As we saw last week with kidneys in dogs, your cat’s kidneys perform the same functions as those in dogs and those in humans. They filter and remove waste from the blood; they manage blood pressure; they help produce certain hormones; they regulate blood sugar, blood volume, water composition in the blood, and pH levels; and they stimulate bone marrow to make more red blood cells.
Failure of the kidneys can happen at any age, but is more commonly seen in older cats. When kidney disease is chronic, there is no cure and instead treatment is aimed at reducing the contributing factors and symptoms, and slowing the progression of the disease.
There are two types of kidney failure (also called renal failure) in cats. Acute kidney failure can occur in cats at any age and develops suddenly, over a matter of weeks or even days. It is usually caused by drinking poisons such as engine coolant, cleaning fluids, pesticides, toxic plants and certain human medications.
It is important to keep poisonous substances and plants out of the reach of your cat and you must never administer medication to your cat without first consulting your veterinarian. Injury or trauma such as a burst bladder or broken pelvis can cause acute kidney failure.
Other causes include urinary blockages that obstruct the urinary tract or ureters; infections in the kidneys; diabetes mellitus; shock from losing blood quickly; dehydration; overheating in hot weather; and heart failure with low blood pressure which reduces blood flow to the kidneys. Acute renal failure can often be reversed if it is diagnosed early enough.
The second type is chronic renal failure and this is harder to treat. Chronic kidney disease takes place over months or even years and it often happens so slowly that by the time the symptoms have become obvious, it may be too late to treat the condition.
The kidneys often find ways to compensate as they lose functionality over the months or years. The exact causes of chronic kidney disease are more challenging to identify but they include kidney infections and blockages; as well as other medical conditions such as cancer, thyroid problems and high blood pressure.
Bacteria associated with advanced dental disease in cats can enter the blood stream and invade multiple organs, causing irreversible damage to the heart, liver and kidneys. Genetic (hereditary) factors may play a part in the development of kidney disease and Abyssinian and Persian cats are two breeds thought to be prone to chronic renal failure. Cats with chronic kidney disease should never be bred.
Copyright © Kristel-Marie Ramnath 2017
Symptoms may occur gradually over a period of time and include: frequent urination; urinating outside of the litter box; bloody or cloudy urine; drinking a lot of water; vomiting; diarrhoea; constipation; bad breath with an ammonia-like odour; mouth ulcers especially on the gums and tongue; a brownish-coloured tongue; a dry coat; decreased appetite and subsequent weight loss; lethargy; depression; weakness; acute blindness; seizures and coma.
Diagnosis of kidney disease is done by your registered veterinarian and includes tests such as a chemical blood profile, a complete blood count and a urinalysis. X-ray or ultrasound imaging may be used to observe the size and shape of the cat’s kidneys to identify any abnormalities.
Once kidney disease has been diagnosed, there is no cure but instead the disease must be managed. Treatments range from surgery to remove blockages—to fluid therapy to assist with rehydration—to special diets and medications. Your veterinarian will advise you on the best options, and your cat’s prognosis depends on the severity of the disease and its stages of progression.
With a carefully managed diet, plenty of fresh, clean water, a calm and stress-free environment and regular veterinary check-ups you can help your cat to live many more happy years even with kidney disease.