Yes... what will my first cat blog be about. Well, I've actually known that for a while. It's about kidney disease in cats. No, not a very happy topic. But it is an important one and it is also close to my heart. Last May (2021) we had to put our dearest Oliver to sleep. Both hisis kidneys affected and the ultrasound showed that there was little left of the kidneys. We managed to keep Oliver alive for a year, but if you can no longer offer a cat a happy life because he or she is so very ill... Then, unfortunately, it's the end of the line.
How did we see that Oliver had kidney disease?
- Oliver didn't want to eat as much as before.
- He lost weight (he had always been a voluptuous cat).
- He had some diarrhea and was also vomiting.
- He slept more.
- And a very clear one for us, he smelled very different.
- Oliver drank more water than usual. He peed a lot more as a result.
Now that you know the symptoms, it might be nice to first know what the kidneys are for in the body. The kidneys have four main functions:
- They filter waste from the body
- They regulate the electrolytes, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and sodium in the body.
- They make erythropoietin and this substance ensures the production of red blood cells in the bone marrow.
- They also make renin, an enzyme that controls blood pressure.
You understand, if you read this like this, that a lot goes wrong in the body when the kidneys can no longer do their job. Because the kidneys can no longer retain the fluid properly, and your cat will urinate a lot. To compensate for this, the cat will drink more. In the urine of the many puddles that you will find in the litter box, you can no longer smell any urine. This is because the waste products remain in the body. So your cat actually pees almost water. The urea level in the blood rises and this is what we smell on our Oliver. It reminded me of the smell of a cow farm. The high urea content will make your cat nauseous and lethargic. Eating is no longer possible and vomiting is a result. We also saw this happen with Oliver. I bought many different brands of renal food so that we could offer a new type of food with every sick wave. It was important that he kept eating.
Oliver was diagnosed with a blood test. The urea and creatine values are then looked at. The urea is the substance that you can smell in a cat with kidney failure. The higher the values, the worse the kidneys are affected. The kidneys filter the blood of these substances, so you can see that the 'filters of the body' really don't work anymore. It could also have been done with a urinalysis or an X-ray. The blood results were clear enough. It turned out to be chronic renal failure. What is the difference between chronic and acute renal failure? In acute renal failure, kidney function suddenly decreases (acutely) and this may be because too little blood can go to the organ or because the urine cannot leave the bladder because it is blocked by debris in the urinary tract (the well-known bladder debris). In acute renal failure, the kidneys can recover. In chronic renal failure, kidney function therefore slowly declines. Kidneys have a large overcapacity which means they can work more or harder than the body needs. It therefore only becomes clear that the cat has renal failure if there is already 70% failure. The cat then shows the symptoms we discussed earlier in this blog. In most cases it is already too late to help the cat. But there are cases of cats with kidney failure known who have lived for several years with too high kidney values.
For Oliver we opted for a flush. This meant that he stayed at the vet for 3 days and he received an IV there to rid his body of the waste. Our idea was that after that treatment we could keep him with us for a few more years in combination with a good diet food (renal). Unfortunately, his kidneys were so badly damaged that after this flush he needed another flush after five months. After the second rinse it was clear that he was not much better. Oliver loves people and the second flush did not disappoint him. Because it was on a weekend and there was no commotion in the veterinary clinic, something Oliver loves. We didn't go any further, because it became an agony for Oliver. We have made the last few weeks as fun as possible for him. After that, it was over.
I wanted to write about this because I hope kidney failure is picked up faster by the owner so that a kidney diet can be started quickly. It is often older cats that suffer from (chronic) kidney failure. In younger cats, there is often another cause behind kidney failure, such as a kidney infection, for example. For older cats (from 8 years and older) you can therefore opt for a senior check during the annual vaccination. Some blood is then taken and examined for deterioration of organ functions. So not only the kidneys are examined. It depends on your vet and your own choices how extensive the senior check can be. Urinalysis is also possible. This way you can help your cat at an early stage and he or she can enjoy a peaceful old age.
If your cat appears to have kidney failure, different vets may give different advice. It is sometimes recommended to put the cat to sleep right away. Other times, a rinse or medication is chosen. In fact, the main focus here is on the cat, and not on the numbers. If you have a happy cat that can handle the treatments well, then you should go for it. But if you have a shy cat, whose treatments only cause more stress and anxiety, then putting it to sleep is better advice. The motto is also adhered to here: “Treat the cat, not the numbers”. Remember that you can always ask for a second opinion if you do not feel comfortable with the advice given.
Medication and renal diet options
- Kidney cats are now prescribed the drug fortekor. This is a medicine that is actually used by heart patients. But since 2002 it has also been prescribed for kidney cats because it benefits blood flow. This supports the kidneys.
- Kidney cats can get Primperid. This helps well against the nausea. A cat cat has to keep eating!
- The best 'medicine' for kidney failure is a diet. Then look for the word 'renal' on the packaging. Kibble and wet food are available. I myself prefer wet food, then the cat also gets a load of moisture. Some brands that sell wet food and chunks:
- Hill’s K/D
- Royal Canin Renal
- Royal Canin Renal Select
- Royal Canin Renal Special
- Kattovit Renal
- Concept for Life Renal
- Specific Kidney Support
- Beaphar Kidney Diet
- Cats can also be given medication for symptom relief. As an example Lactulose for softer stools. Kidney cats are often constipated. High blood pressure can be treated with Amlopidine. Appetite stimulants such as Periactin or Diazepam can also be given. Again, good food is important! With kidney cats money; Bad food is better than no food at all. Force-feeding is also an option. Here you feed your cat several times a day with a syringe with a long spout. The question is again whether you are doing your cat a favor with this.
- What can also help is the powder Ipakitine. This powder, which you can mash into the feed, binds phosphorus, so that it ends up in the blood to a lesser extent. Phosphorus is very bad for the kidneys of a kidney patient. Ipakitine also absorbs toxic substances from the stomach and intestines.
We have tried a lot for Oliver and here are some tips that have worked well for him.
- Put as many water bowls as possible in the house and make sure that there is always clean water. We have opted for beautiful vases and large glass containers that Oliver could drink from. He thought the vases were his favourite, so he didn't have to bend over so much. Also consider a cat fountain. We bought this one: Miaustore. A ceramic (easy to keep clean) fountain that is also very quiet, which I find very pleasant.
- For Oliver, I always put his food in the microwave for a while. Because the food was warm, it smelled more and made Oliver want it. Sometimes I stirred the food with a finger, strangely enough this also encouraged him to eat.
- Consider different feeders. Plastic food bowls can smell very strong to a cat. Try metal, ceramic or bamboo. A cat does not like very deep food bowls, choose a saucer. Or put kibble next to the container. It is also possible that your kidney cat suffers from heartburn, then it can help to raise the food bowl. You can also try putting kibble on your hand. In the end, Oliver only ate kibble from my hand.
- Get as creative as you can to get your cat to eat.
What is also useful, while caring for a kidney cat, is that you know what to look out for. With our Oliver it was mainly his smell, you could smell the urea. And for me that was comparable to the smell of a cow shed. (Now I hope you've been to a cow shed at some point... but this is the only smell I could connect to it) As soon as this one got stronger, we already knew it was going wrong. Other things to watch out for:
- The stool. Make sure your cat defecates regularly (1 to 2 times a day). Constipation can cause cats to become nauseous again, to vomit or to have diarrhea.
- Drinking. As you probably know by now, kidney cats also need to keep drinking enough. If a kidney cat becomes dehydrated, you have a problem. If your cat isn't drinking enough, use the tips above. If this does not work, you can spray water with a syringe into the side of the mouth. Be careful!! Not too much at once. The cat must not choke!
- Keep an eye on the mouth. If the urea level becomes very high, mouth sores can develop that hurt very much. That limits food again. Inflammation is also common in the mouth of a kidney cat. You can ask your vet to check the potassium level in the blood. A potassium deficiency can cause nausea and little muscle strength. You can then have the idea that the end is near. But if there is a potassium deficiency, you can support your cat well with a supplement called Tumil-K. This is a powder that you can mash through the food.
- Make sure you have the phone number of the replacement or weekend vet. If you have to look for a phone number in a panic or in a hurry, this causes extra stress for you, but also for your cat.
I hope this blog can provide you with some support after diagnosing kidney failure in your cat. Do you have any questions, comments or do you just want to say something. Leave a comment below. In honor of our wonderful sweater-crawling Oliver, he has been given an eternal spot on my website. His silhouette is the model for the sparkling cat that shows you the way to the cat blog on this website. We will never process the loss, but we will learn to live with it.
Oliver loved sleeping under blankets, but he most loved spending time in your jumper. We still miss him everyday...