Last Updated on: January 18, 2010 by Ingrid King

stalking cat

Guest post by Renee L. Austin

As cats age, we watch for physiologic changes that may affect the long term outlook for health. Many health concerns arise because we notice shifts in behavior, appearance, and activity levels. One condition associated with aging and cats is so inconspicuous that once the physical signs do become apparent, the disease is already quite advanced.

Chronic Renal Disease or Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) is often seen in aging cats. It results in a gradual decrease in the function of the kidneys. The kidneys serve a number of purposes; they produce urine and filter waste products from the body, regulate electrolytes such as potassium and phosphorous, they produce erythropoietin which stimulates red blood cell production by the bone marrow, and they contribute toward regulating blood pressure. Once the loss of function begins it is not reversible, and other vital organs are affected along with how your cat may feel in general.

Signs of CRF can be very subtle at first, especially with a species that relies upon masking illness and appearing healthy for its survival. Watch for increased thirst and urination, vomiting or other signs of nausea, lethargy or depression, poor hair coat, loss of appetite, lingering over the water bowl, eating cat litter, constipation, a strong ammonia-like odor to the breath, and changes in vision and hearing.

CRF is diagnosed beginning with a thorough physical examination and simple diagnostics run through your veterinarian’s office. Changes in the kidneys’ ability to concentrate urine and flush out waste are one of the earliest means of detecting the disease and will be assessed in a urinalysis. Blood tests will check for increases in Blood Urea Nitrogen and Creatinine to determine whether there is waste ‘build-up’ in the blood. Any changes in electrolyte levels and general blood cell health will be measured as well. Your cat’s doctor will also want to monitor blood pressure and perform a careful eye exam which may include measuring ocular pressures. 

There is no cure for CRF, but once it is diagnosed there are a number of actions you can take to help slow its progression and keep your cat comfortable at home. Dietary management, supplements, medication, and fluid therapy are all options that your veterinarian may discuss with you.

It is best to catch CRF before you notice signs at home by making routine visits to your veterinarian for examinations and lab work.  By doing this, subtle changes can be detected and monitored over time and preventative measures can be taken in the earliest stages. A good dental maintenance program will also help support overall organ health. Once-a-year visits may be appropriate for the younger feline, but as the years advance, more frequent visits might be in order.

Changes that occur as cats age are complex, and signs of CRF can be similar to many different disease processes. Be certain to make those appointments with your veterinarian and work closely together to understand your cat’s aging issues, as well as steps you can take to manage Chronic Renal Failure. 

Renee AustinRenee L. Austin is the founder of Whimsy Cats, a specialized home care business for cats with chronic medical conditions and special needs. She also provides consulting services for veterinary practices. For more information visit http://www.whimsycats.com