Of all the major diseases afflicting cats, chronic kidney disease is one of the stealthiest. It usually creeps up on cats as they get older, but it can also show up more dramatically and have devastating effects. When your cat’s kidneys aren’t able to do their job as usual, it can lead to renal failure and death.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is most common among senior cats 10 years and older. It most often develops over time, with cats showing signs of gradual decline. Accidental poisoning can also cause acute kidney failure in cats of all ages, requiring immediate emergency care.
The kidneys help maintain fluid balance, produce key hormones, regulate electrolytes and blood pressure. And, of course, they excrete bodily wastes in urine. In CKD, all of these important functions are disrupted, leaving wastes to build up in the body.
CKD is not a curable or reversible disease, however, with early detection, support and treatment can improve your cat’s quality and length of life by slowing progression of the disease. In fact, cats can live for many years with consistent management.
Your cat may show several signs that may be easy to miss. Clinical signs of chronic kidney disease include:
More obvious and alarming signs include:
Cats who are not feeling well tend to hide their illness, by sleeping or hiding more often. Knowing what signs to look for may increase the chance of you discovering their disguise.
Lift your cat to assess her weight, feel her muscles, check the plushness of fur, monitor eating and drinking as best you can and notice how much of what is in the litter box. Any noticeable change should be immediately reported to your veterinarian.
Acute symptoms include a dramatic decline in energy: take him to the vet immediately.
Just like people, cats benefit from an annual physical examination. These are instrumental in identifying developing problems that may be addressed before they become a real problem, for you and your cat.
A blood sample and urine sample are collected to test how much creatinine and urea – two chemicals that are usually excreted by the kidneys – are present. Electrolytes and red cell numbers are also checked to pick up clues of CKD. They will also check the concentration of your cat’s urine using a test called urine specific gravity. Blood pressure should also be measured. With early diagnosis, more expense and stress may be avoided.
Dietary management and correction and prevention of dehydration are crucial factors in treatment. Other treatments, such as supplementing with potassium or phosphate binders, and treatment for hypertension or anemia may also be recommended. Your veterinarian will thoroughly discuss your cat’s treatment plan and your role in it. We recommend that you prepare any questions you may have and actively participate in the conversation.
Cats with CKD need extra support, but they’ll return your effort with the love only a cat can give – hopefully for years to come!
Chronic Kidney Disease | International Cat Care (icatcare.org)
This article was reviewed by feline specialist Dr. Margie Scherk, DVM, DABVP and
sponsored by IDEXX.