balancing act: electrolyte imbalances – part 1

Posted by Dr. Rebecca Jackson on Aug 29 2013

While discussing bloodwork results with a client the other day, he asked me a very simple, and yet complex question: “What exactly are electrolytes and why do they matter?”

The simplicity of the question made me stop and think for a moment, and yet the complexity of the answer that came to mind made me want to re-think how I responded to my client. Electrolytes and electrolyte imbalances are an integral part of our diagnostic testing, and yet they are rarely used in themselves to diagnose specific conditions. Namely, their values (whether high, low or normal) are used in conjunction with other diagnostic information to determine what is afflicting your pet. So, let’s take a look at what these electrolytes are and how we can use them to assess our canine and feline companions.

The main electrolytes that we look at when running a blood panel are sodium (Na), potassium (K), Calcium (Ca), Phosphorous (PO4), and chloride (Cl). These values are used in conjunction with other information within the blood panel to assess a patient’s condition. Rarely are these values used in themselves to diagnose a specific condition, however, they play an important role in helping us understand the overall picture of what is going on within a patient’s body.

Each electrolyte in itself can be elevated and/or decreased depending on what is afflicting your pet. Some of the main causes of electrolyte imbalances in our furry friends include vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, kidney disease, diabetes, intestinal disease, pancreatitis, feline lower urinary tract disease, inappetance or an imbalanced diet, and inaccurate supplementation. Of course, these are just a few of the main conditions that can result in electrolyte imbalances within your pet’s internal environment.

Why are they important? Electrolytes are essential for maintaining your pet’s normal internal environment. Electrolytes help to insure that the body maintains appropriate hydration, that muscles (including the heart) function properly, that the nervous system runs smoothly, that the digestive system does its job, that your pets blood can clot appropriately…the list goes on and on!

Tomorrow we’ll tackle how to tell if your pet’s electrolytes may be out of whack, and what to do about imbalances.

To more waggin’ and purrin’. rwkj

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