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Your Cat and Its Kidneys

Your cat and its kidneys are probably something you do not think about very often or at all. Older cats are especially at risk for chronic forms of renal (kidney) failure, which can lead to death.

Cats like humans have 2 kidneys; they are relatively small organs located behind the rib cage, one on each side. These two tiny organs play an extremely important part in the bodily processes inside a cat.

The kidneys help control a cat's blood pressure, they produce variety of needed hormones and enzymes, contribute to the production of red blood cells and control the amount and consistency of fluid in a cat's blood stream.

However, the most important thing the kidneys do, is remove metabolic waste from a cat's blood. The kidney tissue contains thousands of tiny filtration units called nephrons. The waste filled blood enters the kidneys through the renal artery and it continues to move through smaller arteries until it reaches the nephrons, where it is filtered once again through minute structures called glomeruli.

The cleaned blood (about 95 percent of the total fluid) then recycles back to the heart for another trip through the body. The remaining blood, which contains the waste material, is then secreted as urine through the kidneys to the bladder and eventually is passed by the cat.

What can go wrong?

Once in a while this unique system breaks down and the waste material starts to mix with the recycled blood going through the cat's body. If the proper balance is not maintained between the waste material and the mineral and electrolytes, other organs can become damaged.

The kidneys, especially in cats seven years or older, are susceptible to a wide assortment of life-threatening disorders. Kidney problems rate in the top 2 or 3 causes of health problems in older cats.

Longhaired cats (Persians and Angoras) are more genetically predisposed to kidney problems than shorthaired cats. Though all cats can inherit kidney problems. But, most cases of kidney problems just happen.

There are two types of kidney problems acute and chronic. Acute kidney failure happens fairly sudden and will be noticed within a week to a month's time, while chronic kidney is a disease that has been forming for a long period of time.

What causes acute kidney failure?

Most commonly, acute kidney failure can be caused by blockages that interfere with the flow to blood to the kidneys or the flow of urine from it. However, some other common causes are household situations where a cat will ingest antifreeze, pesticides, cleaning fluids, or certain human medications. Asprin or drugs containing ibuprofen can create a severe and possibly fatal condition of acute renal failure.

In the case of acute renal failure, if it is recognized immediately, it can be treated and recovery is usually complete and the cat will live a normal life.

What are the signs of acute kidney failure?

One of the first thing a cat owner should be aware of, is the importance of keeping such things as antifreeze, pesticides and cleaning products out of their cat's reach. If spills happen clean them up quickly and completely. Do not give your cat any human medication without first checking with your vet to make certain it is not toxic. A cat's internal system does not work like ours nor does it operate like a dog's internal system. Cats are unique and need to be treated with due diligence.

Since blockages and other problems can happen internally, you should also be on the alert for these symptoms:

  • increased water consumption
  • increase in urination
  • weight loss and/or a decrease in appetite
  • vomiting on occasion

Should you notice any of these symptoms it is important to contact your vet at once as these are signs of not only kidney problems, but of several other diseases, that require immediate care.

What is chronic kidney failure?
Chronic kidney failure is an incurable condition that affects many middle-aged cats and older ones. It occurs when approximately 75 percent or more of the functional tissue that contains the nephrons has been destroyed and replaced by scar tissue. Unlike the suddenness of acute kidney failure, chronic kidney failure is a gradual progression that can take many months or even years.

The exact cause is really unknown, though the loss of healthy kidney tissue could be related to dental problems and a variety of kidney problems, such as infections, inflammations and obstructions.

Since chronic kidney failure is a prolonged disease, by the time it is noticed the cat will generally not respond to current treatments, due to the loss of healthy kidney tissue.

However, due to innovative medical and surgical procedures, many cats can enjoy an extra few years of life.

The signs of chronic kidney failure are similar to the ones seen in acute kidney failure and if you suspect your cat is having kidney problems, call your vet at once.

What can be done for either acute or chronic kidney failure?

Once it is determined that the cat is suffering from kidney failure, a chemistry panel and urinalysis will be done. The chemistry panel will look at the blood and indicate the levels of substances that would normally be shed by the urine and the urinalysis will look at information to determine the extent of damage to the kidneys and if an infection might be present. Sometimes X-rays and a kidney tissue biopsy might be necessary.

Once the condition has been determined, treatment can be decided upon.
Acute renal failure is given emergency treatment. If a blockage is the problem it must be removed, while a problem induced by medication or a swallowed substance, must be treated with intravenous solutions to correct fluid and electrolyte balances in the blood.

Chronic renal failure will be taken care of with conservative medical measures. This may include intravenous fluid therapy and/or diet therapy. The diet recommended is low in phosphorus and rich in high quality proteins such as eggs, liver, and turkey, and the diet is sometimes enriched with vitamin D and omega- 3 fatty acids. Very rarely is surgery done to remove a damaged kidney and will only be done, if the saved one can carry one all the functions of a healthy kidney.

One of the most important responsibilities a cat owner has is to build a bond and an in depth relationship with your cat. By knowing your cat's regular habits and little idiosyncrasies, you can determine when and if your cat is ill.

Cats will hide any sign of illness, as it is their nature not to show weakness. This is a trait that was built into the creature at inception, as a protection against predators. Many times the only way you can tell if something is wrong is by knowing how they normally behave and if they are deviating from their normal behavior pattern.

Our cat, Mr. Whiskers, lived for 8 years after he was first diagnosed with chronic kidney failure. We kept him on a high protein diet and he was active and lively until a day or two before his death at the age of 18 years.

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