Friday, September 5, 2014

Why do so many cats have kidney disease, and what can we do about it?

Senior Russian blue cat watching the peppers in the garden
Cats just don't live forever. It's something we cat owners learn to live with. But, many cats have their lives cut short due to kidney disease. In fact, Cornell University suggests that kidney disease is one of the most frequently observed illnesses in cats that are older than 7. Sadly, I have a cat that fits into this statistic quite nicely.

Beorn is creeping up on 15 years old, and recently, I learned that we're losing him due to chronic kidney problems. There's not much I can do for him now, although there are many things I am trying, but I set out to find out a little more about what causes the problem in cats, so I could perhaps prevent the issue from cropping up in my other cats. Here's what I found out.

Common causes for cat kidney disease

There's no real consensus on what lies beneath most cases of kidney disease, but many organizations (including the ASPCA) suggest that at least some cats are genetically predisposed to struggle with their kidneys. This means that cats who have bad kidneys likely have kittens who have bad kidneys. On the one hand, this is good news, as it suggests that the solution involves taking cats with bum organs out of the breeding pool with spays and neuters. This is the kind of thing dog breeders do (if they're reputable, but that's a whole different issue).

Cats, however, are a sticky wicket. Most people get their cats from shelters or rescues, so they don't have the opportunity to ask about the health of the parents or the health of the breed line as a whole. Those who do get cats from an individual owner might only know about the mother cat, as the father(s) might be roaming through the neighborhood without leaving papers behind. It's just harder to track this problem in pets who breed independently.

In addition, this problem tends to show up late in life, long after cats are all done with the whole parenthood business. This means cats could have multiple litters before anyone knows that they're passing bad things down to their kittens. I'll bet this happens more often than we might think.

Some bloggers and cat people point to the low water content in commercial cat food, when they look to assign blame for kidney disease. The theory is that cats don't drink enough water on a daily basis to flush toxins out of their bodies, and that dry kibble has no moisture at all that could help them. This constant dehydration could damage the kidneys to such a degree that they simply shut down. It's an interesting theory, but so far, it's not been definitively proven.

What can I do to help my senior cat?

Beorn's dealing with very little kidney function at this point, so there's not much I can do to help him. I'm working on feeding him a low-protein diet that's stuffed with high-value foods (like organ meats). The low protein content reduces some of the stress his kidneys are facing, while the yummy meats included help prompt him to eat. He's so very thin right now, so packing on the pounds is important.
Thin senior cat on the hot tub
Beorn right now.
Magestic Russian blue cat protects his stray cat friend
Beorn in healthier times.
He really needs to gain some weight, so he'll be stronger. That's one thing I can help with.

I'm also working to give him a lot of water. I change the water in the bowl almost hourly these days, and I'm adding water to the meals he'll eat. In time, I'll likely need to give him injections of fluid underneath the skin, too, so he'll have enough hydration.

But overall, I'm just trying to keep him comfortable. I'm looking for ways to spend more time with him, cuddle him and help him to feel safe. That's what these end-of-life treatments are all about.

And for the other cats? I'm kicking up their water quotient, too, and I continue to look for a definitive link between food and kidney problems. If any of you have resources to kick my way, I'd love the info!

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