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by Tessa Kimmel  Reprinted with permission of Animal Wellness Magazine, © 2006,

Samantha was shocked when her vet said her seven-year-old cat Tex was showing signs of kidney disease. “I had no idea cats that young could have kidney problems,” she says “I thought it was something only really old animals get.”

Unfortunately, Samantha is not alone. It sometimes seems, in fact, that there’s an epidemic of kidney disease in cats. Certainly, cases of feline renal disease and failure appear to have increased by an astounding rate in recent years. Many kitty parents are all too familiar with the terms “renal insufficiency” and “chronic renal failure”, known as CRF.

What’s behind it all?

Renal disease can be either congenital or acquired, and there is a whole list of factors that play a role.

The ancient history of cats shows they were designed to live in the desert, where water s scarce. These desert felines obtained their daily fluid through eating their prey. This lack of a need for drinking water has been carried forward through the millennia and maintained by our domestic cats. They are not animals that crave visits to the water bowl. This means that cats fed primarily dry food live in a constantly dehydrated state. This puts the cat at a higher risk for developing disease.

The ingestion of toxins greatly im- pairs renal function. If immediate treatment isn’t sought, it can often be fatal. Last spring’s tainted pet food crisis left many cats, some as young as three months, in developed stages of renal failure. Environmental toxins may also play a role.

There appears to be some corre- lation between vaccines and kidney disease. Studies done at the American College of Veterinary Internal Medi- cine and Colorado State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science show evidence to support this connection.

“My experience has shown that the vast majority of CRF cases are triggered by vaccines, chemicals and drugs,” says veterinarian Dr. Stephen Blake. “Vaccines historically target the reproductive and urinary systems of animals. If the animal is susceptible, the vaccines cause an inflammatory response in the kidneys, resulting in loss of function.”

Congenital diseases such as renal dysplasia, the abnormal development of one or both kidneys, affect breeds such as Maine coon, Siamese, Burmese and Himalayan. Polycystic kidney disease (PKD), the development of renal cysts, can be congenital or acquired. While acquired renal disease is typically seen in cats over the age of nine, a cat carrying the hereditary marker for PKD may develop problems much earlier inlife. Some veterinarians have treated patients younger than three years.

Signs and symptoms

Unfortunately, renal disease is rather secretive. Diagnostic tests don’t often show a cat’s propensity to develop the problem.

“All animals can exist on half of one kidney, a statistic agreed upon by all medical practitioners,” says Dr. Blake. “Because of this, an animal can gradually lose kidney function, which is not detected by laboratory tests. Animals can compensate for the loss of 75% of kidney function. This makes it very difficult to diagnose by the time it reaches critical mass.”

What clinical symptoms indicate that renal disease or CRF is occurring? Typical signs are increased drinking and urinating, known as PU/PD (polyuria/polydipsia), lack of appetite, vomiting food or clear foam, lethargy, and bad breath.


An ammonia-like smell from the mouth is a sure sign of advanced renal disease.

Loss of muscle mass, particularly around the hips and hind end, weight loss (often rapid), weakness of the hind legs and changes to the texture and look of a cat’s coat are other indications of kidney disease. Some of these symptoms may also indicate other conditions such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism. If your cat displays any of these signs, get him to your veterinarian without delay.

Treatment options

Although kidney disease and CRF are irreversible and eventually terminal, early diagnosis and treatment may halt further damage and greatly improve your cat’s ability to continue on for quite some time, depending on his overall health and age, as well as the type and stage of the disease.

“Complementary medicine is the best way to treat feline renal disease,” says veterinarian Dr. Mark Newkirk, who uses both conventional and alternative therapies. “That is, you combine the best of both types of medicine. For example, conventional approaches such as sub-Q fluids, controlling phosphorous levels, and antibiotics if infection is present, are still needed. Adding holistic medicine allows you to have more tools in the toolbox. NAET (Nambudripad’s Allergy Elimination Technique) can pick up allergens or toxins that may be affecting the organ, and energetically help eliminate the offending agent. Homeopathic remedies can be made from the animals’ own urine and blood (which are carrying the “signature” of the disease) thus providing a specific immune and energy boosting therapy to the kidneys. Homotoxicology remedies mix low potency combination homeopathic remedies with the animals’ blood, which can then carry the ‘answer’ to the disease back to the organ and help stabilize function.”


Be sure to work with a vet who is well-versed in these different modalities, so that you can develop a regime that’s best for your own cat.

Dr. Newkirk also recommends acupuncture placed at the kidney points. “This helps stimulate cellular energy, which is needed to run the healing process of the kidneys,” he says. “Homotoxicology remedies can also be injected into the acupuncture points for an added boost to function and healing.Glandular remedies, a sort of ‘food’ for the kidney itself, are added along with specific herbs (Chinese or Western) to help function, decrease inflammation and combat infection.”

Dr. Blake adds: “I recommend New Zealand bovine colostrum, Crab Apple (Bach Flower Remedies), Renafood kidney support, common juniper or silver birch, gemmotherapy (drainage and detoxification at the cellular level), and a high quality protein diet.”

Is low protein a good idea?

In the past, any cat that showed the earliest signs of renal disease was immediately put on a low-protein diet. Some vets, in the hope of warding off the onset of kidney disease, would even recommend that all cats seven or older be automatically put on a low protein diet. “It’s important to note that low protein diets often result in poor compliance that further impacts the inappetence many cats experience when kidney disease is present,” Dr. Blake points out. “Let them eat what they want so they don’t starve to death. I recommend a high quality protein diet of at least 35% or higher protein levels, depending on the cat’s preference.”

Prevention tips

There’s no sure way to prevent any disease but there are certainly ways of
keeping your cat’s kidneys as healthy as possible. Feed him a good quality wet food, and ensure he has access to fresh water at all times – even desert animals like a drink once in awhile! Avoid over- vaccination, prescribed pharmaceuticals and toxins as much as possible.

If you have a cat already diagnosed with renal disease or CRF, don’t despair. Ensure you have an open line of communication with your veterinarian. Explore treatment options and learn what you can do to provide home nursing for your cat. “The most important part of treating any illness is positive thinking,” advises Dr. Blake. “Never put a time limit on how long your cat has to live, and never do anything for your cat that you don’t feel in your heart is what you would do for yourself.”

On the advice of her vet, Samantha has taken Tex off all dry food and has gradually switched him to a premium canned diet. She has also decided not to give him any more vaccinations except when absolutely needed, and with the help of her vet is researching holistic treatments to further support his health. “When we first got the diagnosis, I was devastated because I thought I’d lose him,” says Samantha. “I’ve since learned that with the right food and care, he could go on quite happily for a number of years yet.”

Kitties and Kidney Disease

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