Kidney disease in cats: hard, but not hopeless

Sue Manning's article on feline kidney disease in the Miami Herald last week contained a number of sobering facts about the illness, starting with the fact that we don't know what causes it, or how to cure it. And one in every 12 senior felines has chronic kidney disease, according to a recently-released report from the Banfield Pet Hospital chain whose data set included nearly 430,000 cats seen by Banfield veterinarians – so it's not an uncommon problem, either.

Manning quotes Dr. Nina Nardi, who's chief of staff at a Banfield facility near L.A., on the subject of acute kidney disease, which often proceeds from a cat ingesting antifreeze, grapes, toxic plants, or other poisons. Nardi is encouraging about a cat's prospects under those circumstances, especially if the problem is identified quickly: "If you can catch it, you can treat it."

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But chronic kidney disease is a different story; it's more widespread, and incurable. Treatments focus not on eliminating the disease but on lessening symptoms and increasing quality (and length) of life. Diagnosed in a timely fashion, a cat with chronic kidney disease in the beginning stages can live two or three more years.

Cats are experts at hiding illnesses, however – so how can you catch kidney disease early enough to help your feline? Regular senior-wellness check-ups at the vet can help, as your veterinarian is trained to spot subtle symptoms you may miss. But some possible signs of chronic kidney disease include increased or excessive thirst (and the resulting increased/excessive urination); a smaller appetite; weight loss; more vomiting than usual (and not associated with hairballs); and bad breath. Manning mentions one patient of Nardi's, an 18-year-old cat named Girly, who raised a red flag for the disease when she lost three pounds between check-ups. Girly's treatment is a multi-pronged approach that involves hydration, to help the kidneys at their job of filtering toxins; a new low-protein, low-salt diet; and medications to control nausea and vomiting.

Nardi isn't afraid to prescribe love, either, noting that one pet in the late stages of kidney disease actually lived two and a half more years thanks to the commitment of the cat's "special owner."

Kidney disease in cats is pretty scary-sounding – but if you've gotten a diagnosis for your cat, it's not totally hopeless. Does your cat have kidney disease? What treatments have you used? How's her quality of life? Share your experience in the comments.

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