A well cared for cat can live at least 20 years. At most veterinary practices, cats 10 years and older qualify for ‘senior’ blood work but cats age so gracefully, they don’t start to look ‘old’ until 17 or so. That’s when you have to start worrying about the ‘Big Three’, which are most common diseases in senior cats: (1) Kidney Disease; (2) Diabetes; and (3) Hyperthyroidism.
Older cats seem to last longer than their kidneys and if you are seeing signs like more frequent drinking and/or urination, urinating outside the box, weight loss or lethargy, it’s time for that senior blood work. Screening blood work, commonly called a “panel and CBC” measures the function of all the internal organs including the liver, kidneys, pancreas, bone marrow production of white and red blood cells and platelets. There is much information that can be learned from blood work, whether it’s normal or abnormal. A urinalysis should also be included in the screening as certain tests determine whether or not the kidney is able to filter out toxins and eliminate them from the body.
Several measures are important in determining how well your cat’s kidneys are functioning. The BUN (Blood Urea Nitrogen) builds up in the blood when the kidneys can’t filter it into the urine and out of the body. The same is true of Creatinine. The build-up of both of these substances in the blood will make your cat feel very sick and will decrease her appetite. The limitation with the blood work analysis available to your veterinarian is that over 75% of the kidneys must be non-functional for the Creatinine and BUN to show an increase in the blood panel.
The Specific Gravity is part of the Urinalysis and is the measure of how well the kidney is filtering out toxins. If the urine is very dilute with a very low Specific Gravity, it means the toxins are stuck in the body and not going out in the urine.
All of these measures will help your veterinarian determine whether or not your cat is in kidney (often called “renal”) failure. Those words often scare owners but with support at home, cats can live for years in renal failure. Sometimes it is necessary to periodically hospitalize a cat suffering from kidney failure to flush out the toxins in the blood with intravenous fluids. When you bring your cat back home, you can give your cat those same fluids under the skin (called “Sub Q”). Because each cat is different, the frequency of the Sub Q treatments will vary. Some cats need Sub Q fluids once a week and others need it once a day, depending on the severity of the disease.
A low protein diet is also helpful to keep the kidneys as healthy as possible and other types of therapies are available depending on the specifics of each patient’s issues. It is important not to give up hope if your cat is diagnosed with kidney failure. You need to think about your cat’s quality of life, tolerance to being medicated and accepting fluids at home. With the right care, your senior cat could outlive everyone around her – in cat years anyway!