Kidney Failure in Cats: A Highly Manageable Condition
I am not a vet or vet tech, but I have taken care of many cats with kidney failure. I've also seen a lot of people devastated by a kidney failure diagnosis in their cat and unsure of how to care for their pet, or if treatment is even possible, so I thought I'd pass along information from my experience. Kidney failure is a serious illness, but by no means an immediate death sentence. With some care, you can give your cat many years you might not have initially thought possible. I've compiled a list of recommendations which can provide a very powerful starting point in addressing a kidney failure diagnosis.
The first thing to realize is that kidney failure is a nearly inevitable part of cat aging, and therefore not as immediately serious a diagnosis as it might initially sound. I cannot emphasize strongly enough that a cat can live happily and otherwise healthily for years after a diagnosis under the right circumstances. In my experience following just these directions, cats have regularly lived five years with kidney failure, and even up to seven. In fact following these recommendations for any older cat while monitoring him or her for symptoms of kidney failure (including weight loss, weakness in the hind legs, changes in water consumption, diarrhea or appetite changes) will help you keep your cat healthy.
Water, Water, Water
The most important thing you can do is make sure your kitty constantly has access to clean water. Change it every day and keep an eye on it to make sure it stays clean. Monitor your kitty to make sure he is drinking, too. I've heard that some cats respond well to a little lemon juice being added to the water if they're not drinking, and Pedialyte and similar products can be given. You should also monitor your cat's hydration level. This can be done by pinching the skin at the top of the neck and seeing how quickly it returns to normal. A slower return means your cat is dehydrated, though you should realize that the looser skin of older cats bounces back more slowly than that of a younger cat. If you do find that your cat is not drinking enough or is slightly dehydrated, you can also use a syringe to inject water a little at a time into her mouth; this is messy, but it can go a long way toward alleviating dehydration.
Stress is harmful to cats, particularly sick or fragile ones. Minimize events and exposure to surroundings that cause stress for your kitty.
The right baby food (Gerber Seconds meat flavors like chicken and turkey are perfect) can be great food for a sick cat, including one with kidney failure. The salt content is lower, liquid content is higher, the protein is higher quality and last but not least, most cats love it, meaning they may eat it when they are not particularly keen on eating anything else (keeping your cat eating is important, so make sure he is, even if the food he wants isn't particularly healthy). If your cat is reluctant to eat, you can also put baby food in a syringe and squirt it directly into his/her mouth. Don't feed your cat exclusively baby food for too long, though, as it lacks some nutrients such as taurine, a vital amino acid that cats cannot produce. In addition, not all brands or flavors of baby food are appropriate, so be careful in your selection.
A combination of the above steps will be powerful in fighting your cat's kidney failure, but sometimes your cat will need an extra boost. Subcutaneous fluids provide that boost. The electrolyte solution is injected under the skin and absorbed by the body to improve your cat's hydration levels. With instruction from your vet and practice, you can do this at home with minimal stress and discomfort for the cat. The administration of subcutaneous fluids is a powerful tool in your cat-care arsenal.
Monitor for Symptoms of Infection
Watch for blood in the urine, inability to urinate or fever (feel your cat's ears frequently to make sure they are not abnormally warm); these are all signs of a bladder infection. If you do see these signs, take your cat to the vet, who will test for infection and prescribe antibiotics. Do this as soon as possible, because the longer an infection goes untreated, the harder it will be to treat and you do not want it to spread to the kidneys. Speed is vital to treating infections, and cats with kidney failure are more susceptible to them.
A diagnosis of kidney failure can be scary for a cat-owner, but remember that while the condition is serious, cats can live happily and otherwise healthily for many years with the condition. Just stay on top of it, follow these suggestions, do some research and monitor for irregularities, acting quickly when you find them.