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A New Test Could Provide Early Warning for Cat Kidney Disease

A stem cell therapy study also offers hope for cats who already have chronic renal disease.

JaneA Kelley  |  Dec 5th 2014


Researchers at Oregon State University have recently developed a new biomarker that could help veterinarians detect kidney disease almost a year and a half earlier than standard blood tests.

The biomarker, called SDMA, can provide evidence of chronic renal disease while symptoms of the condition are still pretty vague. Typically, the early signs of kidney deterioration are pretty much standard "ain’t doin’ right"-type symptoms like loss of appetite, weight loss and vomiting.

"Chronic kidney disease is common in geriatric cats and often causes their death," said Jean Hall, a small-animal medical expert and professor in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, in a press release from the university on this research. "Damage from it is irreversible, but this is an important advance, in that we should be able to identify the problem earlier and use special diets to slow the disease."

Standard senior blood panels measure the levels of creatinine, a chemical created by the breakdown of muscle tissue, and blood urea nitrogen, the level of urea left in the blood after the kidneys do their job of filtering out toxins, to determine the level of kidney function. The trouble is these values don’t tend to become abnormal until the kidneys have lost at least 70 percent of their ability to effectively filter waste from the blood.

Being able to identify kidney disease earlier will allow cat caretakers to work with their veterinarians to change their furry friends’ lifestyles to ease stress on the kidneys and allow a slower progression toward the advanced stages of the disease. The biomarker hasn’t yet been developed into a commercially available test, but judging by the fact that IDEXX Laboratories, more than 80 percent of whose revenue is generated through its small animal health division, is one of the sponsors of the research, I’m sure there will be an SDMA test on the horizon soon.

But what if your cat already has chronic renal disease? Hope may be on the horizon for you, too.

The Colorado State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital is looking for cats with chronic kidney disease to participate in a trial of stem cell therapy to improve renal function. Patients selected to participate in the study will receive three injections of stem cells, two weeks apart. Vets will run diagnostic tests before, during and after treatment to find out how effective the treatment is. (By the way, in case you’re concerned, the stem cells used in this research are harvested from the fat of healthy donor cats, not fetal stem cells, and the donor cats are not harmed by the collection.)

In order to participate, a cat must be in stable Stage 4 chronic renal disease and not have any other illnesses.

"Up until now, we’ve focused on cats with early stages of the disease with the hope of slowing disease progression," said Dr. Jessica Quimby, the CSU veterinarian leading the trial. "We noticed that a few cats with worse stages in those studies were actually doing really well. We can’t ignore the possibility that stem cells could help those cats, too."

Stem cells won’t be able to repair the kidney scarring seen in the later stages of kidney disease, but the researchers hope the stem cells will be able to improve overall function of the remaining kidney tissues.

Cat caretakers will receive a stipend, paid through CSU’s Frankie’s Fund for Feline Stem Cell Research, for their participation.

If you are interested in participating in the study, visit CSU’s clinical trials page for more information.

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About JaneA Kelley: Punk-rock cat mom, science nerd, animal shelter volunteer and all-around geek with a passion for bad puns, intelligent conversation, and role-play adventure games. She gratefully and gracefully accepts her status as chief cat slave for her family of feline bloggers, who have been writing their award-winning cat advice blog, Paws and Effect, since 2003.