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Companion Animal Practice
Causes, consequences and control of potassium imbalances in small animals
  1. Barbara Skelly

    Barbara Skelly graduated in 1991 from Cambridge where she stayed on for one year as a locum in the small animal medicine service. She was awarded a PhD in 1997 for studies on the molecular genetics of fucosidosis in the English springer spaniel. Following a year's postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, she worked as a senior clinical training scholar in small animal medicine at the Royal Veterinary College. She returned to Cambridge in 2000 to take up a lectureship in small animal studies.


POTASSIUM is central to the maintenance of a potential difference across cell membranes and therefore plays an important role in the automaticity of the heart and in the generation of nerve and muscle action potentials. It is also responsible for regulating DNA, protein and glycogen synthesis via its action as an enzyme cofactor. The clinical signs induced by potassium imbalance are varied and may mimic other diseases; the practitioner must be aware of the spectrum of clinical signs and know when to suspect either hyperkalaemia or hypokalaemia as the underlying reason. This article discusses the role of potassium in the body and the consequences of a disruption to potassium homeostasis with reference to the major clinical syndromes leading to hyperkalaemia or hypokalaemia in small animals. It also outlines an approach to the diagnosis and management of these diseases.

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