Hyperkalemia in Dogs
Hyperkalemia is expressed by markedly higher than normal concentrations of potassium in the blood. Normally eliminated in the kidneys, potassium and its increased acidity in the dog’s blood can have a direct impact on the heart’s ability to function normally, making this a high priority condition. Elimination is enhanced by aldosterone, a hormone that causes the tubules of the kidneys to retain sodium and water. Therefore, conditions that can inhibit renal elimination of potassium can be a direct cause of hyperkalemia.
Meanwhile, pseudohyperkalemia — which is characterized by a rise in the amount of potassium due to excessive leakage of potassium from the cells, and which takes place during or after blood is drawn — is not uncommon in the Akita breed.
- Flaccid paralysis (limp, not rigid paralysis)
Pseudohyperkalemia, false hyperkalemia, is a finding which occurs when a sample of blood that has been taken is not analyzed or separated promptly. Because some blood cells contain high concentrations of potassium, this intracellular potassium is released into the blood serum, causing the potassium concentration to appear to be artificially high. Another cause, low potassium elimination from the body, may be related to anuric (absence or defective excretion of urine) or oliguric (scanty urine production, renal failure) conditions. Also contributing are physical traumas such as urinary tract rupture or urethral obstruction, and some gastrointestinal diseases.
Additional causes include:
- High potassium intake (e.g., use of oral or intravenous potassium supplements)
- Fluid therapy with potassium supplementation
- Administration of potassium-sparing diuretics
- Conditions associated with acidosis
- Fluid in the abdomen
- Kidney disease
- Kidney stones in male dogs
- Thrombocytosis (high platelet counts) and leukemia
You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health, onset of symptoms, and possible incidents that might have led to this condition. The history you provide may give your veterinarian clues as to which organs are being affected secondarily. A complete blood profile will be conducted, including a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count, and a urinalysis.
Hyperkalemia is often characterized by an intermittent history of gastrointestinal complaints, weakness, and collapse. Your veterinarian will check for hypoadrenocorticism (an endocrine disorder). If your dog is straining to urinate or is experiencing low urine output, he or she will consider urinary obstruction or oliguric/anuric kidney failure.
Diagnostic imaging will include radiographic contrast studies, which uses an injection of a radiopaque/radiocontrasting agent into the space to be viewed in order to improve visibility on X-ray. Ultrasound can also be used to rule out urinary tract rupture or obstruction of the urinary tract.
Because hyperkalemia can affect the blood’s ability to flow normally, further affecting the heart’s ability to function at full capacity, an electrocardiogram (ECG, or EKG) recording will be used to examine the electrical currents in the heart muscles, and may reveal any abnormalities in cardiac electrical conduction (which underlies the heart’s ability to contract/beat).
Treatment varies according to the underlying cause. Supportive measures will first focus on the symptoms, lowering potassium levels to normal blood levels, while pursuing a definitive diagnosis. Saline, given at 0.9 percent, is the fluid of choice for lowering potassium concentrations and blunting the effects of hyperkalemia on cardiac conduction.
If the dog is dehydrated or hypotensive (abnormally low blood pressure), fluids can be administered rapidly. Medications will be prescribed as appropriate by your veterinarian.
Living and Management
Your veterinarian will schedule follow-up exams to recheck potassium levels, which should be relative to the frequency dictated by the underlying disease. Your doctor will repeat ECG checks frequently until any rhythm disturbances are resolved.
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