The body itself is pretty amazing. When you take the time to understand all of the inner workings and processes that go into keeping us alive, it is downright incredible what our bodies do each day. Every organ plays its own unique and important role in this task.

The kidneys are one of the main workhorses in the body, and they take quite a beating. It is no wonder that they are often an organ that can have problems, sometimes just due to wear and tear. The Pet Experts at Wheaton Animal Hospital see kidney problems in cats regularly and hope that by educating our proactive pet owners about them that we can help better help our patients who are affected.

The Mechanics of the Kidney

The kidneys are essential to everyday life. During the course of a normal day, waste is produced by the body as it goes about its metabolic functions. This waste is carried in the bloodstream.

As the blood circulates through the body, it is filtered through the kidneys. Individual microscopic filtration units called nephrons make up the kidney.

The nephron filters and excretes wastes, excess water, and excess electrolytes into the ureters as urine. It also reabsorbs the things that the body does need. 

The kidneys have several important functions. They serve to:

  • Maintain appropriate hydration
  • Excrete waste
  • Balance electrolytes within the body
  • Normalize blood pressure
  • Stimulate the production of red blood cells

Without them, our bodies are not able to function at peak capacity. Furthermore, malfunctioning kidneys often allow fluid, vitamins, and proteins that the body needs to leak into the urine to be discarded. 

When a Good Organ Goes Bad

In cats (and people, dogs, and other species as well), the kidney can be affected by a myriad of issues. In general, kidney disease can be classified into two distinct categories:  acute (sudden) or chronic (over time).

Kidney problems in cats of the acute variety tend to be caused by the ingestion of a toxin, an obstruction of the urinary tract, a severe kidney infection (pyelonephritis), or the obstruction of blood flow to the kidney such as during shock. 

Cats, however, are much more commonly affected by chronic kidney disease. This occurs when the kidney’s function becomes impaired, often due to aging. Sometimes a cat is born with less than optimal kidney function and is able to compensate for a period of time before a decline in function is noticeable.

Kidney problems in cats often present with similar symptoms regardless of the underlying causes. These symptoms include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Weight and muscle loss
  • Dull, unkempt haircoat
  • Bad breath
  • Decreased appetite
  • Vomiting
  • High blood pressure which may result in vision loss
  • Anemia
  • Electrolyte disturbances

Obviously not all cats with kidney disease experience all of these issues, and other problems can result in similar symptoms. 

Diagnosing, Treating, and Preventing Kidney Problems in Cats

If you are worried that your cat may be experiencing kidney problems, it is important to call us right away so that we can assess the situation. 

Most times we can diagnose kidney problems in cats via blood and urine testing. Sometimes additional testing including urine culture, ultrasound, and blood pressure evaluation may be recommended to further look for an underlying cause or complications.

The pillar of treating kidney problems in cats is to restore hydration. If our feline patient with kidney problems is in crisis, often diuresing their body with intravenous fluids can help tremendously. These patients often benefit from other types of supportive care such as medication for nausea and nutritional support. 

Long term cats with kidney problems require special nutritional therapy in order to help their kidneys to function as well as possible. We may recommend a prescription diet for your cat. 

While many times kidney problems in cats, especially those of a chronic variety, are not preventable, you can do a lot to help your cat’s body function at peak capacity even after diagnosis. 

Support healthy hydration — Encourage your cat to drink as much as possible. You can support healthy hydration by providing fresh, clean water at all times. Some cats enjoy a running water source such as a fountain. Canned food is an excellent source of water that many cats also enjoy. If your cat has been diagnosed with a kidney issue, sometimes we will teach you to give subcutaneous fluids under the skin at home to help. 

Allow routine testing — Regular screening tests and examinations can help us to diagnose kidney problems in cats before symptoms become obvious. Earlier intervention allows us to be more successful at managing this problem.

Steer clear of nephrotoxic nightmares — Obviously avoiding things that could cause kidney failure should be top of everyone’s list when it comes to protecting their cats. Don’t keep toxic plants like lilies in your home and never medicate your cat without veterinary supervision as some medications such as Tylenol can be devastating. In cats with existing kidney disease we may also re-evaluate which medications are appropriate.

Go team! — When it comes to kidney disease in cats, working as a team is paramount. We rely on you to communicate with us about how your cat is doing and bring them in for routine examinations and assessment. We also rely on you to feed your cat as recommended and administer any treatments or medications we think are beneficial. When it comes to keeping your cat happy, we need you to help.

Kidney problems in cats are common, but they don’t have to be devastating. With proper and aggressive care, many cats with kidney trouble can live good lives well beyond their diagnosis.

Many veterinary diagnoses rely on the pet owner’s involvement for treatment success, but this is especially seen in more long-term conditions like chronic kidney disease. Don’t forget that we are here to work as a team with you – when it comes to keeping your pet healthy, you are priority.