What You Need to Know About Feline Chronic Kidney Disease
Just like us, our cats can get sick. Some recover quickly, while others have a longer healing process, and others may even not survive. Though there are many illnesses that cats are affected by, one of the most common diseases seen in domestic cats is Feline Chronic Kidney Disease, also known as Feline Kidney Disease or Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD, FKD, or CKD for short). It is most commonly found among middle aged to older cats and, over time, the worsening of the disease becomes more visible to owners as it affects their cat’s daily routine.
Anatomy of the Kidneys
A cat’s kidneys are found in the abdomen, located around their lower back on both sides of their spine. Be careful when trying to catch your cat: you may squeeze this area too roughly and you can bruise or damage their kidneys. Because blood is filtered through the kidneys to remove anything toxic from the body, the kidneys are constantly functioning without conscious thought or intention. Urine is created by the cat’s kidneys through their filtering process, then it is carried to the cat’s bladder by the ureters and finally released through the cat’s urethra.
They also serve other functions such as producing hormones like Erythropoietin which stimulates the bone marrow to create new red blood cells. The kidneys also remove toxins from the cat’s blood, and they maintain normal blood pressure, water balance, salt balance, and other electrolytes in the body. The kidneys also help maintain the balance of acid in the cat’s body.
Chronic Kidney Disease
First, it’s important to know that there are two types of Feline Kidney Disease, Acute and Chronic. Acute Kidney Disease is curable if it’s diagnosed in the early stages, whereas Chronic Kidney Disease is not. This article will focus solely on Chronic Kidney Disease. This disease occurs when there is long term and irreversible damage to the kidney(s) that impair the kidney’s ability to properly function by removing waste products from the cat’s blood. FCKD can be caused by a few things, such as Glomerulonephritis, when there is inflammation of the Glomeruli (a cluster of capillaries around the end of a kidney tubule where toxins are filters from the blood); Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD), an inherited disease that causes healthy kidney tissue to gradually produce fluid filled cysts; Kidney tumors like lymphoma; bacterial infections, birth defects, trauma, hyperkaliemia or hypokalemia (high levels of calcium in blood or low levels of potassium in blood); harsh toxins such as pesticides, certain house plants, disinfectants, or human drugs can also cause damage to the kidneys resulting in FCKD. Sometimes FCKD can be avoided by keeping medications and chemicals where cats cannot access them, and by remaining careful about the plant selection that you bring into your home.
The first symptoms of FCKD may not be visible to cat owners because they can be quite subtle. They will become more obvious as the months go on because it’s a progressive disease. Some of the most well-known symptoms are a poor appetite, constipation, diarrhea, lethargy, cloudy or bloody urine, urinating in strange places, pain when urinating, avoidance of their litter box, stumbling when walking, weight loss, and increased urination and thirst.
Some other signs of FCKD is a loss of fur or a dull coat, anemia, high blood pressure, overall weakness, and vomiting. Your cat may start crashing because of a major loss of kidney function. Those symptoms include a strong body odor, unusual hiding, dull eyes, the inability to walk, uncontrollable vomiting, and refusing to drink or eat. Remember that cats are masterminds at hiding their pain or discomfort, so it’s important that you keep a close eye on your cat and pay attention to their behavior before the issues escalate.
The diagnosis of FCKD consists of making two medical tests: Urinalysis and Blood testing. For your cat’s urine test, you’ll have to collect the urine yourself. This can be done by isolating your cat in a room with only water (no food for that day) with an empty litter box. Check on your cat frequently, not only to keep them company, but also to ensure that you get a fresh sample. Once your cat has used the restroom, collect the urine in plastic container that your veterinarian provided you. Write your cat’s name and the date of the fresh urine on the container before placing it in your refrigerator. Take your sample to your veterinarian as soon as possible so they can test the urine and get the most accurate and reliable results for you and your cat. When the urine is tested, the quantity of protein being lost will be determined by the “Protein to Creatinine Ratio”. If your cat is losing protein quickly, it might be an indicator of FCKD. Your cat’s urine will also be tested for the presence of red blood cells, white blood cells, bacteria, and appropriate pH levels.
If your cat is diagnosed with FCKD it’s important to know that there is not yet a cure for the disease. Your veterinarian will be able to tell you what stage your cat’s FCKD is in based on their Creatinine levels. The treatment for FCKD can prolong and improve their life, making it less painful for them. The goals for treating your cat will be to delay the progression of the disease and control the amount of uremia. The treatment will not stop the course of the disease, however.
The main treatment is by using Subcutaneous fluid therapy; the fluids will be injected under the skin near the scruff of the neck or between the shoulder blades. The fluids will help control vomiting, dehydration, and anorexia, and it will flush circulating toxins and waste out of your cat’s system. Your veterinarian will teach you how to give Subcutaneous fluids injections to your cats.
Changing your cat’s diet is another form of treatment, giving them quality protein with low to zero amount of phosphorus and sodium. Some veterinarians will suggest prescription dry food for FCKD, however, I recommend creating a homemade meal for your cat. Purchase chicken, lean turkey, and lean beef for your cat and cook them a meal. Make sure to keep plenty of water bowls throughout the house for your cat. Providing your cat with vitamins and minerals can be helpful, too. Kidney Support Gold is liquid that helps with your cat’s energy levels, immune system, urination, thirst, and their appetite and weight may also improve. If you want to take a more holistic approach towards your cat’s treatment, there is always Chiropractic treatment, reiki, and massage for your cat.
Although treatment only goes so far and provides so much, all of us must be able to let go and say goodbye at some point. I have never experienced this specific loss with a cat of mine, but I know that saying goodbye to a loved one is a wound that never really heals. Even with treatment, your cat’s kidneys will still fail and it is best to take them too your veterinarian right away. Making the decision to put down your cat will be difficult, and it’s important to have a support system for you and your cat. But it is important that you’re with your cat during their final moment. Remember to surround them with love and snuggles in their final moments, and remember to have compassion for yourself as well.
Elanda-Isabella Atencio, our Feline Editor, is on her road to being a “crazy” cat lady. She has three cats; a moody Missus, a wild Baby Kitty, and notorious Fredrick Douglass. She was raised with cats, chickens, dogs, and geese. From cleaning coops, morning dog runs, picking eggs, to growing catnip, Elanda enjoys pampering her pets. Elanda is a student at New Mexico State University, earning her BA in Creative Writing and is Editor-in-Chief of the online arts journal, Independent Noise and reader for Puerto del Sol. She plans to move to Oregon, where she hopes to take her cats on daily walks when it’s overcast and cool. If you’d like to contact Elanda, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.