VCA Animal Hospitals

Hypokalemia or Low Potassium Levels in Cats

What is hypokalemia?

hypokalemia-1Hypokalemia is a term that refers to a low blood concentration of potassium. Potassium is an important electrolyte within the body and is vital for the normal function of muscles and nerves. In some situations, the normal control of body potassium concentration is lost, resulting in depletion of potassium and low blood potassium concentrations.

What are the clinical signs associated with hypokalemia?

Mild to moderate hypokalemia is seen relatively frequently in sick cats, but does not usually cause significant clinical signs. However, if severe hypokalemia develops, it can cause profound and life-threatening clinical signs. The main effect of severe hypokalemia is generalized muscle weakness. Affected cats have difficulty in getting up and walking, and may appear almost "drunk" because of their weakness. A common and characteristic sign of the muscle weakness is the inability to raise the head into a normal position, so that the head is held down. Hypokalemia can also cause marked depression and lack of appetite. In many cases, the cat will have a poor quality coat.

What causes hypokalemia?

The most common cause of hypokalemia is chronic kidney failure, a condition common in older cats. Severe or chronic vomiting may also cause hypokalemia in cats.

"Hypokalemia is the most common cause of generalized muscle weakness in cats."

A variety of other diseases can also cause or contribute to hypokalemia, but are less common. Hypokalemia is the most common cause of generalized muscle weakness in cats.

How is hypokalemia treated?

hypokalemia-2Hypokalemia and its associated clinical signs may be quickly corrected by potassium supplementation. In severe cases, potassium may be given intravenously. This rapidly corrects hypokalemia and reverses muscle weakness. Your veterinarian will determine how quickly to correct this deficiency, because if intravenous potassium is given too rapidly, it can cause heart arrhythmias, or abnormal heartbeats. In less severe cases, and for long-term maintenance of blood potassium, dietary supplementation is usually necessary. The oral supplement, potassium gluconate, is well tolerated by most cats and is available as a palatable supplement to add to the diet. Depending on the cause, it may be necessary to continue supplementing potassium permanently. Intermittent monitoring of response to treatment is usually necessary through analysis of blood samples, to ensure the supplementation is adequate but not excessive. Excessive potassium levels may also cause problems, primarily with the heart.

Related Tags

potassium, hypokalemia, cats, weakness, muscle, clinical, concentration, supplementation, cases, head, supplement, heart, rapidly, chronic, excessive, function, muscles, situations, vital, electrolyte, refers, important, depletion, nerves, concentrations, gluconate, tolerated, palatable, copyright, modified, oral, heartbeats, long-term, maintenance, dietary, diet, permanently, samples, analysis, ensure, adequate, primarily, abnormal, treatment, response, intermittent, ernest, ward, monitoring, supplementing, diseases

Looking to learn more?

We also offer free, instant access to over 1,500 related articles on your pet's health including preventive medicine, common and not so common diseases, and even informative case studies. We encourage you to read any of these popular articles below or search our extensive pet health library.

Most Popular Articles

About our approach to exceptional pet health care

At VCA Animal Hospitals, our veterinarians take you and your pet's health seriously. With over 600 hospitals and 1,800 fully qualified, dedicated and compassionate veterinarians, we strive to give your pet the very best in medical care. We understand your pet is an extension of you, and appreciate the opportunity to share in providing exceptional pet care and quality of life.

* Free initial health exam for new clients only. Not to be combined with any other offer. Not good toward boarding, grooming, prescription and non-prescription medication, and retail items. Not good toward emergency and/or specialty veterinary services. Coupon good for up to two pets (dogs or cats only) per household. Redeemable only at a general practice VCA Animal Hospital. For pet owners who are aged 18 and older.

If you are a new client, you can get a free first exam* on your first visit.

Free First Exam

Get to know us by visiting one of our neighborhood hospitals.

Locate a Hospital
CLOSE CLOSE

General Practice

We have over 540 animal hospitals in 41 states that are staffed by more than 2,000 fully qualified, dedicated and compassionate veterinarians, with more than 200 being board-certified specialists. The nationwide VCA family of general practice hospitals give your pet the very best in medical care, providing a full range of general medical and surgical services as well as specialized treatments*: Wellness, Spay/neuter, Advanced diagnostic services (MRI/CT Scan), Internal medicine, Oncology, Ophthalmology, Dermatology, Cardiology, Neurology, Boarding, Grooming

*services may vary by location.

Our family of pet hospitals stands out by delivering the greatest resources in order provide the highest quality care available for your pets. By maintaining the highest standards of pet health care available anywhere, we emphasize prevention as well as healing. We provide continuing education programs to our doctors and staff and promote the open exchange of professional knowledge and expertise. And finally, we have established a consistent program of procedures and techniques, proven to be the most effective in keeping pets healthy.

Find a VCA General Care Animal Hospital near you:

 

See all VCA Animal Hospitals >

CLOSE CLOSE

Specialty Care

Sometimes sick or injured pets need the care of a veterinary medical specialist. When that happens, VCA specialty hospitals work closely with the general practitioner veterinarians who refer cases to us in order to provide seamless veterinary care to your pet. When your pet is facing any kind of serious illness or injury, our specialty referral hospitals will provide the compassionate and expert care your beloved pet needs.

Our goal is to make sure that when you and your pet are in need that you have access to board certified specialists who are up to date on the very latest developments in their field. In our state of the art hospitals, our specialists also have access to the most sophisticated diagnostic and treatment tools and techniques from ultrasonography and endoscopy to CAT scans and even MRI.

We have twenty-eight specialty hospitals across the US so there may be one near you. Our specialized services include: cardiology, critical care, dentistry, dermatology, internal medicine, neurology, oncology, ophthalmology, radiology and surgery.

Find a VCA Specialty Care Animal Hospital near you:

 

See all VCA Animal Hospitals >

CLOSE CLOSE

Emergency Care

In case of emergency, please call us immediately. If it is after hours, check with a local animal hospital emergency clinic.

CLOSE CLOSE