Potassium or Magnesium Problems in Cats

Postassium and magnesium problems are usually the result of another issue.
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Potassium and magnesium are vital minerals for cats just as they are for you. Serious consequences can occur if cats have too little -- or too much -- of them. If Kitty's in good health, a balanced diet is all that's necessary to meet her mineral needs. Consult your vet.

Hyperkalemia: Too Much Potassium

If Kitty has too much potassium, she's got hyperkalemia, which can impact her heart's ability to function normally. In a healthy cat, the kidneys process excess potassium; if Kitty has kidney disease, she's more at risk for this condition. Other potential causes include fluid therapy with potassium supplements, fluid in the abdomen, high platelet counts and leukemia. Weakness, irregular heartbeat and limp paralysis are signs of hyperkalemia. It's not unusual for the condition to come with a history of gastrointestinal complaints. Your vet will need a thorough history of Kitty's health to help determine the cause of her high potassium level. Kitty will need some testing, including blood and chemical profiles, urinalysis and a complete blood count. Occasionally diagnostic tests, such as radiographs or electrocardiograms, are necessary. Treating hyperkalemia depends on the cause, and your vet will probably first focus on lowering Kitty's potassium level before treating her other ailment.

Hypokalemia: Too Little Potassium

Some cats have too little potassium, which is a condition called hypokalemia. As with too much potassium, insufficient potassium can impact Kitty's heart function. Potassium helps regulate nerve impulses and muscle contractions, maintains electrolyte balance and serves digestive and muscular function. This condition is usually associated with renal failure, but other causes include liver disease, diabetes, vomiting, diarrhea and insufficient amounts in her diet. If Kitty's posture or gait is stiff, or if she appears to have muscle weakness or pain, she's displaying signs of hypokalemia. Other signs to look for include increased thirst and urination, weight loss and reluctance to move. Testing includes urinalysis, an electrocardiogram and a biochemical profile. The underlying cause of the potassium deficiency will require long-term treatment; in the immediate term, potassium supplements such as Tumil K will raise Kitty's potassium level. More severe cases may require intravenous potassium until the cat is stable.

Hypermagnesemia: Too Much Magnesium

Too much magnesium is uncommon in cats; it's seen typically in cats with kidney disease. Proper magnesium levels are essential for Kitty's heart, respiratory and nervous system function. Kidney failure, constipation, endocrine disorders such as hypothyroidism, and too much magnesium in her diet can lead to hypermagnesemia. Common symptoms of having too much magnesium include vomiting, lower heart rate, poor reflexes, weakness, paralysis and mental depression. In severe cases, cardiac arrest and coma can occur. Your vet will perform many of the same tests as for hyper- and hypokalemia: a biochemistry profile, urinalysis, a complete blood count and an electrocardiogram. Usually the vet will start fluid therapy to eliminate excess magnesium, and will add calcium to the diet to promote magnesium excretion. When the cause of the condition is determined, your vet will be able to develop a more comprehensive treatment plan.

Hypomagnesemia: Too Little Magnesium

If Kitty is suffering from a deficiency in magnesium, she has hypomagnesia. Too little magnesium can have notable consequences, such as weakness or depression, an irregular heart beat, lack of muscle coordination, trembling, and possible severe muscle pain. Some common causes of magnesium deficiency are malnutrition, diabetes, use of diuretics or drugs that are poisonous to the kidneys, and abnormalities in absorbing nutrients in the gastrointestinal tracts. During an exam, Kitty's vet will look for cardiac abnormalities, kidney diseases and issues related to any medications she may be on. Treatment will depend on the cause and severity of her deficiency. Of course, the underlying cause will be treated, but getting her magnesium level to normal will be the first order of business, particularly if her deficiency is severe. She may require magnesium infusions to help boost her levels; your vet will administer them and monitor the cat's heart rate.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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