Thursday, December 1, 2011


As I was putting together a supply order this morning, Alison and I both remarked at how many potassium supplements we seem to go through. We sell that stuff like candy most of the time - so many patients are on it, and I have a cat at home that gets it, too (Boochi).

So I thought it would be worth a quick discussion here - a sort of review of when and why and how.

Older cats often develop low serum potassium levels - in most cases this is linked to a decline in kidney function, but not always. And it can precede detection of kidney problems in lab testing by a few years, so I often look at it as an early warning sign. And as if that's not bad enough, low potassium in and of itself can cause kidney function problems. So the two are very closely linked. Low potassium levels can be extremely dangerous because it is vital in electrical conductivity of heart muscle and if it gets too low the heart can literally STOP.

When your cat has low potassium, most of the time it needs to be on long-term (generally permanent) supplements to avoid serious medical consequences such as muscle wasting and pain, anemia, and kidney failure. We have three main ways of providing that extra dose of this vital mineral: gel, granules, and tablets.

The potassium gel is administered orally by dosing syringe - we will show you how to do this and how much to give when we prescribe it. If you are unsure how to do it after instruction, you can bring your cat in for a demo.

Potassium granules for mixing into canned food are available and this is often the best solution. The taste is disguised by both the flavor added to the granules in the factory and the flavor of the canned food. A measuring scoop comes with the product.

Potassium tablets are another alternative. You need to be able to administer pills to your cat successfully and consistently. We recommend a water chaser after pilling and can provide a syringe for this if you want to do it.

Follow-up lab testing is essential to determine the right dose of potassium for your cat. You will need to continue giving the supplement as directed and come back for testing in a timely manner or treatment may fail to help your cat. We virtually never tell a client to merely give the first bottle of supplements and simply stop and go on your merry way!

Take-home message for cats with hypokalemia: consistent administration of supplements and timely follow-up lab testing, probably for the life of the cat to avoid dangerous complications.