Hypokalemia In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

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Hypokalemia in dogs happens when levels of potassium in the blood are lower than usual. Potassium is important to cells in the body and the electrical signals that pass through those cells. Electrical charges run through the heart, as well as nerves and muscles throughout the body. Low levels of potassium in dogs’ bodies have a strong impact on the cells, tissue, and eventually the organs, which means that hypokalemia can be a life-threatening condition if it becomes severe and goes untreated. If you see the signs of hypokalemia in your dog, consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Here is what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for hypokalemia in dogs.

Symptoms Of Hypokalemia In Dogs

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Hypokalemia in dogs tends to affect three muscle groups the most; neurological muscles, cardiac muscles, and skeletal muscles. Some dogs do not show symptoms at all, while others are severely affected. The condition can be acute, meaning it appears suddenly with very strong symptoms, or it can appear gradually and worsen with time. If you see any of the following signs of hypokalemia in your dog, get to your veterinarian immediately.

  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Constipation
  • Muscle pain
  • Weakness
  • Unusual gait
  • Unwillingness to walk or move
  • Difficulty breathing because of paralysis in respiratory muscles
  • Increased thirst or urination
  • Arrhythmia
  • Curving head down to the chest

Causes Of Hypokalemia In Dogs

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There are several conditions that can cause hypokalemia in dogs, but it is most often caused by a loss of potassium through the urine or feces. This can be the result of cancer, kidney disease, or other conditions. It may also be caused by a failure to take in enough potassium due to anorexia or a lack of potassium in the diet. Here are several other conditions that can lead to hypokalemia in dogs.

  • Diabetes
  • Exposure to diuretics
  • Dialysis treatment
  • Metabolic disease
  • Vomiting
  • Exposure to certain antibiotics
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Exposure to insulin or glucose
  • Stress
  • Barium poiosoning
  • Exposure to xylitol

Treatments For Hypokalemia In Dogs

MUNICH, GERMANY - FEBRUARY 23: hollow needle in a dogs leg for intravenous injection on February 23, 2011 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Agency-Animal-Picture/Getty Images)

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Treatment for severe hypokalemia in dogs involves intravenous potassium chloride injections to stabilize heart beat and correct paralysis of the respiratory muscles, which will allow dogs to breath more easily. More moderate cases of hypokalemia in dogs can be treated with oral supplements that raise potassium levels.

Once a dog suffering from hypokalemia is stable, they may be prescribed potassium chloride supplements to avoid another drop in potassium levels. Dietary changes may also be prescribed. If the dog is also on glucose or insulin therapy, these may be stopped in favor of alternative treatment, as these forms of therapy make hypokalemia worse.

If it is determined that there is an underlying cause for the hypokalemia, that will need to be treated, as well, to avoid relapse. For example, if the cause is exposure to medications, therapies, or other substances, those will likely need to be removed from the dog’s environment. Dogs usually recover well from hypokalemia so long as it is treated early and monitored diligently.

Has your dog ever suffered from hypokalemia? How did you treat it? Let us know in the comments below!