My silly calico Marbles is sitting with her neck pressed to the pillow, in what I call her heartburn position. Earlier today she filched some of the other cats’ food which has a higher protein content, and she’s not accustomed to it. That can often irritate her stomach. I understand why she can’t resist sneaking some of the yummy canned food – it smells good; it tastes good (to her, anyway). But ultimately it can strain her kidneys. That’s how it can be, living with Chronic Renal Failure (CRF).
Being a cat, she doesn’t really know what’s going on. She knows she doesn’t feel well, especially when a dietary indiscretion makes her vomit. We strive to feed her a proper diet, separately from the other cats, but occasionally we fail to remove the forbidden stuff quickly enough. After several years on a special diet, only now does she seem to realize that eating what’s placed in front of her is best. She has her weak moments, just like the rest of us.
Working with your vet, understanding the underlying causes of symptoms may help you to deal with your pet’s illness. Blood tests* can determine how well the kidneys are removing wastes from the blood. The values of Blood Urea Nitrogen (BUN), creatinine, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium should be checked and compared against previous results on a regular basis. Also important to monitor are the concentration of urine (specific gravity) and the number of new red blood cells being produced. Determining how often these tests are done should be discussed with your vet.
Changing your pet’s diet to a prescription food specific for kidney disease may reduce the load on the kidneys. You may find commercially available foods with similar ingredients, so learning to read the labels thoroughly is important, and if you have questions, call the manufacturer’s 800 number — that’s what they are there for.
Replacing fluids lost through urination and vomiting may be helped by feeding moist foods and adding water to dry food. Dehydration due to the kidneys’ inability to concentrate urine may eventually necessitate subcutaneous fluid administered by the veterinarian. You can be trained to do the same at home for your pet as needed. Addition of fiber to the diet and a prescription such as Lactulose can also help combat constipation. Loss of potassium may require supplementation, usually added to your pet’s food with a prescribed medication from your vet. This need must be determined by your vet through blood tests.
Medication may become necessary to stimulate your pet’s appetite as the disease progresses, as nausea and vomiting may become more frequent.
Your vet may determine that your pet needs other medications to balance the essential electrolytes in its system.
A good source for information on pets with kidney disease is the Internet. There are numerous sites which explain the disease process and treatments. Many people who have experienced CRF with a pet have shared their wisdom here. Rather than suggest a particular site, I would urge you to check out as many sites as you are comfortable with reading, and determine if you have questions for your vet to answer, based on your research. Ultimately it will be between you and your veterinarian to figure out how best to treat your pet.
*Note: Cats are not the only animals to suffer from CRF. Dogs, hamsters, ferrets, reptiles, and other pets can have similar issues. If you have an unusual species of pet, and you suspect a problem with CRF, you may want to consult with a vet who specializes in your pet’s species, because blood test values may vary greatly.