Is Your Cat’s Kidney Disease Contagious? What You Need to Know

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is one of the most common disorders affecting older domestic cats. Studies estimate the prevalence of CKD in cats to be between 1-20%, with higher rates in geriatric cats over 10 years old.[1] It is characterized by the gradual loss of kidney function over time.

CKD is a serious condition that can lead to death if left untreated. It impacts the kidneys’ ability to filter waste from the blood, regulate hydration, and produce hormones.[2] The disease tends to progress through stages, with cats initially showing few outward symptoms until the latter stages when kidney function is significantly impaired.

With CKD being so prevalent in cats, an important question is whether the disease can spread between cats living together in a multi-cat household. This article aims to examine the evidence on CKD transmission between cats.

Transmission of Infections Between Cats

Cats can transmit certain infectious diseases amongst themselves through direct contact. For example, respiratory infections like feline calicivirus are spread through saliva and discharge from the eyes and nose. Viruses like feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) are also spread through saliva as well as blood [1].

However, kidney disease is different. Most forms of kidney disease in cats are not contagious. Conditions like chronic kidney disease (CKD), acute kidney injury (AKI), and kidney cancer are not transmitted between cats [2].

While some infectious agents like leptospirosis bacteria can cause kidney problems, the kidney damage itself does not spread between cats. So kidney disease is generally not considered contagious.

Causes of Kidney Disease

Kidney disease in cats often develops as a result of aging. As cats get older, their kidneys naturally become less efficient and don’t function as well over time. Congenital kidney defects are also common causes of kidney disease, where cats are born with abnormal kidney structures or function. In addition, factors like diet, toxins, and dental disease can contribute to developing kidney problems.

According to Pet Health Network, some of the top causes of kidney disease in cats include:

  • Infection of kidney tissues (pyelonephritis)
  • Kidney stones (nephrolithiasis)
  • Damage to kidney structures
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Toxins
  • Damage from dental disease

While kidney disease is often progressive in cats, understanding the underlying causes can help guide prevention and treatment approaches.

Is Kidney Disease Contagious?

two cats cuddling safely despite one having kidney disease

Kidney disease is not contagious and cannot be transmitted between cats. There are several reasons why kidney disease does not spread from cat to cat:

– Kidney disease is usually caused by age-related changes, genetics, or damage from underlying illnesses like high blood pressure or diabetes. These factors are specific to each individual cat and do not involve infectious agents.

– Kittens do not “inherit” kidney disease from their parents. Kidney issues may be hereditary in some breeds, but are not passed on through direct contact.

– Cats with kidney disease show no signs of having a transmittable illness. There is no discharge, sneezing, or other symptoms to suggest contagion.

– Kidney infections, which are different from kidney disease, can sometimes spread between cats. But the underlying kidney disease itself cannot be passed from one cat to another.

– Cats with kidney disease can live together safely. Isolation is not necessary to prevent transmission.

So while kidney infections require precautions, kidney disease is not considered contagious among cats. It develops independently in each animal over time due to non-infectious factors.

Risk Factors

Certain lifestyle factors and conditions can increase a cat’s risk of developing kidney disease. Research shows that cats who are related or live in the same environment are more likely to develop kidney issues. For example, sibling cats fed the same diet are more prone to kidney disease than unrelated cats living separately (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4864943/). This suggests that genetics and/or environmental factors play a role.

Other potential risk factors include advanced age, being male, obesity, dental disease, urinary tract infections, high blood pressure, exposure to toxins, and chronic dehydration (https://www.pethealthnetwork.com/cat-health/cat-checkups-preventive-care/6-surprising-facts-about-kidney-disease-cats). Many of these relate to improper diet or poor health and hygiene. Cats who consistently eat unhealthy diets, don’t drink enough water, or have untreated medical issues may be more likely to eventually suffer kidney damage.

The best way to minimize kidney disease risk is to feed cats a balanced, low-phosphorus diet, ensure adequate hydration, provide regular veterinary care, and maintain proper oral health. Avoiding toxins and controlling weight, blood pressure, and urinary infections also helps reduce risk (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/297596418_Risk_Factors_for_Development_of_Chronic_Kidney_Disease_in_Cats).

Preventing Kidney Disease

There are steps cat owners can take to help prevent kidney disease in their feline companions:

cat eating high quality kidney diet

Feeding a high-quality diet designed for kidney health can help reduce stress on the kidneys. Look for foods rich in antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids. Increased water intake is also important, so providing multiple bowls of fresh water and wet food is recommended (Source).

Regular dental care helps prevent tooth and gum infections that may enter the bloodstream and damage the kidneys. Brushing your cat’s teeth daily and routine veterinary dental cleanings are advised.

Annual bloodwork and urinalysis allow detection of early changes in kidney values before disease develops. Monitoring kidney health enables early intervention when needed.

Avoid feeding diets high in phosphorus and magnesium, as excess minerals put strain on the kidneys. Too much protein can also be damaging, so moderation is key.

Providing a stress-free environment helps keep your cat’s immune system strong. Reduce stress by keeping litter boxes clean, minimizing loud noises, and diffusing pheromones during stressful events like moving or adding a new pet.

Managing Kidney Disease

There are several important aspects to managing kidney disease in cats once it has been diagnosed:

Fluids – Providing subcutaneous fluids is one of the most effective ways to support kidney function and maintain hydration. This involves injecting fluids under the skin to supplement water intake. Fluid therapy helps flush toxins from the body and prevent dehydration (Source).

cat receiving subcutaneous fluids at home

Diet – Feeding a kidney-friendly diet low in phosphorus and protein but high in moisture and omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce strain on the kidneys. Prescription renal diets are commonly recommended, or homemade cooked or raw diets (Source).

Medication – Medications like ACE inhibitors help control blood pressure and protect kidney function. Antacids, potassium supplements, and antinausea drugs may also be prescribed. Always follow veterinary advice on dosages.

Regular vet checks and bloodwork are crucial for monitoring kidney values and making adjustments to treatment as needed. Kidney disease is progressive, so ongoing management under veterinary supervision can prolong quality of life.

Supporting a Cat with Kidney Disease

Caring for a cat with kidney disease at home requires making some adjustments to their care routine. Some tips for supporting a cat with kidney disease include:

Encouraging eating and drinking – Offering smelly, appetizing foods like tuna, salmon, or chicken can entice a cat to eat. Warming wet food to body temperature or hand feeding may also help. Providing easy access to fresh water is also important.

Reducing stress – Changes to their routine or environment can stress a cat with kidney disease. Maintaining regular schedules, keeping their environment calm, and plenty of affection can help reduce stress. Using feline pheromones like Feliway can also promote relaxation.

Regular vet checkups and lab work – Monitoring kidney values, blood pressure, weight, hydration status, and other parameters help guide treatment plans. Follow veterinary recommendations for checkup frequency.

Giving medications and subcutaneous fluids as directed – Medications and subcutaneous fluids help manage kidney disease symptoms and slow progression. Giving prescribed treatments consistently and as directed by the veterinarian is important.

Providing comfortable bedding – Joint stiffness can be a problem so soft, warm bedding and limiting access to high spaces may help reduce pain and risk of injury. Keeping their beds clean is also important.

Maintaining dental health – Dental disease can increase bacteria levels and worsen kidney disease. Regular teeth brushing, professional cleanings, and dental exams help reduce this risk. (Source: https://www.petmd.com/blogs/thedailyvet/lorieahuston/2014/january/treating-your-cats-kidney-disease-home-31278)

With dedicated home care and close work with your veterinarian, cats with kidney disease can still enjoy a good quality of life.

Outlook

Unfortunately, kidney disease is a progressive condition in cats for which there is no cure. Kidney cells have a limited ability to regenerate and heal. However, while kidney function cannot be restored, progression of the disease can often be significantly slowed with proper management and care. The primary goals when caring for a cat with kidney disease are to support kidney function, maintain hydration, control secondary issues, and provide the best quality of life possible.

Quality of life should be the number one priority when making decisions about disease management. Regular monitoring and adjustments to the treatment plan are imperative to ensure the cat is responding well and maintaining a good quality of life. As the disease advances, the management plan may need to shift from active treatment to focus more on palliative care to keep the cat comfortable. It’s critical to work closely with a veterinarian to continually assess the cat’s wellbeing and make adjustments when needed. The prognosis depends greatly on the stage and progression rate of kidney disease in each individual cat.

veterinarian listening to cat's heart during exam

The Takeaway

Kidney disease is a common condition in cats, especially as they age. But while some infectious diseases can spread between cats, kidney disease itself is not contagious. Kidney disease occurs when the kidneys become damaged and lose function over time. It can be caused by a number of factors like genetics, cancer, toxins, underlying illness, and more. While kidney disease can’t be transmitted directly between cats, some of the risk factors like genetics and exposure to infections can be shared within a multi-cat household.

The best way to protect your cat is through regular veterinary care to monitor kidney health and treat any underlying conditions early. Preventative care like a high-quality diet, exercise, low stress environment, and avoiding toxins is also key. If kidney disease is caught early, treatment can help slow its progression and allow cats to live comfortably for months or years. So be proactive with your cat’s healthcare, and be sure to monitor for increased thirst, changes in bathroom habits, weight loss, poor coat condition, and other potential signs of kidney problems. With good management, cats with kidney disease can still lead happy lives.

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