Effect of dehydration and acidemia on the potassium content of muscle tissue and erythrocytes in calves with neonatal diarrhea

L Golbeck, I Cohrs, S Leonhard-Marek, W Grünberg

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Disturbances of extracellular potassium (K) homeostasis in calves with severe neonatal diarrhea have been studied extensively. Although total body depletion of this predominantly intracellular electrolyte is generally thought to occur in diarrheic calves, the mechanisms through which K depletion occurs are poorly understood. The aim of this study was to investigate how intracellular K homeostasis is affected by dehydration and acidemia, the 2 most important metabolic disturbances in calves with naturally occurring diarrhea. Twenty-seven calves with naturally occurring neonatal diarrhea, pronounced dehydration, and acidemia, and 2 groups of 10 healthy control calves were included in this study. Blood samples and muscle biopsies were obtained immediately before initiation of treatment (T0) and after complete rehydration and correction of acidemia (T1) from diarrheic calves. Blood samples were used to perform blood gas, blood biochemical, and hematological analyses and to determine K content in erythrocytes. Muscle biopsies were used to determine muscle tissue K content and tissue dry matter. Controls were used to determine values for erythrocyte and muscle tissue K content in healthy neonatal calves for comparison with diarrheic calves. As defined by the inclusion criteria, diarrheic calves showed pronounced acidemia and dehydration at T0. Mean muscle tissue K content and tissue dry matter remained unchanged between sampling times and did not differ from values measured in healthy control calves. Erythrocyte K content increased from 73.63 ± 13.73 to 77.64 ± 15.97 mmol/L (±standard deviation) but was associated with a concomitant decline in erythrocyte volume. Values measured at both sampling times in diarrheic calves did not differ from erythrocyte K measured in healthy control calves. The plasma K concentration (median [interquartile range]) decreased from 5.44 [4.76-6.17] to 4.16 [3.99-4.31] mmol/L between T0 and T1. Although changes in plasma [K] were associated with the degree of dehydration, neither dehydration nor acidemia was associated with changes of K content in muscle tissue or erythrocytes. In conclusion, severe dehydration and acidemia in diarrheic calves were not associated with notable changes in K content of muscle tissue or erythrocytes. These results do not support the concept of pronounced K depletion occurring in calves with neonatal diarrhea. Erythrocytes are a poor surrogate tissue in which to measure changes of intracellular K content in diarrheic calves because of concomitant changes in erythrocyte volume that complicate the interpretation of results.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9339-9349
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • calf
  • intracellular
  • potassium
  • depletion


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