Margaret C. Saiki, D.V.M.,
Over 20 Years of Experience!
Former Medical Director
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The Older Cat: Chronic Kidney Disease

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The Older Cat: Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) And How Owners can help in its early detection

Margaret Saiki


Cat owners can play a big role in the early detection of Chronic Kidney Disease in cats. One in 12 older cats has CKD, according to Banfield Pet Hospital's just-released 2012 State of Pet Health Report. Unfortunately the cause of this disease is unknown. Other than a kidney transplant which can cost upwards to $18,000 there is no cure. Treatment is aimed at prolonging quality of life.

With this in mind this blog will focus on what cat owners can do to help in the early diagnosis of this disease. As a mobile veterinary practitioner I recommend that cats over the age of 8 have yearly blood work and urine analysis.   


1. Observe your cat for increased water consumption

When approximately 75% of the kidneys have lost their ability to function, the rest of the nephrons (functional units of the kidney) compensate to the increasing levels of toxins of the body by increasing production of urine.  In order to keep hydrated the body must increase water consumption. As an owner, you might notice that your cat is increasing its water consumption and urine production.


Dr. Saiki’s hints: How to tell if your cat is drinking more water

  • It is not uncommon for cat owners to rarely see their cat’s drinking water. So if you are now actually seeing them drinking water this may be an indication that they are drinking more than normal.
  • If you see your cat drinking water from unusual or different places. Some owners note that their cats are now drinking out of the kitchen sink.
  • With the advent of clumping litter one might see larger clumps of urine in the litter box.
  • Having to change the litter box more often

In this early stage of CKD increased water consumption maybe the only early sign of this disease. This sign can be seen even before blood values increase.

In later stages of CKD one might see other signs

  • Weight Loss
  • Poor Hair Coat
  • Reduce Appetite
  • Small or irregular kidneys on physical exam
  • Uremic breath (seen more at end stages)
  • Recent episodes of Urinary tract infections         

2. Yearly Blood Profiles and Urinalysis

The most important values measured in a blood profile which helps in the detection of Chronic Kidney Disease are:





These are the laboratory values most useful for your veterinarian in the detection of CKD. But it should be noted that these values do not increase until the pet is in renal failure.  

3. Urinalysis

  • Persistent detection of protein in the urine (proteinuria) helps in the early detection of CKD in cats. The development of species-specific albumin enzyme-linked immunoassay (ELISA) technology that enables detection of low concentrations feline albuminuria. These tests are very valuable in the early detection of CKD and should be included in routine lab work for the geriatric feline patient.
  • With CKD the kidneys are unable to concentrate urine so an analysis will reveal dilute urine.
  • Because concentrated urine helps to decrease bacterial growth, one might see increase incidence of Urinary Tract Infections.

In summary

Chronic Kidney Disease is a common disease for older cats. Owners can play a pivotal role in its early detection by:

Observing their pets for increased water consumption

Testing blood and urine samples yearly 

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