Low potassium causes poor muscle function. Get a thorough health evaluation to rule out other problems. The right supplement will make it right.

 

Question:

“Blinken” is my 9 year old cat and he’s been acting funny lately. He’s always been pretty healthy but for the last few weeks he seems weak. He doesn’t want to walk around the house much and when he does, his legs are kind of stiff. But the part that I really noticed is that his head is down. He won’t look up. What’s wrong with Blinken?

 

Dr. Nichol:

Blinken has a serious problem-I’m glad you wrote in. You did not mention what diet you feed Blinken nor whether he goes outside. This is important because his symptoms could result from Thiamine deficiency or poisoning from antifreeze or certain insecticides. But assuming that Blinken stays inside and that you feed him a decent diet, I would have to suspect  low blood potassium. We call this Feline Hypokalemic Polymyopathy or hypokalemia for short. While it can lead to death, the good news is that it is almost always manageable although not curable.

 

Here’s how it works: hypokalemia occurs when the kidneys allow too much of the electrolyte potassium to slip out into the urine. Because potassium is important in the normal functioning of muscles, cats with this problem get weak and may walk with a stilted gait. They lack the strength to keep their heads up. To help Blinken we first would need to check a blood sample to confirm our suspicions. If his potassium is very low, it would be corrected intravenously. If it’s only moderately below normal, an oral supplement called Tumil-K should work fine. Tumil-K is a powder that is mixed with the food. Most cats don’t seem to mind taking it. Because Hypokalemia is a long term problem, Blinken is likely to need Tumil-K for the rest of his life.

 

Can Hypokalemia be prevented? Some cases can be. Not every cat with this disease is losing potassium through the kidneys. Low blood levels can also result by feeding a deficient diet. But don’t bother to read the labels on the packages. Just know that deficient diets are cheap diets. When it comes to pet food, the good stuff cost a bit more. You don’t get what you don’t pay for. Besides, Blinken isn’t a cheap cat anyway.