Can Kidney Disease in Cats Be Reversed? The Latest Treatments and Outlook

Feline chronic kidney disease (CKD) is one of the most common diseases in older cats. It is characterized by the gradual deterioration of kidney function over time. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, CKD affects more than 1 in 3 cats over 15 years of age. The kidneys play a vital role in removing waste products from the blood, controlling hydration status and acidity of the blood, and producing certain hormones. As kidney function declines with CKD, toxins can build up leading to a variety of clinical signs. While CKD is a progressive disease, the rate of progression varies between patients. With early detection and appropriate treatment, progression can often be slowed dramatically, allowing many cats to live happily for years after diagnosis. However, left untreated CKD will eventually lead to kidney failure and death.

Sources:

Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats | Hill’s Pet

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) in cats | PDSA

Symptoms

cat receiving intravenous fluid therapy for kidney disease

Kidney disease in cats often presents with the following symptoms:

Increased thirst and urination – Cats with kidney disease will drink more water and urinate more frequently as their kidneys struggle to concentrate urine. This is often one of the earliest signs of kidney problems. As the disease progresses, the increase in thirst and urination can become excessive (VCA Hospitals).

Weight loss – Loss of appetite and muscle wasting leads to gradual weight loss in cats with chronic kidney disease. This occurs as toxins build up in the body and affect the cat’s metabolism and appetite (PetMD).

Poor appetite – Toxins that build up in kidney failure make cats feel nauseous. This can cause a disinterest in food. Dental disease and mouth ulcers are also common and make eating painful (PetMD).

Vomiting – The nausea and gastrointestinal irritation associated with kidney disease frequently leads to vomiting in affected cats.

Bad breath – Uremic ulcers in the mouth produce a foul, ammonia-like odor in cats with kidney failure.

Lethargy – The buildup of toxins in the bloodstream makes cats feel unwell. They often become increasingly inactive and sleep more as kidney disease progresses (VCA Hospitals).

Causes

The leading cause of chronic kidney disease in cats is old age, as the organs simply wear out over time. Genetics can also play a role, as certain breeds like Persians and Siamese are predisposed. Exposure to toxins like antifreeze, chemicals, or tainted pet food can damage the kidneys. Infections, especially of the urinary tract, put extra strain on the kidneys. High blood pressure and dental disease have also been linked to kidney problems in cats.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “In older cats, chronic kidney disease (CKD) is by far the most common renal disorder. It is estimated that more than 80% of cats over 15 years of age have some degree of CKD.” The kidneys undergo normal changes with aging, but pathological changes like scarring and inflammation can occur as well.

The Pet Health Network states, “Kidney infection or acute kidney injury, which may result from ingesting toxins like antifreeze, can lead to chronic kidney disease.” So while kidney issues are often age-related, damage from other causes can also contribute.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing kidney disease in cats usually involves a combination of blood and urine tests, imaging, and sometimes a biopsy. Blood tests look for elevated levels of substances like blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine, which indicate impaired kidney function (1). A urinalysis can detect high levels of protein in the urine, as well as abnormal pH and specific gravity, which point to kidney problems.

Veterinarians may also perform an ultrasound to visually assess the kidneys. This allows them to check for issues like small, shrunken kidneys, swelling, masses, and bladder stones (2). Ultrasound can also help guide a needle biopsy to collect kidney tissue for analysis under a microscope.

Through these diagnostic tests, vets can identify impaired kidney function, determine the stage of kidney disease, and rule out other conditions with similar symptoms (3). This helps guide treatment recommendations and monitoring.

Sources:

(1) https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/kidney-failure-chronic-in-cats

(2) https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/cornell-feline-health-center/health-information/feline-health-topics/chronic-kidney-disease

(3) https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/urinary/kidney-disease-cats

Treatment

prescription kidney diet foods for cats

There are several components to treating kidney disease in cats:

Fluids: Fluid therapy helps flush toxins from the body and prevent dehydration. Fluids can be given at home under the skin (subcutaneous fluids) or intravenously at the vet’s office. Fluids help improve blood flow to the kidneys and maintain hydration.

Diet change: Feeding a low phosphorus, low protein prescription kidney diet helps reduce strain on the kidneys. Reducing phosphorus is important since diseased kidneys cannot properly excrete it. Limiting protein also helps manage kidney function.

Phosphate binders: Binders such as aluminum hydroxide can help reduce blood phosphorus levels. They prevent the intestines from absorbing phosphorus from food.

Anti-nausea medication: Nausea and vomiting are common in kidney disease. Anti-nausea medications like maropitant help control these symptoms.

Blood pressure medication: High blood pressure further damages kidneys. Medications like amlodipine can help control hypertension.

Antibiotics: Urinary tract infections are common in kidney disease and require antibiotic treatment.

Overall, a combination of treatments tailored to your cat’s needs can help manage kidney disease and extend life expectancy. Work closely with your veterinarian on the best treatment plan.

Home Care

Home care for cats with kidney disease is focused on making your cat more comfortable while managing the disease. Some of the main aspects of home care include:

Special diet: Feeding a special renal or kidney diet is recommended for cats with kidney disease. These diets are lower in protein and phosphorus and have added omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation. Canned food also has extra moisture which helps with hydration. Examples of kidney diets include Royal Canin Renal and Hill’s k/d.

Increased water intake: Dehydration is a major concern, so getting your cat to drink more water is important. Adding extra water to food, using fountains or flavored waters can entice drinking. Subcutaneous fluids administered under the skin by the owner can also supplement hydration (source).

Regular vet visits: Your vet will want to monitor bloodwork, urine tests, blood pressure and overall health. Medications may be prescribed to control vomiting, anemia or high blood pressure.

Stress reduction: Providing a calm environment, routine and affection can help reduce stress for cats with kidney disease. Minimizing changes and providing easy access to litter, food and water are also recommended.

Prognosis

The prognosis for cats with chronic kidney disease depends greatly on the severity of the condition and how early treatment is started. Many cats can live for years with proper management of their kidney disease through diet, medications, intravenous fluids and other therapies recommended by a veterinarian. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, some cats respond very well to treatment while others do not, so the prognosis is quite variable for each individual cat.1 In general, with early detection and prompt treatment, many cats can have a good quality of life for years. However, if kidney disease goes unmanaged and untreated, it can lead to uremic crisis and be fatal.

Prevention

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

High quality diet – Feeding your cat a high-quality commercial cat food that is low in protein, phosphorus and sodium can help protect their kidney health. Look for foods specially formulated for kidney health.

Plenty of water – Making sure your cat always has access to fresh, clean water is important to help flush toxins from their system and stay hydrated. Consider getting a cat drinking fountain if your cat doesn’t drink enough water.

Annual checkups to monitor kidney function – Have your vet do annual bloodwork and urinalysis, even for healthy cats, to check kidney values and catch any potential issues early. This is especially important for senior cats over age 7.

Other tips include avoiding exposure to toxins like antifreeze, being aware of potential genetic predispositions in some breeds, and limiting stress which can impact kidney health. With proactive care, many cases of kidney disease can be avoided.

Sources:

Preventing Kidney Disease in Cats



https://www.aspcapetinsurance.com/resources/kidney-disease-in-cats/

Cost

Treating kidney disease in cats can be quite expensive. There are a variety of tests and treatments that may be recommended, which can add up over time.

Initial diagnostic tests such as bloodwork, urinalysis, ultrasound, and x-rays to assess kidney function and look for underlying issues often range from $300 to over $1000. These tests are crucial for determining the stage and cause of kidney disease in order to develop the best treatment plan.

cat getting ultrasound scan to assess kidney health

Ongoing treatment and management of chronic kidney disease averages $100 to $300 per month, but can be higher depending on the medications, prescription kidney diet, and fluids prescribed by your veterinarian. Hospitalization for IV fluids ranges from $80 to $150 per night. End-stage kidney failure may require dialysis or kidney transplant, which can cost thousands of dollars.

Pet insurance can help reduce the financial burden of caring for a cat with kidney disease. Policies that cover chronic conditions are recommended, as kidney disease is not curable. With insurance, you pay your premiums and deductible, and the insurance company helps cover the rest of eligible medical costs.

While treating kidney disease in cats is costly, many caring pet owners are willing to spare no expense to prolong their cat’s life and make them comfortable. Regular vet visits, following prescribed treatments, and close monitoring are key to successful long-term management.

Conclusion

In conclusion, kidney disease in cats is a serious condition that requires prompt veterinary attention and ongoing management. The key points to remember are:

    senior cat getting blood drawn to test kidney function

  • Kidney disease is common in older cats and has several potential causes, including chronic kidney infections, toxins, cancer, and aging.
  • Symptoms include increased thirst and urination, weight loss, poor appetite, vomiting, and bad breath.
  • Diagnosis is made through bloodwork, urinalysis, imaging, and biopsy.
  • Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and slowing disease progression through diet change, fluids, medication, and sometimes dialysis.
  • The earlier kidney disease is detected and treated, the better the outcome for the cat.
  • Regular veterinary checkups and bloodwork allow early diagnosis and treatment to preserve kidney function as long as possible.

While kidney disease cannot be cured, with dedicated home care and working closely with your veterinarian, treatment can significantly extend and improve quality of life for cats with this condition.

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