Feline Chronic Kidney Disease

Feline Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD for short) is an increasingly common problem affecting the aging cat population.  It’s estimated that almost half of cats over the age of fifteen have the condition.  In this article, I’ll explain the disease process and symptoms to help you identify early warning signs and hopefully allow your feline friends to continue to live long happy lives.

The kidneys are extremely important organs and perform several important functions required for the everyday activities of the body.  Made up of an array of tubes, called nephrons. The primary job of the nephrons is to filter the blood, eliminating waste products as urine.  The kidneys do several other tasks including regulating blood pressure, concentrating urine, and releasing hormonal signals to bone marrow to make more red blood cells.

While there can be a specific cause of CKD such as an infection, certain genetic disorders, or kidney stones, in most cases the cause is unknown.  Regardless of the cause of the kidney damage, once 75% or so of the kidney function is lost, detectable symptoms can arise.

CKD results in the kidneys no longer performing their normal jobs, which leads to outward symptoms.  For example, a buildup of waste products due to decreased blood filtering ability can cause nausea, decreased appetite, and even vomiting.  Elevated blood pressure can damage internal organs and the eyes, which can manifest as dilated pupils or even decreased visual ability.  A loss of hormone production can cause anemia leading to weakness and lethargy.  The kidneys stop concentrating urine normally, which leads to increased urination and dehydration.

CKD can be diagnosed by your veterinarian using bloodwork as well as testing the urine for protein.  This testing can be used to “stage” the disease, which is helpful to determine the severity and potentially the prognosis.

There is no cure for CKD.  The goals of treatment are to control the symptoms and delay the progression of the disease.  Fluids can help with dehydration, antacids can improve gastrointestinal discomfort, and some veterinarians prescribe a special diet for patients with kidney disease.

The progression of CKD is variable and hard to predict.  Some pets may continue with a good quality of life for years whereas others progress more quickly.

Early detection of CKD is important for multiple reasons.  First, changes in blood values can be tracked over time, allowing a better prediction for the course of the illness.  Also, the earlier the condition is detected, the earlier treatment can start, giving the patient the best possible chance of slowing the disease process.  Ask for veterinarian if he or she recommends bloodwork as a way to screen for kidney disease and other problems affecting older cats.

-Dr. Ian Birkbeck

Dr. Birkbeck writes monthly columns for the local publication, “The Viera Voice”.  If you have any pet medical questions you’d like to see answered in a future column, you can email them to Dr.Ian@IslandAnimal.com.

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