September 4, 2019

The Scoop on Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats

Kidney disease is a common affliction in senior cats. It's a progressive disease which means it gets worse over time, but a lot of pet parents actually see significant improvement in their cats with professional treatment.

What is Kidney Disease?

Your cat's two kidneys are a vital part of her organ system. They primarily work to filter out waste and excess minerals (ex. potassium) from her bloodstream, but they're also integral to ensuring she stays well-hydrated. Kidney disease - also commonly known as Renal disease - is a very general term used to describe the condition in which your cat's kidneys aren't performing like they should. It's important to note that the kidneys are particularly hearty organs. In most cases, the kidneys' functionality must be decreased by over half before a cat even starts presenting symptoms. Since it takes time, weeks and often months, for kidney function to degrade that significantly, cats being diagnosed for the first time may be described as having Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) or Chronic Renal Failure (CRF). This is different from Acute Renal Failure, which is sudden-onset kidney disease that can happen in a matter of days or even hours. This kind of kidney failure is always an emergency and can be caused by a variety of factors: poisoning, trauma, blockage, infection, heart failure, or dehydration.

What Causes Chronic Kidney Failure in Cats?

Well, a lot of things. Most cats in CRF are also experiencing the effects of some other kind of disease; the body usually prioritizes things like respiratory function and cardiovascular health over kidney function. A few of the diseases in cats that often lead to kidney disease include:

  • Chronic kidney stones
  • Bacterial infections (Pyelonephritis) / Viral infections (FeLV or FIP)
  • Amyloidosis (protein build-up)
  • Neoplasia (kidney tumors)
  • Glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the kidney membranes)
  • Congenital kidney malformation


The Symptoms of Feline Renal Disease

Because chronic renal disease comes on so slowly, it can often be difficult to tell there's anything wrong with your cat until the disease is quite advanced. You're your cat's best advocate; if something seems off, especially if your cat is older than 7, contact your vet. A simple blood test could save your cat's life. A few of the most telling signs of kidney disease in cats include: Urinary abnormalities: Is your cat urinating more often than she used to? Or maybe she's stopped using her litter box out of nowhere? These could be signs her kidneys aren't functioning properly. Excessive thirst: Usually occurring hand-in-hand with unusual urination, excessive thirst is a symptom vets see when cats are trying to replace the water their kidneys keep flushing out. Weight loss: This is particularly troublesome when accompanied by lack of appetite, a dull coat, vomiting, or diarrhea. Chronic UTIs: As kidneys fail, the urine they produce becomes more diluted and is thus less able to fight off both bacterial and viral infections. Dental issues: Cats with severely bad breath should always be evaluated for kidney disease. Likewise if your cat begins developing ulcers of the mouth, gums, or tongue.

Treating Feline Kidney Disease

The exact treatment recommended for your cat's kidney disease will greatly depend on its level of severity. Until relatively recently, CKD in cats was actually pretty difficult to test for. Your veterinarian may order one or more blood tests to get an accurate picture of exactly what's going on inside your cat's kidneys. She may want to look at your cat's blood urea nitrogen (BUN), creatinine levels, and/or your cat's urine specific gravity (USpG). She may use a recently developed blood panel to assess your cat's SDMA, which can be an earlier indicator of disease. From there, your vet will use the International Renal Interest Society's staging system to get a good idea of how aggressively the disease should be treated. There are several proven treatment options for CRF. Putting your cat on a special diet is usually the best first step. The new food should be low in protein and phosphorous to reduce the waste your cat's body is producing. Talk to your veterinarian about the specific food she recommends. Kidney disease can also be effectively managed through medication, although figuring out exactly which medication is most effective can take some trial and error. Phosphate binders, antibiotics, blood pressure lowering medications, anti-emetics, and supplements intended to treat anemia, low vitamins, and low potassium should all be considered. Over time and with regular testing, it's entirely possible your cat's chronic kidney disease can be managed through a combination of treatment options. Catching kidney disease as early as possible is critical. The sooner you start treatment, the more time you add back to your cat's life.  

Suspect your cat might have kidney disease?

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