For animals just as for people, the element potassium is one of the vital minerals. In animals, most of the potassium is present in the fluid within the body cells. Only about two percent is found in body fluids outside the cells. The importance of potassium in cell function is correspondingly great.
Indispensable for cell function
Unlike the crystallised mineral salts in the bones or teeth, electrolytes are present in the body in dissolved form as electrically charged ions. As ions, they are able to conduct electric current and therefore nerve impulses within body fluids. In stimulus conduction in muscle and nerve cells potassium plays a significant role together with the electrolyte sodium. Moreover, it is important for the regulation of osmotic pressure in the cells and thus for their preservation and ability to function. Potassium participates in the activation of a number of enzymes and influences the acid-base metabolism.
A deficiency can in particular damage the heart
Potassium deficiency can, for example, express itself in dysfunctions of the muscles and nerves. Possible symptoms range from, for example, muscular weakness or a drop in blood pressure to insufficient intestinal motility or cramps. In particular, impulse formation and conduction in the heart may be adversely affected and, as a consequence, cardiac arrhythmias are possible. In cats, for example, it can also be observed that a potassium deficiency may damage kidney function and cause anorexia.
Daily supply via feed
Potassium cannot be produced by the body itself. It therefore needs to be supplied on a daily basis as part of the animal’s feed. A deficiency may arise if too little potassium is consumed or due to metabolic alkalosis. Moreover, a lack of potassium is possible if too much is excreted via urine – also caused by diuretics –, the intestines, sweat or through vomiting. An excess is possible, e.g. in the case of reduced excretion due to disease or when too much potassium is taken in. The kidneys and their proper functionality play an important role in the regulation of the potassium balance. Where appropriate, vets recommend an adjusted potassium supplement for cats and dogs with kidney problems.
Targeted supplements for dogs, cats and horses
Commercial feed for dogs and cats is normally specifically supplemented with potassium during production. For livestock, requirements are usually covered by potassium-rich basic or concentrated feed. For sport horses, which have lost a lot of body fluid through perspiration, electrolyte preparations with potassium chloride can for example be used as short-term mineral supplements.