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What is Hypokalemia?

Most of the potassium in the body is stored inside the cells. This allows for normal cellular function. Low levels of potassium change the concentration gradient in cells and therefore, electrical charges and signals will not pass through correctly and have a dramatic impact on cellular, tissue and eventually organ function.

The condition, also known as hypokalemia, low blood potassium will not always manifest in obvious symptoms, but has a distinct and potentially deadly effect on your dog's health.

Hypokalemia Average Cost

From 19 quotes ranging from $500 - $3,000

Average Cost

$1,400

Symptoms of Hypokalemia in Dogs

Your dog may have a variety of symptoms manifesting and may vary from mild to moderate. Most will directly correlate to their muscles and movement. The most common symptoms include:

  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Frequent urination and thirst
  • Chronic constipation
  • Stiff gait
  • Plantigrade (walking not on their paws, but on the full sole of the back foot regularly)
  • Loss of weight
  • Loss of muscle mass
  • Ventroflexion of the head (curving the head down towards the chest. Severe condition)
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
Types

Hypokalemia is a straightforward condition in that it is the lack of a vital element within the functioning system, yet it affects three muscle groups more thoroughly than others These three groups are as follows:

  • Neurological

    - The electrical signals through the body are responsible for communicating conscious and unconscious activity from the brain to the rest of the tissues including willful movement like walking or regulated activity like breathing.

  • Cardiac

    - Directly tied in with neurological function, chronic abnormal rhythms in the heart can directly result in death, but also frequently reduce functionality to a bare minimum.

  • Skeletal Muscle

    - These are responsible for maintaining tension on the bones and frame. When these do not function properly or waste, your dog cannot stand or move normally which is why lethargy and unwillingness to move is the most obvious symptom.

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Causes of Hypokalemia in Dogs

The condition is fairly straightforward in its manifestation, but there are three categories of causes:

  • Loss

    - This happens when too much urine, feces or fluid have been lost. Often these are due to other conditions such as cancer or kidney disease.

  • Redistribution

    - Problems with metabolism, barium poisoning, or diabetes can reduce potassium levels over time.

  • Intake

    - Prolonged anorexia, insufficient potassium levels in food sources or a drastically reduced diet can create hypokalemia.

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Diagnosis of Hypokalemia in Dogs

If your dog has been displaying any symptoms unusual to them, it is always best to check with your veterinarian. If you notice the symptoms developing over time, an increasingly stiff gait or muscle loss, bring them to the veterinarian for final diagnosis. Be certain to give your veterinarian a thorough history of your dog's health, symptoms, any past or present conditions, and diet.

A full physical will be conducted to evaluate body system functions to determine the extent of the problem. Your veterinarian will need to run blood tests to determine potassium levels, a urinalysis to determine kidney function and if it was a contributor to any underlying condition along with an EKG to see any effect on the heart. As mentioned, this condition can directly affect the heart muscles and their electrical signaling mechanisms at the cellular level which may translate to arrhythmia or even stopping the heart entirely.

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Treatment of Hypokalemia in Dogs

The goal of treatment will be to raise the blood potassium to normal levels consistently and to correctly diagnose any underlying illness. Raising potassium levels will be done intravenously in severe cases, but for mild to moderate cases, this can be done orally using multiple supplements which will need to be adjusted based on your dog's response to therapy. Severe cases may require an overnight stay at the clinic with injections or infusions of potassium chloride or potassium phosphate, but such cases are uncommon.

It should be noted that patients receiving potassium chloride supplements - one of the most common supplements - should not also receive phosphorus supplements simultaneously as it has been proven that the combination of these two can have a negative effect on other trace chemicals-namely magnesium. While the condition itself poses a severe risk, treatment is relatively low risk and is non-invasive apart from the testing process, which will pose the extremely low risk of infection from needle point entry. If the underlying cause is not cancer or caused by redistribution problems, the prognosis for this problem is very good and, depending on the severity, recovery will be expedient.

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Recovery of Hypokalemia in Dogs

Follow up appointments will be needed to determine the efficacy of the treatment - likely one every two weeks or so until your dog's potassium levels stabilize. One thing your veterinarian will be looking for is high levels of potassium - a spike to compensate for the low levels. This is not the desired effect.

Ask your veterinarian about signs and symptoms you should be on the lookout for to ensure your dog's system is not overcompensating for their recent low potassium levels-especially if their case was severe. Your dog will need a quiet environment and rest to recover from treatment and gentle exercise to slowly rebuild their muscle levels and motion capacity if wasting was an effect of their hypokalemia. Your veterinarian will discuss any recommended diet changes necessary. If this condition was a result of cancer, kidney malfunction or diabetes, additional treatment options would need to be explored and discussed with your veterinarian.

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Hypokalemia Average Cost

From 19 quotes ranging from $500 - $3,000

Average Cost

$1,400

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Hypokalemia Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

Need pet health advice? Ask a vet

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Chihuahua

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Eleven Years

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Unknown severity

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Noisy Breathing

My dog was lethargic, vomited the first day, lost his appetite, he seemed very stiff and his back seemed arched, and he lost a lot of weight. Our vet told us he had a heart murmur and put him on Vetmedin and Lasix for it. This has happened three times already. The first time was tick fever, the second time they put him on vetmedin and lasix, and this third time we took him to a different vet. This vet told us he doesn't have a heart murmur and instead that his potassium levels seem low. Any opinion?

Aug. 1, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Sara O. DVM

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Hello, so sorry to hear that your dog isn't feeling good. Things like kidney disease and diabetes can cause your dog to have low potassium. Your vet can give your dog IV potassium if it is really low to help her feel much better. Low potassium can cause some of the symptoms that you mentioned but there are many other reasons for these signs. If your vet has not done bloodwork, this would be the best place to start. Good Luck, I hope your dog starts to feel better soon.

Aug. 1, 2020

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Pit Bull

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Eleven Years

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Urinary Retention

withdrawal off of prednisone per our veterinarian. Since taking our dog off of the steroid, he has been mire lethargic. The vet dermatologist told us not to worry since he was only on the steroid for 2 weeks the withdrawal symptoms will go away. Now this morning when my husband and I took him outside too pee, he went to different spots throughout the yard to try to pee with no success. He has never has this problem and we are extremely worried plus he still has no desire to move around that much. He still barks at the door bell. He still will get up for a treat, but is very slow at getting up

July 12, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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I'm sorry that your dog is having problems. Well the signs that you are describing are not typically related to being weaned off of Prednisone, and if he was only on it for a couple of weeks, he should not have become dependent on it, from what you're describing it would probably be best to have a recheck with your veterinarian when they open tomorrow. They will be able to see if something else is going on, examine him, and see what treatments might be needed. I hope that all goes well for him.

July 12, 2020

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Hypokalemia Average Cost

From 19 quotes ranging from $500 - $3,000

Average Cost

$1,400