As a leading cause of death in cats, kidney failure is one of the most dreaded diseases pet parents may face. While many cases are unpredictable and therefore difficult to prevent, knowing the risk factors and early signs are some of the best ways to catch kidney failure in its earliest stages.
Acute vs. Chronic Kidney Failure in Cats
Kidney failure falls into two main categories: acute and chronic. Acute kidney failure is an abrupt onset of kidney damage, usually the result of toxins, infection or shock. Felines may present with a sudden onset of vomiting, weakness and dehydration. The cat may produce excessive urine or no urine at all, depending on how the kidney was damaged. Bloodwork often shows very elevated kidney enzymes and poorly concentrated urine. Acute renal failure is more common in younger cats than the chronic form.
Chronic kidney failure is more insidious. Though the exact causes are uncertain, chronic kidney failure is the result of an accumulation of injuries to the nephrons, which are the functional units of the kidney. These injuries may be due to a history of acute kidney failure, genetic disease, infection or the result of a long term, poorly understood inflammatory process. While the kidney can compensate for a good amount of injury, kidney failure becomes evident once two-thirds of the nephrons have been damaged.
The Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Cats
In its early stages, felines with chronic kidney disease look and act normal and is only discovered as an incidental finding during routine or preanesthetic bloodwork. As the disease progresses, cat parents may notice the more classic clinical signs such as: increased drinking and urination, vomiting, weight loss and bad breath.
Bloodwork and urinalysis confirms the diagnosis. The kidneys also help regulate blood pressure, so it is common for cats with kidney failure to also suffer from hypertension.
Treatment for Kidney Failure in Cats
With aggressive therapy, acute renal failure can be corrected in about 40% of cases. Certain toxicoses, such as ethylene glycol antifreeze toxicity, carry a poorer prognosis with only a 10% survival rate. Hospitalization and intravenous fluid therapy with supportive care of additional symptoms are the hallmarks of therapy for this disease.
Chronic renal failure is an irreversible disease. The damage to the kidney cannot be fixed. Treatment goals for this form of kidney disease focus on slowing the progression of disease, in some cases for years. Diets with modified levels of protein and phosphorous are considered key elements of treatment, as is maintaining hydration with subcutaneous fluids as needed. In later stages of the disease, many felines benefit from blood pressure medication as well as medications to help with secondary gastrointestinal upset.
Prevention of Kidney Failure in Cats
Cat parents can best prevent acute kidney failure by being aware of the most common preventable causes, including:
1) Limit your cat’s exposure to toxic substances:
- Ethylene glycol antifreeze should not be used in the household, as less-toxic propylene glycol versions are available.
- Human and veterinary medications should be monitored and kept out of reach of pets at all times. Never administer human medications, to felines without calling the veterinarian first.
- Pull lilies out of any flower arrangement entering the house, as all portions of the plant are extremely toxic to cat kidneys.
Keep your cat indoors, as cats who roam are exposed to all manner of environments out of your control.
2) Understand possible genetic connections:
3) Schedule regular, twice-yearly appointments with your vet:
Genetics aside, the number one thing all cat parents should do to prevent kidney disease is ensure their felines, senior felines in particular, are evaluated twice yearly by a veterinarian. Cases of kidney failure caught early as part of wellness screening have the best chance for long-term health because intervention takes place very early in the disease process.
4) Learn the signs of kidney disease in cats:
Awareness of the clinical signs of kidney disease is also crucial to a pet’s long term health. Any changes in water intake or trips to the litter box warrants a call to the veterinarian, as does weight loss, vomiting, and bad breath. In addition to kidney failure, these are also signs seen in another common cat disease, diabetes. In both cases, early intervention leads to longer life.
Kidney failure is a scary and challenging disease for both cats and their loving pet parents. Although the challenges can be daunting, pet parents should take heart that vigilance pays off. Many pets facing kidney disease have gone on to live long years past their diagnosis with the help of their loving parents and a trusted veterinarian.