KIDNEY disease in older cats is one of the major conditions that vets are looking out for during routine health checks. As clients at Riverside Vet Centre are aware, these health checks are twice yearly once a cat has got in to double figures, just so we can pick up the very early signs of any problems that much quicker. As a condition in the older cat, up to a third of all cats over the age of 15 can be affected by kidney disease.
In the early stages of the problem, chronic renal disease can often go unnoticed due to the special features of a cat’s kidneys that allow them to compensate for changes that would leave us humans in a lot of trouble. Sadly though, that doesn’t mean that a cat is coping well, and there’s likely to be a major issue for the older cat unless we implement some simple steps to ease up the damage.
What signs might I notice in my cat?
An increase in thirst may be the first thing that becomes apparent to an owner. With an increase in thirst there’s often an increase in urination as well. However, detecting that change may be difficult if cats go outside for their ‘ablutions’! Weight loss is also one of the features of kidney disease. However, these changes are often very subtle and not easy for an owner to pick up. It’s for that reason that on every visit to a vet centre your cat is weighed, just so we can build up a ‘library picture’ of their weight over a long period of time. Armed with that kind of information we can monitor a succession of small changes much easier.
Appetite loss is also noticed in kidney disease as well as subtle changes in a cat’s behaviour that is sometimes mistaken as ‘growing old’.
Eye checks during routine visits to your vet is also a standard now for the older feline visitor. They give a hint about another aspect of kidney changes—in about a fifth of such cats they can develop high blood pressure.
As you can appreciate, whilst the list of possible signs of kidney disease are quite useful, they are a little vague. They help to give us more than a clue that the kidneys are in trouble, but a blood sample and a urine sample will assist enormously in helping to quantify the amount of damage and so better target the level of help that a cat needs. Ongoing, repeat samples from time to time will greatly aid in charting the success following any changes we’ve tried to introduce.
What can be done to help?
If we can detect the problem early then often the only changes needed are dietary. It may seem strange to us humans with very delicate kidneys, but for cats it’s a truism: You eat yourself to health! Now whether a cat can be tempted to take on the various renal diets that have been devised for them is another question. These days, manufacturers have produced some very impressive renal diets that seem to cater for all manner of “finicky feline.” It’s certainly worth persevering with since those cats that transfer successfully on to a prescription diet have a life expectancy three times longer than those that refuse the food.
Cats with kidney disease also seem to suffer a bit more with urine infections compared to other cats. This stems from the fact that their urine is a lot weaker, so allowing bacterial infection to flourish. Routine tests are made to check for any infections. They also suffer much more with mouth infections.
With routine monitoring, these days, kidney disease in cats is anything but a hopeless situation. Regular health checks are the key to early detection of kidney problems, long before they turn in to a potential crisis.
•Dai Gittins runs the Riverside Veterinary Centre, in Loxley Road, Stratford (Tel: 01789 299455; website: www.riversidevetcentre.com)
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