Kidney failure in cats
WHAT IS CHRONIC KIDNEY DISEASE (CKD)?
Kidney problems are relatively common in cats. The prevalence of CKD (renal or kidney failure) ranges from about 1% in young cats right up to 30-50% of cats at 15 years of age. So the older your cat the more chance there is that their kidneys will start to fail. Vets will now often screen older cats for early signs of kidney disease to try and identify those cats at risk of developing full blown renal failure and if your cat becomes unwell later in life it is one of the first conditions they might check for as a cause. Diagnosis is usually by blood tests, tests on urine and sometimes an ultrasound scan.
Some cats are at an increased risk of CKD because of their breed or a congenital condition (one present from birth). Persians, Abyssinians and Siamese cats may all be more prone to developing the condition. Other causes might be a long term infection they have acquired such as a urinary tract infection or infected teeth. Another disease which then affects the kidneys like pancreatitis, diabetes mellitus or hyperthyroidism, or possibly a toxin they have been exposed to, could all also be a factor. In many cases though no obvious cause or trigger will be identified and the CKD is ‘idiopathic’, which is a medical way of saying we don’t know what has caused it. For some cats it just seems to be a feature of getting older.
Kidneys perform a number of important functions in the body. They regulate water levels, making sure water is not wasted and that blood concentration remains constant. They ‘clean’ the blood by removing waste products and putting them in the urine. They also have an effect on red blood cell production, blood pressure and electrolyte levels. So when the kidneys begin to fail there is likely to be a range of different symptoms and not every cat will experience them in the same way.
TREATING CKD IN CATS
It is not possible to reverse the changes which happen inside kidneys affected by CKD. The aim of treatment is to try and support the remaining functioning kidney tissue and reduce any unpleasant symptoms which your cat is experiencing. Cats with CKD will often be dehydrated, sometimes significantly, they may also feel nauseous, have a poor appetite and be losing weight. Treatments may well include giving your cat extra fluids to counteract dehydration, giving anti-sickness medications, appetite stimulants, antibiotics or blood pressure medication. The mainstay of long term management is a special diet which aims to modify your cat’s protein intake. Your vet will advise you on which treatments and changes to your cat’s diet are appropriate for your cat.
CARING FOR A CAT WITH CKD
We can only guess at how a cat feels when they have CKD but since you are likely to know your cat well and have spent a good deal of time with them you are probably the best person to assess how they are doing. As time goes on they might well feel rather like they have a nasty hangover; tired, nauseous, grotty, and with a persistent thirst. Being dehydrated doesn’t feel good and when your body is losing lots of weight that can also be unpleasant. Many people worry about whether their pet is in pain and this can be a hard question to answer, especially in cats who generally play their cards close to their chest and don’t make an outward show of their feelings.