(Old age kidney disease)

The most common cause of death in older cats is progressive failure of the kidney tubules. Early signs of this disease, which generally effect cats older than 12 years, are increased water consumption and weight loss. The coat may become dull and you may notice increased “finickiness” with the cats eating. As the disease progresses water consumption escalates and the cat becomes progressively more lethargic. Muscle wasting, weakness and anemia mark the end stage of kidney failure. Because many of the signs, early in the disease, are subtle we recommend that all cats 12 years and older be examined, at least, every six months.

Diagnosis of kidney disease is made via physical exam, urine analysis and a complete set of blood tests. Occasionally, ultrasound, xray or biopsy are useful auxiliary tests.

The treatment for kidney disease always involves changing the cat to a low protein diet, such as k/d by Hills (available through veterinarians only.) The rationale for this is that the waste products of protein metabolism are what accumulates (uremia) and make the cat feel poorly and also further damage the kidney tubules.

We may treat your cat with antibiotics if we think bacterial infection may be compromising the old kidneys. Often we use a drug called Winstrol (an anabolic steroid) to control muscle wasting and anemia. Winstrol may also help to stabilize the kidney tubules. Often vitamins are a useful adjunct.

If the disease is severe we may have to hospitalize your cat for 3-5 days for fluid therapy and other injectable medications. Once past this crisis, we may encourage you to administer fluids under your cats skin at home.

This subcutaneous (sub Q) treatment is often very useful to keep the cat eating and happy when kidney function is marginal. This is a crude form of dialysis. It is not painful for the cat and usually is easily mastered. We will show you how to do it and it might feel awkward at first, but soon you will realize it’s easier then giving in.

Your cat may need to be rechecked frequently in the beginning of the treatment so that we can tailor the treatment to your cat's specific needs.

Some cats can live years with moderate kidney impairment. This is a common and serious disease and in some cats it advances quickly and can kill in short order. However, some cats respond well to treatment. Untreated kidney disease has a mean survival time of 4-6 months. Treated, it lengthens to 10-14 months. If you are lucky the cat could still be alive 3 years after treatment. We rarely know which cats will respond so well - so it’s always worth trying.