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Ask a Vet: Can You Save a Cat with Kidney Disease?

Chronic kidney disease is the most common serious medical problem in cats. Unfortunately, it also is the most common cause of death in well-cared-for housecats.

 |  Mar 22nd 2012  |   6 Contributions


I just read your information on cats with kidney disease. I had a cat, Rocky, who I lost to kidney disease and I failed him because I did not give him subcutaneous fluids that could have extended his life. Our other cat, Jan, was diagnosed in 2007 and the veterinarian told me she would last 6 months if I was lucky. I learned to give Jan fluids. At first it was 150ml. every 3rd day, then 150ml. every two days. Now I give her 100ml. fluids daily and have for the last two years.

She still enjoys life, and by providing fluids I have extended her time by 5 years already. My husband and I are thinking she may outlive us! Also, the last time I had her checked at the veterinarian's office I was told that the blood parameters that measure kidney disease had improved. Please let pet owners know that they can improve their cat's quality of life even though this is a terrible disease. I also give her plenty of wet food and took her off dried food when she was diagnosed.

Sylvia

Chronic kidney disease (CKD), also known as chronic renal failure (CRF), is the most common serious medical problem in cats.  Unfortunately, it also is the most common cause of death in well-cared-for housecats. To understand kidney disease and the role that subcutaneous fluids play in treating it, you first need to understand the role of the kidneys in the body.

You can learn to give subcutaneous fluids at home.

In the course of normal metabolism, the tissues and organs of the body produce waste products that are released into the bloodstream. The role of the kidneys is to move the waste products from the blood to the urine.

Normal, healthy kidneys can move large quantities of waste products into small quantities of urine. However, as kidney function falters, the kidneys must produce more urine in order to eliminate the waste products.  This triggers increased thirst -- and therefore one of the most common symptoms of kidney disease in cats is increased thirst and increased urine output.

Ultimately, however, cats with kidney disease cannot consume adequate water to meet the needs of their compromised kidneys. The waste products begin to build up in the bloodstream, which ultimately cause affected cats to feel sick.

Part of the treatment involves subcutaneous fluids, which are injected underneath the skin.  Most cats tolerate the injections well, and most owners can be taught to administer them.  Once administered, the fluids  turn into urine. The extra urine helps to flush the waste products out of the bloodstream.

Subcutaneous fluids, when combined with diet changes (such as switching to low-protein wet food), can often prolong the quality of life for a cat with CKD. However, they do essentially nothing to address the underlying kidney disease, which is progressive and irreversible.

Sylvia, there is no doubt that the fluids have helped Jan's quality of life over the last 5 years. But they alone are not the reason that she has made it so long. Thankfully, her kidney disease must be progressing naturally at a very slow rate. I recommend fluids for cats with kidney disease, but owners should be aware that Jan's situation is a rare one.

Rocky's kidney disease clearly was more rapidly progressive. It is true that fluids may have improved his quality of life for a while, but it is very unlikely that he would have experienced the same results as Jan.

In other words, the fluids make a difference, but they can't forestall the inevitable. In fact, some cats with kidney disease can live years without treatment. while others die rapidly, even with fluids.  I'm glad that Jan is still going strong.

Photo credit: Cat at vet by Shutterstock.com

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