Potassium is one of the most important minerals that can be found in dogs’ bodies and in humans’ bodies. It is in charge of regulating the flow of various substances to and from cells via their membranes, and it is also capable of assisting in transmitting electrical impulses through various tissues.
A dog’s heart works thanks to electrical impulses as they make it possible for the organ to continue beating. So, when potassium levels begin to drop inside a pet’s body, they can not only show a number of worrying symptoms, but their life can actually be at risk.
This is all called hypokalemia, and it can affect dogs in certain situations. Most dogs do not develop hypokalemia, especially if they are otherwise healthy, have not been exposed to toxins, or haven’t recently undergone treatments with some medications. Here’s what else you should know about hypokalemia in dogs!
Causes of hypokalemia in dogs
You might think that the main cause of canine hypokalemia may be the lack of potassium in a dog’s diet or extreme conditions where the dog goes without food for any number of days.
And while that can certainly happen, the truth is that these cases are becoming rarer and rarer. Most dog diets these days are enriched with vitamins and minerals and also contain potassium, so pets that are fed such kibble or canned varieties have very low chances of developing hypokalemia.
However, this condition is indeed caused by other diseases and a variety of accidents, such as exposure to xylitol, large doses of insulin, spikes in a dog’s blood sugar, and more.
Here are a few other causes of hypokalemia:
- Metabolic disease (where the dog’s body doesn’t absorb the nutrients from the food they eat)
- Treatment with diuretics
- Gastrointestinal conditions with diarrhea and vomiting
- Barium poisoning
- Chronic kidney failure
Types of hypokalemia
Because potassium is an electrolyte that heavily influences the activity of muscles inside a dog’s body, hypokalemia can happen in several different ways. What we mean by this is that it can depend on what types of muscles or tissues are affected by an inappropriate amount of potassium.
Any skeletal muscle, as well as the cardiac muscle, can easily be affected by low levels of potassium, but because this mineral is also so important when it comes to transmitting electrical signals, it can also affect the brain.
Yes, a dog’s brain is not a muscle, but that does not mean that it can’t be affected by hypokalemia. In a nutshell, taxonomically, hypokalemia can be skeletal, cardiac, or neurological.
What symptoms does canine hypokalemia lead to?
The biggest issue with hypokalemia is that dogs can survive with low potassium levels for at least a few days before they start showing symptoms that can worry their owners.
In time, these dogs lose both weight and muscle mass, they start being more lethargic than usual, they become prone to constipation, they may drink more water, and they may also walk as if their joints were stiff.
Their heart doesn’t beat at a normal rhythm any longer, especially when the condition has become severe, which is why you’ll find your dog avoiding any type of exercise or getting extremely tired after just a few steps or a very short walk/run.
The arrhythmia could vary in terms of symptomatology from one animal to the next. Most are very weak, and upon engaging in some sort of exercise, although they may be very reluctant to do so, they may experience tachycardia.
How is canine hypokalemia diagnosed?
If hypokalemia is diagnosed when you bring your dog in for a check-up, you can consider yourself a lucky pet owner.
Unfortunately, not many people notice some of the symptoms we’ve noted above until the condition worsens, so the dog may need to receive emergency treatment.
In most cases, hypokalemia is diagnosed with a few simple blood and urine tests, as well as an EKG to determine how the heart is functioning and whether it was affected over a long-term basis.
The cardiac muscles can get damaged if they function inappropriately for a period of time, so taking your dog to the vet as early as possible is paramount.
Can hypokalemia in dogs be treated?
The obvious response that the vet will have after reaching a diagnosis will be to mechanically increase your dog’s blood potassium levels through an IV.
This therapy is usually very well received by the dog’s body, so they may start feeling like themselves after just a few hours of being at the animal hospital.
Mild and moderate hypokalemia cases may be treated with oral supplements, especially if the dog is not suffering from other conditions that may impact the potassium absorption, such as diabetes, chronic kidney disease, or anything else that may make them vomit or experience diarrhea.
The majority of dogs that are diagnosed with hypokalemia and treated for it recover in a record amount of time.
Their pet owners can be instructed by the vet on what supplements they are supposed to use, if they should change their canine friend’s diet, or if they should give them medication for other diseases they may have.
Can you prevent your dog from getting low potassium blood levels?
Yes, but only if your dog is generally healthy. Multivitamin and multimineral supplements for dogs can be a help in this sense. You do not have to give your dog pills day in and day out, but it doesn’t hurt if you do once every two to three days.
It might not seem like too much of a difference, but low levels of minerals, in general, and in electrolytes like potassium, may prevent serious pathologies like the cardiac ones that we mentioned.
Once your dog’s cardiac muscles become damaged, they will have to receive medication for the remainder of their life. If that is not something that seems appealing to you, make sure you provide them with the right diet and the right veterinary care.
Routine visits to the clinic can be quite valuable as even the most basic blood tests can sometimes give your vet a clue as to whether something may be wrong with your dog’s body or not.