people, animals, etc. all stress her out to the point that she won't eat, drink or use the bathroom. I'd read that stress could cause hypoalkemia, and there was no indication of hypoalkemia before they did the procedure so I worried that being in the hospital was what was making her sick. I realize I'm not a doctor so I shouldn't be making diagnoses, but if she was going to die I didn't want it to be in the hospital. She's been home about 24 hrs and she has generally been much more alert (she was pretty comatose when I picked her up) albeit still very lethargic. She's taking food and meds well through the tube (18mL of food every 6 hours, no throwing up) but she's yet to use the bathroom. I called the hospital and they said if she doesn't pee by tonight to bring her back. I don't want to put her through that. I'm ok if she passes away as long as she's home and not in pain. Is there anything I can do to make sure she's comfortable that doesn't involve taking her back to the hospital? Appreciate any thoughts you might have.

Aug. 29, 2018

Cali's Owner

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Lulu

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Ragdoll cat

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11 Years

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Mild severity

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Mild severity

Has Symptoms

Drinking

What should I be feeding my cat who has low blood potassium to increase the level of potassium. I was advised by the Vet in March that the potassium was low but not serious enough to treat. Lately she has been drinking a lot of water and urinating a lot more than usual. Not eating as much as usual and also sleeping more often.

July 23, 2018

Lulu's Owner

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Ideally, the underlying cause for a decrease in potassium levels should be determined and treated, if you’re trying to supplement with potassium you’re not addressing the main underlying condition. You should return to your Veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and to start treatment from there. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM www.idexx.eu/globalassets/documents/parameters/8081-us-potassium-interpretive-summary.pdf

July 24, 2018

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Mackica

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DOMESTIC

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5 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Letargy

Dear Doctors, My cat had a problem with liver (fatty liver) and was treated with IV infusion and high protein food and the results were OK, but she suddenly developed severe anemia. It was also treated, although she was unable to get the transfusion. Now she recovers from anemia and all results are encouraging. However, following the problems with the liver, we have experienced low level of potassium that could not be elevated by IV supplements and is constantly between 2.7 and 2.8mmol/l. Any suggestion in the treatment you are able to provide is very welcome. Is it possible that there is a liver disfunction that causes low level of potassium and how could it be treated, how long will it last? Thanking in advance,

June 6, 2018

Mackica's Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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Liver dysfunction does not tend to cause a decrease in potassium, general illness and anorexia can cause that problem. There are oral supplements that can be given, and your veterinarian can prescribe that for her. Without knowing the cause of her problems, I'm not sure how long it will last, but generally once things are improving, potassium should return to normal.

June 6, 2018

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Macy

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tabby

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2 Years

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Moderate severity

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Moderate severity

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Low Potassium

I have a new cat that was once a ferral cat, they think she is about 2 and is a very petite cat I thought she was a kitten. I got her in October and now found out she has stomatitis and very bad teeth. I went in on Monday to get her spayed and her potassium levels were pretty low, they gave her fluids and they went even lower. They ended up not spaying her and giving her an iv which included potatssium and they went up. She is now on a paste supplement. She has normal bowl movements and they said based on her other readings in her blood panel they don't think its renal failure. I'm curious what would cause her levels to be low. She has been gaining weight since I got her and her fur is so much healthier. She is very friendly and loves attention so she isnt showing any signs up weakness. Could it be the Stomatits?

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Striker

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domestic short hair

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18 Years

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Serious severity

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Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Frequent Urination
Frequent Urination Muscle Wasting

Dear Doctors, I brought my cat in today to be put to rest. He was 18 and had been suffering from CKD for the last 14 months. It started with more frequent urination and progressed to urinating outside the litter box throughout the house. He sometimes had blood in his urine as well. He was a very small cat to begin with and lost additional weight over these last 14 months. We had him examined multiple times over this period of time and the vet never offered him anything to help him with his CKD except pain medications and appetite stimulants to help stave of more weight loss. He had been getting progressively weaker but still was up and roaming around the house and jumping up onto things. This past weekend he began to decline rapidly and stopped eating or drinking. Then all of a sudden he wasn't able to stand up and his head was drooping. He would try to stand up a couple times to greet me like he normally would when I would go over to give him attention but would fail. This was the cue that he was ready pass on, and I also did not want him to suffer. However I cant help but wonder after reading this article if potassium supplementation could have helped him bounce back and given him an extension on life? I would imagine the vet would have mentioned potassium supplements if they were warranted but then again I dont know. My cat just seemed so sociable and wanting love up until a matter of hours so I beg to wonder if it was really his time and if I made the right choice given the information I had?

Low Blood Potassium Average Cost

From 499 quotes ranging from $200 - $2,000

Average Cost

$600

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