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Living with Cat Kidney Failure
About 8 months ago, we took our cats to the vet for their normal yearly physicals and vaccinations. Our kitties were looking and acting perfectly normal, although one cat had been on a specific diet to lose weight. While driving to the veterinarian, my husband and I jokingly remarked to each other that our other kitty, Dilly, would probably be around for another 15 years given her excellent physical condition and activity levels.
Since Dilly was going on 10 years old, the vet wanted to run some blood tests just to get a good baseline in case it was needed as she grew older. Imagine our shock when, a few days later, the vet called us back to tell us that her kidney levels were not right and that she had Chronic Renal Failure, or kidney disease. She certainly didn't look or act sick, and we never would have known that she was sick unless those blood tests had been taken.
After we recovered from the initial bombshell, the first course of action was to set up a treatment plan. There is no cure for kidney disease, but it can in some cases be controlled and the progression can be slowed down. Our vet recommended first switching her over to a prescription food specifically for kidney problems, and we chose Hills Science Diet K/D since that was the closest in formulation to the food she had been eating. The vet also mentioned that if we could stabilize her levels using food alone, hydration therapy (fluid injections) would not be necessary, at least for a while.
What is Chronic Renal Failure?
Chronic Renal Failure happens when the kidneys begin to gradually lose their capability to function, and the levels of toxic waste products start to build up in the cats body. There is no set cause of CRF, other than genetics, age, and other uncontrollable factors. The good news is that a cat's kidneys are capable of much more production than is actually needed, so a cat can still live somewhat normally even if production is low.
There are two typical treatments for CRF: Diet and Hydration Therapy.
- Diet: There are a number of prescription diets available, in both wet and dry form, for cats with kidney disease. If a cat has been diagnosed with CRF relatively early, a change in diet may be all that is needed to slow the progression of the disease and the cat can continue living a normal life. Wet food is generally recommended since it provides extra moisture for the cat, but dry food can also work if the cat refuses to eat the wet food.
- Hydration Therapy: Or more specifically, fluid injection. If a cat becomes dehydrated or as the disease progresses, it will be necessary to inject specially prescribed fluids under their skin in order to maximize their kidney function. This treatment requires that the cat remain stationary with a needle in their skin for a period of time and can obviously be difficult for some cats. Veterinarians can administer the procedure, although depending on the frequency of the injections the owners can also be trained to do it at home.
There are other possible treatments for CRF, including medication, dialysis, and kidney transplants, but these treatments aren't commonly practiced at this time.
Six Months Later...
Six months later, we went back to the vet to have blood tests done again, and finally got some great news: Dilly's kidney levels had stabilized! We'll have to continue to monitor her treatment with bloodwork every six months for the rest of her life, but we're thrilled that she's doing fine for now and that we've gotten it under control.
Dilly is doing just fine: still in good spirits, still chasing and being chased by the other cat, still playing with her favorite cat toys, and still enjoying lots of love and cuddles with her owners. While we're aware that we may eventually have to start her on fluid injections, her prognosis is good and we're looking forward to spending many more years with her at our side.