Cat Kidney Disease
Veterinarian Reviewed on July 29, 2014 by Dr. Janice Huntingford
Cat Kidney Disease (Feline Kidney Disease)
Signs and Symptoms
Kidney disease is a condition that commonly affects older cats, but it can strike a feline at any age. This condition can develop suddenly (acute kidney disease) or it can have a much more gradual onset (chronic kidney disease). In the case of cats, chronic kidney disease is the far more common form of this condition. When a cat is suffering from chronic feline kidney disease, symptoms typically begin to show up gradually, worsening as the disease progresses. While there is no actual cure for this disease, it can be controlled with proper treatment, allowing your cat to live longer and more comfortably. However, the earlier this condition is caught, the easier it is to achieve such control, as tends to be the case with most feline diseases. So if you ever notice your pet displaying any unusual symptoms or behaviors, it’s always best to contact a veterinarian as soon as possible.
A cat’s kidneys act as a filtration system, removing toxins and waste products from the body. When these organs cease to function properly, these substances begin to build up in the cat’s body, poisoning the animal’s system and having a variety of negative effects. As a result, a cat suffering from kidney disease often develops several different symptoms and warning signs. Two of the most common symptoms include increased thirst (polydipsia) and increased urination (polyuria). In some cases, there may also be blood present in the urine. Other warning signs to look out for include decreased appetite and weight loss.
Cats with this condition may also become lethargic and may even appear depressed. A lack of grooming and a poor coat can also indicate that your cat is suffering from feline kidney disease. At times, an afflicted cat may also experience vomiting and diarrhea and develop bad breath. While these symptoms often start out rather vaguely, they will become progressively worse with time. However, it’s important not to wait until the warning signs are severe, so as soon as you observe any of the above symptoms, be sure to have your cat examined by a veterinarian.
When your pet is exhibiting unusual symptoms and behaviors, a veterinarian will conduct a physical examination and evaluate clinical signs. When feline kidney disease is suspected, a diagnosis will be made through the use of blood tests and urinalysis. There are many substances that a veterinary doctor can test for in a feline patient’s blood in order to check for the presence of kidney disease. However, there are two main components that are particularly helpful when it comes to diagnosing this condition — blood urea nitrogen and creatinine.
Both urea and creatinine are products of metabolism and are usually filtered out of the body by healthy kidneys. When kidneys are not functioning properly, these two substances will likely be present in higher concentrations than normal. In some cases, a urinalysis may be conducted in order to confirm a diagnosis of feline kidney disease. This involves obtaining a urine sample from the patient and testing its concentration level. For a cat with kidney disease, the urine sample will typically be much more dilute than would be the case with a healthy cat. In addition, a veterinarian can also check a urine sample for higher than normal concentrations of other substances, such as protein and sugar. The presence of blood in the urine can also be an indicator of feline kidney disease. Thus, blood tests and urinalysis are the most commonly employed methods when it comes to diagnosing a case of cat kidney disease.
Finding out that your beloved pet is sick is always distressing, and often confusing. Having a basic knowledge of the disease that is affecting your cat may help you to understand what is happening and why certain treatments are required. Therefore, in the case of kidney disease, it may be helpful to have a basic understanding of kidney function and the physiological occurrences that take place when these organs cease to work properly.
Typically, a cat has two kidneys, each one connected to the bladder by a ureter. The ureters drain urine from the kidneys to the bladder so it can be removed from the body. The kidneys are comprised of millions of tiny units known as nephrons. These nephrons, and the kidneys as a whole, are responsible for carrying out numerous physiological tasks, including the regulation of blood concentration as well as maintaining the acid-base balance of the blood. The primary physiological function that these organs are charged with, however, is the filtration of waste products and other unneeded substances.
Kidney cells can become damaged or can suffer from the natural wear and tear that comes with age. When this occurs, the remaining healthy kidney cells have to work harder in order to compensate for those that are no longer functioning properly. Since feline kidney disease tends to be of the chronic form, developing slowly, a cat’s kidneys will often be compensating in this way for a significant period of time before any outward symptoms or warning signs become apparent. In fact, kidney disease generally does not reveal itself until approximately two-thirds of normal kidney function has been lost. Symptoms begin to show at this point because the remaining healthy kidney cells are no longer able to compensate for all of the damaged or destroyed cells. Thus, the organs’ functions are no longer carried out properly; the kidneys fail to sufficiently regulate blood concentration and waste products are no longer removed from the body.
When balances in the blood are not maintained and waste and toxins are allowed to accumulate in the body, many other physiological pathways are disrupted and the cat’s system begins to become poisoned. This is a very miserable and uncomfortable situation for your pet to be in, and if not quickly identified and controlled, feline kidney disease can become deadly.
Feline kidney disease can be caused by a number of different factors and influences. The acute form of this condition may be triggered by trauma or significant blood loss, or by toxins such as antifreeze. The chronic form of kidney disease, which is far more common among cats, can also be caused by several different factors. Sometimes, this condition is simply the result of age, developing as natural wear and tear on the body begins to affect the cells of the kidneys. In other cases, feline kidney disease may develop as a result of an infection or an inherited defect. Often, however, a specific cause of kidney disease in an individual cat cannot be determined and will remain a mystery.
As mentioned previously, there is no cure for kidney disease. However, it is possible to control this condition with proper treatment. The prognosis will vary from case to case, depending upon the amount of damage already done and the amount of kidney function still remaining. While treatment plans will be specifically tailored for an individual feline patient, dietary adjustments are frequently included as part of the strategy to control this disease.
To begin with, encouraging increased ingestion of water is very important. By drinking plenty of water, a cat will be less likely to become dehydrated and its kidneys will have an easier time functioning. Furthermore, restricting sodium and protein intake may be necessary. Reducing these substances can help to alleviate some of the stress on the kidneys, but this should only be done under the supervision of a veterinarian, as reducing the intake by too much can weaken your pet and cause further problems.
In addition to the above dietary changes, natural substances and supplements can also be very helpful with regards to treating cat kidney disease. Multivitamins or other supplements may be recommended in order to boost your pet’s immune system, increasing its strength and health. Also, herbs and other natural substances can be used to relieve some of the troubling and uncomfortable symptoms of this condition while improving your cat’s overall well-being. For instance, wild hydrangea and stone root act as anti-inflammatories and prevent or reduce the formation of painful kidney stones. Other natural ingredients such as purple coneflower and Oregon grape have antibiotic and immunostimulating properties. Homeopathic remedies use a combination of such ingredients, providing a number of different benefits for a cat suffering from kidney disease. No matter what type of treatment or dietary adjustments you undertake, however, be sure to do so only after consulting with a qualified dictionary doctor.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan