Hyperkalemia is a condition characterized by much higher than normal amounts of potassium in a dog's blood. The heart is sensitive to potassium levels and too much in the bloodstream can stop the heart from beating.
Symptoms of Hyperkalemia
When too much potassium is present in the dog's blood, heart arrhythmia is an ongoing threat, along with other heart symptoms, as well as muscle weakness and eventual collapse of the animal. Flaccid paralysis is common, which means the dog goes completely limp and is unable to move, rather than the muscles stiffening. Gastrointestinal problems are common as well as difficulty urinating in which the dog has to strain to urinate, or is unable to do so.
Causes of Hyperkalemia
Often the main cause of overly high potassium levels in canines is the inability to urinate, due to damage to or illness of the bladder, kidneys or urethra. If the dog is just barely eliminating his urine, or is passing no urine, this could lead to excessively high potassium in his blood. Gastrointestinal diseases can contribute to this condition as well. Acidosis, leukemia and kidney stones all cause higher than normal potassium levels as well.
The veterinarian needs to see the dog's complete medical history, including any injuries suffered, not overlooking even the most mundane of symptoms, to make a diagnosis. The doctor will determine which organs are diseased, causing the increase in potassium levels and aim the treatment toward healing the affected parts. Urinalysis is performed, as well as complete blood tests. X-rays are taken, using radiopaque dye and an electrocardiogram is done to examine the heart function.
Treatment of Hyperkalemia
The cause of the condition determines treatment. The veterinarian focuses treatment on the organ that failed. Injecting a saline solution into the dog is the fastest way to lower the potassium levels while the treatment is ongoing. By lowering the levels, the doctor has more time to do thorough testing and deliver an accurate diagnosis. While temporary, the saline helps to remove the main problem so the body has a chance to recover somewhat.