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Kitty’s kidneys can be treated

Stephen Sheldon, DVM/Special to the Daily

Believe me, there was a time when not only pet owners but also veterinarians themselves would chuckle at such a notion – not anymore.

If you’ve got about $5,000 you can visit one of eight facilities in the United States and provide a cat suffering from kidney disease some quality living for a while longer. First performed at the University of California in 1987, the technique has been refined and now the success rate beyond 12 months is about 70 percent.

It will become more in demand as techniques and centers become more available. But is it necessary? Well, I always joke to my clients “you, me and your dog most likely will die when our hearts fail, but your cat will go when his kidneys fail.”



Is your cat a candidate to receive a kidney transplant?

Your kitty will need intensive follow up care, a good relationship with your veterinarian, access to an emergency facility and the ability to medicate your cat.



John Woolridge, a veterinarian at Northwest Veterinary Specialists in Oregon writes, “fractious cats are not acceptable candidates for transplantation; the immediate postoperative period requires intensive nursing care, and cats that simply cannot be pilled by their owners obviously cannot be treated.”

Financially we mentioned the $5,000 surgery fee, but you will also need to cough up money for immuno-suppressive medications and follow up visits. One last important thing – you are required to adopt and care for the kidney donor cat.

Remember, kidney transplant is just another procedure to help cats with kidney disease – it is not a cure. So, basically, those cats in early chronic kidney failure and those with irreversible kidney failure, are good candidates.



Chronic renal failure, or, CRF, is a slow process occurring when kidney cells die over a long period of time. Acute kidney failure is when the kidneys shut down very quickly, usually from something toxic or infectious.

Cats considered good candidates are those being managed for CRF who are not responding well to medical treatment. Despite good care these cats are losing weight, may have stopped eating, are becoming anemic and have blood-kidney values that are getting worse. Age is not considered a factor in deciding who is a candidate.

How does an owner prepare a cat for a transplant?

Your cat’s blood type will be determined to find suitable blood and kidney donors. A battery of tests will be done to rule out any other diseases because a cat must be disease free to receive a transplant.

Your cat will then be admitted to the hospital to be stabilized prior to surgery. An intravenous line will be started and fluids will be administered. The doctors will want to see certain blood tests below or above critical levels before they start surgery.

Then, two surgical teams will work side by side; one harvesting a kidney and the other getting ready for the donor organ. Want to know something cool? Your cat’s original kidneys will both be left in place.

What happens after surgery?

After the operation, your cat will be moved to the intensive care unit where critical items such as blood pressure, blood counts, electrolytes and kidney function will be monitored. Once stable, you cat will be moved to an isolation ward. The hospital stay is anywhere from one to two weeks.

Once home, you will be in charge and medicating will be the name of the game. Cyclosporine and prednisone are the two major drugs used to keep your cat from rejecting the new kidney.

You will need to monitor body weight and food intake every day. Your cat will be going to your regular veterinarian weekly for blood tests. These are critical to determine correct blood levels of cyclosporine and to assess how the new kidney is functioning.

Rejection of the new kidney is most common in the first two to three months following the transplant. Veterinarians need to eliminate all stress to your cat so you will not be boarding him or her. Routine vaccinations are also not recommended.

We are seeing a new breed of pet owners over the last 10 years or so – owners who are willing to do whatever is necessary to help their beloved pets.

Therefore, I suspect we will be seeing more transplants performed and more specialty centers available to do this type of surgery – and you weren’t sure what to get your cat for Valentines Day.

Dr. Stephen Sheldon owns Valley Veterinary Services and has hospital privileges at Alpine Meadows Veterinary Hospital in Edwards. He can be reached at 970-748-3062.


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