Kidney failure in cats

About CKD

Statistics show that more than 6% of cats examined by vets in the past few years – especially those aged 10 or older – were found to be suffering from chronic kidney disease (CKD), a leading cause of death in domestic cats. Studies show particular breeds seem predisposed to developing chronic kidney disease, including Persian, Siamese, Russian blue, Abyssinian and Burmese.

Aside from these genetic factors, there are several known triggers for kidney failure in cats, but often no precise cause is identified. Causes range from birth defects and congenital polycystic kidney disease, to chronic bacterial infection, high blood pressure, immune system disorders or exposure to toxins. In some cases, an acute kidney infection may damage the organs and lead to a chronic kidney problem, while the use of NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatories) or antibiotics can also be a contributory factor.

Added to this are infectious diseases like FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) or feline leukaemia. Even exposure to heavy metals such as lead may play its part. Kidneys help to regulate the many different blood factors: they control blood pressure by regulating sodium and keep blood sugars at healthy levels. By recovering water, they maintain its density and regulate the pH, thereby playing a vital role in the health and wellbeing of any cat.

The kidneys start to fail because there aren’t enough nephrons – microscopic tubes which filter and reabsorb fluids in the kidneys. Young healthy cats have more nephrons than they need, but these wear out in time and the remaining ones must work harder. As the nephrons become overwhelmed one-by-one the kidneys suffer damage. By the time two-thirds of the healthy nephrons are gone the kidneys can no longer conserve water and so more dilute urine is passed.

Treatments and Symptoms

When diagnosed, feline kidney disease is staged by severity, with stage 1 being the mildest form and stage 4 the most severe. Sadly, because the changes brought on by CKD usually take place over a very long period, by the time the symptoms become obvious, it may be too late for any effective treatment.

While chronic renal failure cannot be reversed or cured, it is possible to manage the factors which contribute to the damage and slow its progression further. One recommendation is a diet rich in quality protein and low in sodium and phosphorus which is present in larger quantities in commercially-available dried foods. Traditional therapies leaned on a low protein diet despite evidence that ageing cats need more protein, not less. But the operative word here is “quality”. The latest research shows that cats with renal failure thrive best on high-quality human-grade “wet” canned food or a fresh, balanced homemade diet. Unlimited access to fresh water should always be provided.

There is some evidence that it is the rise in the use of dry kibble foods for domestic cats over a lifetime increases kidney stress. Coupled with environmental toxins, often poor access to a quality water supply and a limited gene pool inevitably dooms today’s housecats to suffer chronic kidney disease.

For cats suffering severe effects, steps must be taken to deal with the effects of dehydration, anorexia, and vomiting, and to flush the accumulating waste products out of their system. In the most severe cases, your vet may administer intravenous fluid therapy. For less-affected cats an injection of fluids under the skin in the scruff of the neck between the shoulder blades is usually enough but may need to be repeated, even once the patient gets home.

Warning signals that your pet may be in pain and what to do?

Look out for these symptoms of kidney failure in cats
Look out for these symptoms of kidney failure in cats Renal disease can strike any animal, but symptoms of kidney failure in cats may vary, and may not be seen in all cases. They may be subtle and progress slowly, or seem to appear almost overnight. They can include anorexia, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, weight loss, increased thirst, increased and more frequent urination (some of which may contain blood), lethargy, depression, overall weakness, seizures and even comas. Less commonly, cats with chronic kidney disease may suffer fractures from weakened bones, high blood pressure that can lead to sudden blindness, itchiness, stomach bleeds, bruising, and even mouth ulcers.
Kidney Failure in Cats Life Expectancy (How Long Will My Pet Live?)
Because of the many different causes of feline renal failure and that it may be very late before the condition is diagnosed, the only honest answer is that "it depends". Kidney failure in cats’ life expectancy very much depends on the stage to which the condition has progressed, and while the incidence of the disease has risen in recent years, alongside the growth in the use of dried foods, the vast majority of cats will carry on living perfectly happy lives. Cats at the beginning of kidney failure – what vets might describe as "a decline in kidney function" – can have a reasonable life expectancy (into their late teens perhaps) if given the right diet of high-quality protein and home-administered subcutaneous injections of saline, as described above, as well as regular visits to the vet to monitor their condition. At the other end of the scale, cats in final stage kidney failure can be kept alive using vet-administered fluids, and many cats mange to live reasonably long and happy lives even with high blood work values and very little kidney function remaining. Other however may feel quite poorly and can go downhill very quickly.
Warning signals that your pet may be in pain and what to do?
At this point they will inevitably be suffering quite a lot of pain and will move with difficulty. One way this may show itself is that her grooming routine suffers and that her coat is rough and loses its gloss. A distinctive bad breath smell associated with chronic kidney disease may appear or worsen as your cat gradually deteriorates, usually a sign of increased toxins which are not being flushed out by the kidneys. Bad breath may also be caused by mouth ulcers which can make your cat’s life miserable. Very severe ulcers, often covering the entire mouth and even the throat, may develop, often quite suddenly. Cats often conceal pain so keep a lookout for subtle signs. Is she more likely to bite? Watch for changes in behaviour, breathing, heart rate, and even they way she holds herself. Always call your vet if you suspect all is not right and discuss your options for cat pain relief. Many owners decide at this point that the kindest thing to do is to have their beloved pet put to sleep. Age itself is not an issue with the onset of kidney failure in cats but it is the severity and how long the chronic phase lasts. It is rare but not unheard of for cats as young as eight to suffer end-stage kidney failure. However, given the intensity of treatment for cats with severe renal damage, many owners opt for a shorter life with very high quality, rather than a longer life of what your beloved pet would consider deprivation. Man cat owners say later that that they would prefer to have acted a day too soon rather than to have left it a moment too late.

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