How Does Epo Help with Kidney Failure in Cats?


I have a cat (Charlie) who has chronic kidney failure and his blood counts have gone down especially his red blood cells. He is now taking erythropoietin and is on his second vial.

How long has this med been around for kitties? Does it just help the red blood cells or can it help the kidney failure numbers (BUN, creatinine, etc.) get better?

Phoenixville, PA

Erythropoietin, also known as Epo or Epogen, has gained significant notoriety in recent years because it can be used as a performance enhancing drug by athletes. However, Epo has many legitimate medical uses. Among those uses is treating anemia in cats with kidney disease.

Healthy kidneys secrete erythropoietin, which is a hormone, as part of their natural function. Erythropoietin stimulates the bone marrow to make red blood cells.

Cats with kidney disease produce significantly less Epo. They therefore develop anemia. Cats are treated with synthetic Epo in order to reverse the anemia. The treatment has been available for over a decade.

(Some athletes take Epo in order to build up excessive red blood cells. This is a type of blood doping.)

In cats with kidney failure, Epo may lead to increased strength and appetite. However, it does nothing to treat the underlying kidney disease. Blood test results related to kidney disease, such as BUN, creatinine, and urine specific gravity will not be affected by Epo.

The Epo used in cats is human erythopoietin, which is slightly different from the feline version of the hormone. Epo therefore has the potential (in very rare cases) to cause serious complications in cats. However, in markedly anemic individuals the benefits greatly exceed the risks.

Photo: Danilo Di Luca does not have chronic renal failure. From

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