Chronic Kidney Disease is one of the most common cause of death in older cats. The average age of cats that suffer with it is 15 years old. According to the University of Purdue, 16 out of every 1,000 cats (1.6%) examined suffer from Chronic Kidney Disease.
What is Chronic Kidney Disease?
A cat’s kidneys filter waste and toxins from the bloodstream, help to control blood pressure by regulating sodium, and produce hormones (erythropoietin) that stimulate bone marrow to create new red blood cells. Damage done to the cat’s kidneys can affect the function of other organ systems in the body and quality of life.
Healthy kidneys are a very intricate system of filters. Unfiltered blood comes through the kidneys and passes through progressively smaller filters called nephrons that weed out metabolic waste, poisons, etc. The waste portion, as well as some water, are passed down into the urine to be removed from the body. The newly cleaned blood is recirculated back into the body.
There are thousands of microscopic nephrons in each kidney. Cats typically are born with lots of extra nephrons that are set aside to replace damaged nephrons as the cat ages. If the cat lives long enough, he/she will eventually use all of the available nephrons in his/her kidneys.
Chronic Kidney Disease occurs when over the course of months or years enough of the nephrons in the kidneys have been damaged to impair the function of the kidneys. Usually by the time Chronic Kidney Disease is diagnosed, 75% of the cat’s nephrons have been destroyed and replaced by scar tissue. Unfortunately, once nephrons are gone there is no way to get them back. Chronic Kidney Disease is irreversible.
Assigning a cause to Chronic Kidney Disease in cats is very difficult (if not impossible) in most cases. Several health conditions lead to to Chronic Kidney Disease; high blood pressure, dental disease, kidney infections, obstructions, and inflammation, immune system disorders, malformation of the kidneys at birth, FIV, and FeLV just to name a few. Age is a huge factor in risk for Chronic Kidney Disease as it is found primarily in middle aged and older cats. It also seems that certain cat breeds have genetic predispositions to Chronic Kidney Disease such as the Siamese, Persian, Russian Blue, Burmese, Abyssinian, and the Maine Coon.
The Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease
Watching your cat carefully for symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease can help to catch it at it’s early stages. If you believe your cat may be suffering from Chronic Kidney Disease, visit your veterinarian as soon as possible. There are other diseases with similar symptoms, so it’s important not to jump to any conclusions. Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease include:
- Excessive Thirst
- Excessive Urination
- Weight Loss
- Loss of appetite
- Mouth Ulcers
- Bloody/Cloudy Urine
- Dry Coat
- High Blood Pressure
Your veterinarian will likely want to do blood work and urinalysis to determine if your cat might have Chronic Kidney Disease. The blood work will show the levels of Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine in the blood (two substances that are normally filtered out by the kidneys). The urinalysis shows how concentrated the urine is and if microprotein is being passed. Your veterinarian may also want to do an x-ray, an ultrasound, or a kidney biopsy for additional information about the functioning of your cat’s kidneys.
The severity of Chronic Kidney Disease is gauged in 4 stages by the guidelines of The International Renal Interest Society.
- Stage 1: Creatinine levels are less than 1.6 milligrams per deciliter and the kidneys may be functioning up to 100%. There may be abnormalities present in the kidneys or other substantial risk factors for Chronic Kidney Disease.
- Stage 2: Creatinine levels are between 1.6 and 2.8 milligrams per deciliter and the kidneys may be functioning up to 33%.
- Stage 3: Creatinine levels are between 2.9 and 5 milligrams per deciliter and the kidneys may be functioning up to 25%. At this point waste products are accumulating in the blood and symptoms are likely to be visible.
- Stage 4: Creatinine levels are over 5 milligrams per deciliter and the kidneys are now functioning at 10% or less. There are likely many complications arising from the low level of kidney function.
Treatment & Hope
Even though Chronic Kidney disease is irreversible, it is possible to slow the progression of the disease. In a study done by Paul Bartlett in 2010, a significant number of cats in the test group were found to have been showing symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease for years before having been diagnosed. Being educated about the symptoms and risk factors of the disease and getting routine blood are very important because early detection of Chronic Kidney Disease can lead to a longer life for your kitty. Advancements in veterinary medicine and procedures now have the ability to extend the life of a cat with Chronic Kidney Disease 1 – 3 years or more.
Treatments will vary based on your cat’s particular symptoms. Common treatments are intravenous fluid therapy, increased overall intake of water, a stress free environment, and a change of diet. Traditionally veterinarians will recommend a diet that is low in phosphorous and protein, enriched with vitamin D, and with essential fatty acids. However, holistic veterinarians like Dr. Karen Becker, DMV recommend increasing the quality of the protein in your cat’s diet rather than lowering the amount of it. Other types of treatments include medications to dilate blood vessels to the kidneys, synthetic versions of human erythoroprotein to counteract anemia, vitamin and mineral supplements, dialysis, and kidney transplants.
You don’t have to go through the emotional roller coaster of having a cat with Chronic Kidney Disease alone. There are plenty of people out there with cats going through the same thing. A good friend of mine, Sierra from FUR Everywhere recently lost her kitty, Jewel, to Chronic Kidney Disease and she bravely shares her story here. Several support groups are available that have a ton of great information; Tanya’s Comprehensive Guide to Feline Chronic Kidney Disease , Feline CRF Information Center, Luckie Kitty’s Tail, The Feline CRF Support Group, and more.
Do you know a kitty with Chronic Kidney Disease?
This is the third of a series of 4 posts addressing a few of the most common causes of death in cats. The intent of the series is to educate cat owners and lovers about each cause of death and discuss the solutions that exist (or lack thereof). As each post goes live, I will make sure to have links for all of the at the bottom of each post.