Kidney Failure in Cats
While you never want to think of your pet being unwell, there are certain conditions that affect some pets more than others.
Kidney failure tends to be an issue that affects cats. The disease takes two forms. The first is acute kidney disease (AKI), which is the result of trauma or injury to the kidneys.
The second is chronic kidney disease (CKD), which is the degeneration of the kidney function which gets progressively worse over time. This tends to occur in cats during their senior years, affecting up to 30 per cent of felines, a figure that increases along with the age of the cat.
Sadly, this is not a disease that can be cured, but with the right care it can be maintained or slowed down. Call a veterinarian if you are concerned about kidney disease in your cat.
What is the role of the kidneys?
As with people, the role of the kidneys is to remove waste from the blood, produce hormones, maintain blood pressure, produce urine and balance body water, salts and acids. In cases of kidney disease, the body is unable to perform some or all of these functions adequately.
What is CKD
If you’re a cat owner, or looking at buying a kitten or adopting a cat, you might have heard of the term CKD. This occurs in cats when there is irreversible damage to their kidneys. Sadly, it can affect their quality of life and physical function, such as being able to remove waste from the body effectively.
It is often hard to determine the reason of CKD, but some well-recognized causes can include: kidney tumors, bacterial infections, toxins and glomerulonephritis – an inflammation that affects the kidney filtering system.
Another notable factor is polycystic kidney disease (PKD). This inherited disease causes multiple cysts to form in the kidneys occurring usually around seven years of age. Although tiny, these cysts can be present from birth and have a tendency to grow over time. The disease is most commonly seen in purebreds such as Persian and Exotic shorthair cats.
For this reason, responsible breeders should supply a PKD certificate to show that their cat has been screened for the disease.
Symptoms and Signs of Kidney Failure in Cats
If you suspect that your cat may have kidney problems, there are a few signs to look out for as follows:
- Frequency of urination – this may be a sign that your cat’s kidneys are no longer working well by not holding water adequately. If your cat is also passing water outside of their usual litter box, this could be another sign.
- Increased thirst – while this may seem like a positive action, it may indicate that your cat is trying to replenish lost fluids through frequency of urination.
- Decrease appetite – weight loss and a decrease in appetite can be indicators that your cat is not well.
- Bacterial infections – look out for any infections that develop, which may lead to urine issues.
- Vomiting, diarrhea or constipation – ongoing illness in cats should be examined as this may be linked to kidney issues. A change in bowel habits is also an indicator.
- Bloody or cloudy urine – urine is a key indicator for health, if your cat pee looks or smells different to usual, this could be a sign of health issues.
- Ulcers – your cat may be in some discomfort when eating or drinking, if this is the case inspect their mouth to see if they have ulcers on the mouth, gums and tongue.
- Discoloration of the tongue – specifically look out for a brownish hue.
- Bad breath – if your cat’s breath has changed and carries a strong odor.
- Coat – if your cat’s coat feels drier than usual this may be in relation to their water retention or lack thereof.
- Weakness – if your cat appears lethargic or weak.
If your cat is suffering from any of the mentioned symptoms, or you suspect that they may have kidney failure, it is advisable to visit your veterinarian, who will carry out tests.
Blood and urine samples will be taken for testing and analysis, and possibly X-ray scans, ultrasounds and biopsies.
If CKD is found, there will be increased urea and creatinine concentrations present in the urine, along with urine being an overall higher concentration. A new test has also recently become available called SDMA (symmetric dimethylarginine) which may help in early cases of detection in cats. As with all conditions, early diagnosis can help in the management of the progression of the disease.
Routine screening should take place bi-annually during veterinary check-ups, to ensure your cat is monitored as they age.
Managing Kidney Failure in Cats
If your cat has a bacterial infection which relates to kidney disease, this can be treated. However, in most cases, it is more about managing the symptoms. This can be achieved through intravenous fluid therapy and ongoing support. If your cat has CKD they will be prone to dehydration, so maintaining their fluid intake is very important, especially in slowing down its progression.
Finally, diet plays an important role in your cat’s welfare. Call a veterinarian about specific requirements for your cat and their breed. They may advise switching to a wet food diet, since it contains more water, or for cats suffering with renal failure, a restricted protein diet. Overall, cutting back on phosphate content is highly beneficial in protecting the kidneys from further damage.