What Causes Feline Kidney Disease?
There are many potential causes for feline kidney disease. Cats can be born with kidney disorders or the kidneys can become damaged due to trauma, infections, kidney stones, tumors and toxins (such as antifreeze). All of these conditions are life threatening, but not very common. Age related chronic renal failure (CRF) is fairly common. There is no apparent underlying cause for this progressive disease. This condition is the most common cause of death in aged cats.
The Importance of Kidneys
The kidneys have several important functions. They help clear toxic waste products of protein metabolism from the body, keep electrolytes at normal levels, and control fluid balance to prevent dehydration. They also produce a hormone necessary for the production of red blood cells and are involved in the regulation of calcium and vitamin D. When deterioration of the kidneys occurs, they are not able to function normally
In early stages of renal failure the body is able to compensate and symptoms may not be evident. As the disease progresses and imbalances become more severe, symptoms such as increased thirst and urination, dehydration, loss of appetite, lethargy, weakness, and vomiting may occur. Most signs of kidney disease do not occur until 75% of kidney function is lost. Your veterinarian will be able to assess the state of your catís kidney function through blood and urinalysis. In some cases veterinarians may also use x-rays, ultrasound and even kidney biopsies to gain more information about kidney function.
Chronic renal failure is considered to be an incurable disease. Recently kidney transplantation has become a reality in feline medicine. There are only a handful of veterinary centers in the country able to do kidney transplants. The procedures are very expensive and not all cats with kidney disease are candidates for transplantation. Most cats with CRF will not get transplants and we must regard the disease as a progressive one that cannot be cured, but can managed for months to years with proper veterinary care. One type of therapy your veterinarian may recommend is a change in diet. Several diets are formulated specifically for cats with kidney disease. They differ from other cat foods in that they are lower in protein. There are also adjustments in potassium, phosphorus, and sodium. Your veterinarian can advise you on whether this will help your cat. An important part of the treatment for cats with more advanced disease is fluid therapy. Fluids given through an intravenous catheter or subcutaneoulsy (under the skin) help flush out waste products through the kidneys as well as restore hydration and correct certain electrolyte imbalances. This type of treatment does not always require hospitalization. Many cat owners learn to give their cat subcutaneous fluids at home. Depending on what other complications your cat has, your veterinarian may prescribe other medications. These include blood pressure medication, potassium supplements, vitamins, iron, phosphate binders, hormones to correct anemia, and drugs to treat gastrointestinal upsets. Once chronic renal failure is diagnosed your veterinarian will want to follow your cat's condition with regular check-ups and testing. Your veterinarian will tailor a treatment plan specifically for you and your cat. It is hard to predict how quickly kidney disease will progress, but with early diagnosis and proper care some cats can enjoy a good quality of life for several years.