The term hypokalemia means low potassium. A body’s total potassium level is regulated mainly by the kidneys. Potassium is important for normal skeletal, cardiac and smooth muscle function. A low potassium level in a pet may result from the following: inadequate intake, increased loss and inadequate movement from one place to another in the body.
There are several medical situations that may lead to a potassium deficiency. In cats, chronic kidney disease (CKD) is the most common cause of low potassium. It is estimated to affect 1-3% of the general feline population and is most commonly seen in older cats.¹ Hypokalemia is found in 20-30% of cats with CKD. As the kidneys progressively continue to fail, the ability to conserve potassium is reduced. This leads to over depletion of potassium. These patients may also have a decreased appetite that could lead to a decreased intake of potassium.
Cats with a low potassium level may have severely diminished muscle strength, generalized energy loss, and experience cardiac arrhythmias. In extreme cases of loss of muscle strength, the muscles of the neck may become weak and prevent the cat from holding its neck up straight (cervical ventroflexion). They may also drink more water than usual, urinate excessively and suffer from constipation.
If your cat has been diagnosed with chronic kidney disease, your veterinarian will periodically monitor your cat’s potassium level. Cats with a mildly decreased potassium level may benefit from an oral potassium supplement. With appropriate therapy, potassium levels should slowly improve over a course of days. Potassium supplementation should not be given without an appropriate diagnosis from your veterinarian.
1. https://www.vin.com/Members/Associate/Associate.plx?from=GetDzInfo&DiseaseId=1087 Accessed April 10, 2019
2. Polzin D J, Ettinger S J: Chronic Kidney Disease. Textbook of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 7th ed. St. Louis, Saunders Elsevier 2010 pp. 1990-2021