Hyperkalemia In Dogs: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

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Hyperkalemia in dogs happens when potassium levels in the bloodstream are higher than normal. Potassium is an important electrolyte in dogs’ bodies, as it helps control nerve impulses, brain function, muscle activity, and heart function. Hyperkalemia is the opposite of hypokalemia, a condition where blood potassium levels are too low. Both can result from improper kidney function, but while hypokalemia often happens when too much potassium is being lost through urine, hyperkalemia results from dogs not urinating and removing enough excess potassium from the body. If you see the signs of hyperkalemia, especially if your dog has known kidney or urinary tract issues, consult your veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment. Here is what you should know about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for hyperkalemia in dogs.

Symptoms Of Hyperkalemia In Dogs

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Symptoms of hyperkalemia in dogs can range from moderate to serious, but because potassium is so important to many integral functions of the body, including the brain and heart, it is essential to address these symptoms early before they become a major problem. Here are several symptoms of hyperkalemia in dogs.

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Gastrointestinal upset
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Slow heart rate
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Low urine volume
  • Collapse
  • Paralysis of the limbs (limbs remain flexible, not rigid)

Causes Of Hyperkalemia In Dogs

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There are several possible causes of hyperkalemia in dogs, most of which concern the kidneys and urinary tract. Some of these conditions may be treated fairly easily, while others, such as renal failure, are more complicated and can be life-threatening. It is important for these underlying conditions to be diagnosed and treated by a veterinarian. Here are several possible causes of hyperkalemia in dogs.

  • Overdose of potassium supplements
  • Fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Injury to the kidneys or urinary tract
  • Kidney stones
  • Bladder stones
  • Urinary tract obstruction
  • Thrombocytosis
  • Leukemia
  • Addison’s disease
  • Diabetes and ketoacidosis
  • Cancer
  • Bacterial infection
  • Overdose of seizure medication
  • Exposure to certain antibiotics or heart medications
  • Renal failure
  • Gastrointestinal disease
  • Conditions that cause a reduction in urination

It is important to note that a blood test that shows high levels of potassium may be pseudohyperkalemia, which is caused by potassium leaking from cells after dogs get their blood drawn. This is known to occur in Akitas and Shar-Peis. This is not a cause for concern. Dogs that actually suffer from hyperkalemia usually show at least some symptoms, so if an otherwise healthy dog has high blood potassium levels, it is likely to be psuedohyperkalemia.

Treatments For Hyperkalemia In Dogs

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The usual treatment for hyperkalemia in dogs begins with intravenous fluid therapy to restore normal electrolyte levels. This will also help treat any dehydration or low blood pressure that affected dogs may also be suffering from. When normal levels of potassium are restored, the underlying cause of hyperkalemia should be diagnosed and treated. Further treatment can vary widely based on the diagnosis.

For example, if diabetes and ketoacidosis are the causes, insulin therapy will likely be prescribed. Stones in the urinary tract may sometimes be broken down with special diets or removed surgically. Discontinuing supplements or medications that cause hyperkalemia may correct the condition. For dogs that suffer from chronic kidney disease, a low potassium prescription diet may be required. Other underlying conditions will be treated as needed on an individual basis.

Has your dog ever suffered from hyperkalemia? What was the cause? Let us know in the comments below!