As an electrolyte, potassium serves a variety of functions within the body, including maintaining proper fluid volume and pH. Potassium is also necessary for normal muscle contraction.
Many illnesses in cats can also produce deficiencies in this electrolyte, or hypokalemia, within their bodies. This is especially true for those cats suffering from kidney disease, liver disease, or diabetes mellitus.
Actual signs of hypokalemia can include weight loss, loss of appetite, constipation (due to poor motility of the muscles lining the gastrointestinal tract), muscle weakness, muscle pain, and incoordination.
As the condition progresses and respiratory muscles become affected, breathing difficulties might be noted. In severe cases, death from respiratory paralysis could result.
Diagnosis of hypokalemia in a sick cat is based on a history, clinical signs, and measurements of blood potassium levels.
If hypokalemia is diagnosed, treatment consists of intravenous injections of a potassium supplement to correct the immediate deficit, followed by oral supplementation as long as deemed necessary. Prognosis for recovery is good if treatment begins early on.