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Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats, Part 1:Screening at Home and at the Vet

By Dr. Laci Schaible

Chronic kidney disease is an irreversible progressive disease that affects many adult and senior cats, though it can occur at any lifestage. It starts with the inability to fully concentrate urine and ends with complete kidney failure.

Kidney Cells Are Hard Workers

The kidneys are responsible for more than filtering blood and removing waste products into the urine. They also control hormones responsible for red blood cell numbers and calcium levels and maintain water and electrolyte balances within the body.

When a kidney cell is damaged or dies it can’t be replaced, so the remaining kidney cells must compensate and pick up the slack. The kidneys can handle quite a lot of extra work; in fact, the kidneys can keep up the pace until approximately 2/3 of their function is impaired. That means that when there is only 1/3 of the kidney functioning properly, those healthy cells start to fall behind. At this point, the only big difference is the cat can no longer concentrate urine efficiently, but the progression of kidney disease continues. When 75% of the kidneys lose function, waste products begin to build up in the blood and the cats begin to feel the toxins’ effects.

Know The Signs!

Early detection and management is key to slowing its progression and improving quality of and length of life. Many of the early signs of chronic kidney disease can easily go unnoticed. Here are six sneaky and common signs that indicate your cat may be suffering from chronic kidney disease.

  1. Weight loss is often the first clinical sign of a number of serious illnesses in cats, including chronic kidney disease. Get in the habit or weighing your cat at least once a month.
  2. Watch for changes in grooming. A matted, unkempt hair coat with noticeable dandruff is a sign that your cat isn’t feeling well. Though this isn’t specific to kidney disease, a dull coat is often seen what felines are diagnosed with kidney disease.
  3. Observe litter box habits. Even if you like your litter box to be out of sight, it should never be out of mind. Clean your cats’ litter box daily and actually pay attention while you do so. Increased urination is a first sign of kidney disease. Many cats with kidney disease become constipated due to dehydration and have harder and less frequent bowel movements.
  4. Did your cat urinate or defecate outside his box? Changes in litter box behavior may indicate a medical problem, as many veterinarians believe this is a way cats attempt to signal their owners that they are not feeling well.
  5. Know how much your cat is eating and drinking. A cat who is gradually eating less may have a medical reason, such as kidney disease. On the other hand, kidney disease typically causes cats to drink more water, so make sure to observe water intake as well.
  6. Don’t just assume vomiting it due to hairballs. Nausea and vomiting can be seen with kidney disease.
  7. Is your usually friendly cat who greets you at the door when you arrive home now staying confined to his bed? Changes in behavior and lethargy can be signs that your furry feline may have a medical problem.

Earlier Screening

Increase your cat’s veterinary visits to every six months when he reaches seven years of age. While doing annual blood work is always a good idea for cats in all lifestages, a urine test will detect early kidney disease before bloodwork.

A urine specific gravity test and a urine protein to creatinine ratio (called a UPC test) are the best tests for detecting decreased kidney function earlier. Remember, just because blood work doesn’t indicate kidney disease, it is still possible that early kidney failure is occurring. Blood work will only detect a problem when there is 25% or LESS of remaining kidney function.

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