31 January 2011

10 signs that your senior cat is suffering from today's top feline health ailment

At first, I pretty much shrugged the news right off, and it’s only in retrospect that I’ve been able to identify why. “Your cat has the beginning stages of kidney failure,” my veterinarian stated rather matter-of-factly, as if he were updating me on the latest technological advances in the corrugated cardboard box biz. Just another diagnosis, just another 17 year old geriatric feline. It turns out that my deer-in-the-headlights 'non reaction' was the result of me being utterly dazed and confused.

As far as I knew, the only detectable health issue that my still bright-eyed, bushy-tailed ginger-haired tabby had was a mean case of gingivitis along with positively foul breath that on many occasions burned out the cilia in my nasal passages. Only with what seems like endless hours of research under my belt can I now put two and two together -- rotten feline breath is one of those seemingly innocuous symptoms that is potentially indicative of a kidney issue.

Snagglepuss’ blood test – a requirement for cats of a certain age before being given the thumbs-up to move forward with any type of professional dental cleaning and descaling procedure – demonstrated that despite getting on in years, his organs were still operating effectively enough to tolerate the anesthesia that he would be given. That simple test unfortunately also revealed that my dearly beloved ‘first born’ cat – one of four senior citizen felines living in my home – had elevated creatinine and BUN levels, both textbook markers of compromised kidney function.

That’s when I immediately began to rationalize quietly yet obsessively to myself. Things are bound to wear out after a while...no need to panic. Kidney problem? That’s a cakewalk compared to kitty diabetes, and I’m already an old pro in that department (my second born cat, Cyrano, has had the disease for 2 ½ years now but his high-protein diet and twice-daily insulin injections have literally turned his health around for the better). It's NOT a big deal. I can DO this. He'll be fine. I just need to shake down the internet for information, give him the best diet/supplements I can find and...of course Snagglepuss will reach the ripe old age of at least 20.

And yet, within months of my veterinarian’s ‘by the way…’ diagnosis, I began noticing tell-tale signs that things were beginning to change for Snagglepuss. What started with his sudden inability to jump up on not-terribly-high surfaces (that just a few months back were his daily stomping grounds) followed with an increasingly diminished appetite, noticeable weight loss, seemingly unquenchable thirst, ginormous litter box deposits and chronic constipation, the result of his worse-for-the-wear kidneys being surprisingly efficient at drawing every last scrap of fluid out of his body.

Witnessing your elderly cat habitually strain-groan-and-strain for several minutes on end just to pass solid waste from their body is bad enough – but then watching them drag and smear their inflamed derriere across the floor with still no relief pretty much makes your heart break. Even when Snaggle was fortunate enough to squeeze something out, it was as hard as a hockey puck and the sad consequence of all of that work was that he would spontaneously vomit, a common side effect of the toxins that build up in renal failure patients. No wonder meal time was no longer exciting for him -- he, along with countless other cats in his situation, regularly experience chronically upset stomachs due to acid accumulation.

You’d think that a simple veterinarian-recommended feline stool softener would be the best way to go, but typical products such as Petromalt are loaded with chemicals and petroleum, the latter of which is made with refined crude oil. In the interest of coming up with a much more natural alternative, I learned that canned pumpkin, stewed string beans, fish oil and slippery elm bark could all work wonders, finally using the latter two exclusively after trial and error (adding ¼ teaspoon of each along with ¼ cup of water to his twice-daily meals).

The combo helped a bit -- and I even augmented Snagglepuss’ treatment schedule with a detoxifying kidney remedy manufactured by Newton Homeopathics – but it was apparent that even after several months following this regimen, poor Snaggle was still not rallying in the way I had hoped. He looked…well…chronically bummed out. In addition to being severely dehydrated – which is blatantly apparent if, after pulling the skin up at the nape of the neck, it continues standing at attention rather than snapping back into place – he also spent more time sleeping, groaning audibly, and generally seeming miserable.

That’s when I realized that it was finally THAT time. Cat owners committed to their feline kidney failure patients come to a point of reckoning when – given the fact that drugs aren’t an option -- the next best thing they can do to enhance their quality of life is to administer subcutaneous fluids. That's probably not what you were expecting to read, but experts say that this condition doesn't have to be a death sentence, and I'm inclined to agree. Since I've taken on the responsibility of giving Snagglepuss the best quality of life that I can, I've really GOT to give it my best shot.

Well, here's the really cool part. In the 3 days that Snagglepuss has been given 100 milliliters of Lactated Ringers Solution, I’ve noticed a remarkably positive improvement in his condition, so all of the senior feline parents out there, take heart! In spite of the time, expense and ridonkulous learning curve (even though I can administer insulin to my younger diabetic cat with my eyes closed and at least one hand tied behind my back, I am a hopelessly flustered puddle of goo when it comes to getting Snagglepuss' IV gear down pat), I really do recommend taking the plunge if you find yourself facing a similar future with your feline family member.

Are you curious exactly how much my kidney-compromised kitty has turned around? In addition to his appetite bouncing back significantly, he is alert for longer periods of time throughout the day (rather than snoozing 24-7), he is a lot more vocal and -- for the first time in I can't remember how long -- he purrs audibly when I touch him. Of course, it's still rather early in his treatment schedule (he's got to receive 100 milliliters of fluid every day for two solid weeks to restore proper hydration levels before tapering administration down to every other day...for the rest of his life), but compared to how his condition WAS, it seems that giving Lactated Ringers Solution to renal failure cats is almost like a magic bullet.

Stay tuned for a follow-up to this article explaining what you can expect if you decide to administer subcutaneous fluids to your ailing kitty (including cost of gear, most affordable sources for supplies, time commitment and what the process actually entails). Basically, everything that you wish your veterinarian would tell you, but most likely won't.

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
Elizah Leigh's master's degree in education combined with her passion for the written word and deep-seated interest in environmental issues has proven to be the ideal trifecta for her present status as a green journalist. Currently commissioned to write a reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit: Elizah