1 in 3 cats will develop kidney disease in her lifetime, so now's the time to learn about this insidious process and how to slow it down.
Signs of kidney disease:
Increased thirst and increased urine production are the hallmarks of kidney disease. In this stage, as long as your cat drinks enough water to keep herself hydrated she probably doesn't feel ill at all. As the disease progresses, however, the toxins that the kidney normally clears will build up in her bloodstream and make her feel sick. She can experience decreased appetite, weight loss, muscle loss, lethargy, vomiting, and sores in her mouth.
Early diagnosis is the key to your cat living a long and healthy life. Bring your cat in for yearly exams (and twice-yearly if 10 years old or older) so that we can help catch this process before she feels sick. A physical exam allows us to feel for changes in her kidneys, urinalysis looks for protein loss or dilute urine, and bloodwork checks for markers of kidney function. We recommend the new SDMA test for every cat over 7 years old as part of the annual bloodwork because it's the earliest indicator that something is changing in those kidneys. If we do find abnormalities in the lab work, we may recommend x-rays of her abdomen or an ultrasound to look for other possible causes that need different treatment.
What can I do?
Unfortunately, there's no proven way to prevent kidney disease in cats, and the loss of kidney function is often irreversible once it occurs. Offering canned food and encouraging water consumption with water fountains or faucets will help keep our cat companions hydrated, decreasing the stress on the kidneys throughout their lives.
Once we start to see changes in the kidney function the most important intervention is diet change. We need to feed the right amount of high quality protein to protect her muscles but not so much that it taxes her kidneys. There are several brands of prescription foods available, so we let the cat pick the one she likes best. Depending on the amount of protein being lost through her kidneys, we may also add in daily medication at this early stage. Later in the disease we supplement fluids to keep her hydrated, and use appetite stimulants and antacids to decrease the nausea.
With proper management, cats with kidney disease can live happy lives often for years after their first diagnosis. With this knowledge and the right interventions you can help slow down the progression of the kidney disease and give your cat far more time before she even knows she's ill.