Serum sodium:potassium (Na:K) ratios are often reported in biochemical studies of dogs, although their value has not been assessed. The aims of this study were to identify diseases associated with a low Na:K ratio in dogs and to compare their prevalence with the prevalence in dogs from the same referral hospital with normal Na:K ratios. A total of 238 dogs with a Na:K ratio less than 27 were identified from medical records. Sample contamination with edta was suspected in 74 cases (31 per cent) and these and two cases that had been supplemented with potassium were removed from the analysis. The remaining 162 cases and 147 control dogs were divided into five categories depending on the organ system affected. Among the cases there were significantly more in the endocrine category than among the control dogs. Hypoadrenocorticism was the most single common cause of a low Na:K ratio and affected 27 (16·7 per cent) of the cases. Other clinical problems associated with low Na:K ratios included different urogenital, cardiorespiratory and gastrointestinal diseases.