Many an owner has asked, “My cat has kidney failure. How did I miss it? Can she still have a long life?”
The answer is both simple and complicated. Yes, Kitty can enjoy many more years of clawing the couch and sitting on your head in the morning with the right treatment and management.
As far as not seeing the signs, those bundles of fur and mischief don’t make it easy.
In some ways, cats are very much like people.
They make due even when they are feeling bad and don’t ask for help unless circumstances force the issue.
For these reasons, signs of kidney failure, if they occur, can be easily missed.
Why Do Cats Hide Sickness?
Cats at their heart are still very close to their wild nature. They’ve had a lot of practice hiding their toys, becoming masters at masking their ailments in the process.
The survival instinct to slink away is so strong because cats, while social, are solitary creatures who are vulnerable to attack by larger predators.
Their penchant for doing their own thing and keeping to themselves even when they are perfectly fine can be frustrating especially as they get older. What’s an owner to do?
Note any unusual behavior:
- sudden weight changes
- long visits to the litter box to urinate
- increase in begging for water
- loss of appetite
- lethargy and staring-into-space
- uncharacteristic hiding
What’s the Scoop on Kidney Failure?
There are two types: acute and chronic.
Acute renal failure (ARF) occurs because of some illness or ingestion of a toxic substance.
An otherwise healthy cat will suddenly become dehydrated due to toxins in the blood and other imbalances of organ systems.
If it is caught early enough, ARF can be treated. How successful the treatment depends on the severity of the illness (bacterial infection, a blood disorder, low blood pressure) or potency of whatever it was the cat got into (lilies, antifreeze, venom, lead, rat poison, etc.) Generally, symptoms are obvious and severe:
- sudden appetite loss
- acute lethargy
- foul breath (worse than usual)
- bloody diarrhea
- lack of urination
Diagnosis requires blood samples, urinalysis, and other tests such as an ultrasound.
Treatments are prescribed to neutralize the toxins or to restore function to the body’s balance, so the kidneys and organs can function properly.
An IV drip addresses dehydration and medications can help flush the blood to prevent further damage and protect the kidneys.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) happens gradually over time and is the main health issue of older and elderly cats, though animals as young as three or four can sometimes show symptoms because of genetic predisposition.
Some breeds are more prone to CKD than others such as the Abyssinian, Persian, Main Coon, and others.
Blood tests, ultrasounds, and x-rays can confirm early-onset CKD, and late stages follow similar patterns to acute kidney failure with the most notable being a change in eating, drinking, and litter box habits.
For CKD conditions related to long-term illness or induced by age, the treatments are designed to prolong and slow progression.
This is not a condition that can be cured, but it can be managed with diet and, in later stages, with medications and supplements.
The good news is that progression occurs slowly over 8-10 years and attention to nutrition and hydration are the keys to quality and quantity of life.
What are the Keys to Kitty’s Kidneys?
Keep in mind that the goal of treatment is to slow down renal deterioration by helping the kidney’s do their job. Your pet has the right idea in seeking more sources of water.
As their body ages, the organs become less efficient at digesting food and filtering the blood. Good hydration helps to flush the body of waste.
Switching to high-quality food with low sodium to start can reduce the burden on the kidneys while allowing the water to keep things moving along.
Canned food or moistened dry food made with high-quality ingredients (for example, chicken rather than by-products) along with regular monitoring can improve the outcomes considerably, even for cats with congenital conditions.
Your vet may also prescribe supplements to counteract the symptoms associated with CKD.
Adding vitamin D to the regimen can, in some cases, increase life expectancy by three years by preventing the problems associated with deficiency.
What’s the Proper Preparation for Pussycats?
Holistic approaches to management encourage lab work to catch changes in health early starting around age 7-8.
In addition, why some standard treatments suggest low protein diets, there are schools of thought that show that felines do better with high protein overall.
Cat’s can be stubborn, and some tasty bribery may be needed to ensure they get enough nutrition when switching foods.
Dr. Angie Krause, DVM, says,”Cats are notorious for poor water drinking! The more moisture…in your cat’s diet the better…I generally give my clients the option to feed either [protein diet].”
Further suggested supplements include:
- fish oil to reduce inflammation
- probiotics to improve digestion
- calcitriol for vitamin D
- sardines to flavor water for stubborn cats
- dental examinations to catch gum infections
Because vomiting can lead to severe dehydration, a cat who has trouble keeping down food or is suffering from excessively loose stools may need anti-vomiting drugs to control nausea and other medication (or dietary change) to firm the bowels.
Dehydration in late stages of the illness is treatable home or at the vet office via subcutaneous fluids.
How to Find Balance
Remember, ten percent of cats age ten will develop CKD, and thirty percent will develop it over the age of fifteen.
An owner cannot prevent the onset but can help kitty to live life to its fullest if the disease manifests.
With access to clean water, quality food with plenty of moisture, appropriate supplements, and regular check-ups, the longevity of cats with kidney disease can be extended by several years.
Kitty will be able to spend many more lazy afternoons basking in sunbeams and sitting on your keyboard.