Although the Winn Feline Foundation has funded studies in an attempt to learn more about kidney disease in cats, no one really knows why most senior cats suffer from compromised kidney function.
Up until just a few years ago, kidney disease in cats wasn’t detectable until the cats started showing signs of illness. By that time, usually around 75 percent of kidney function was destroyed.
Now, there’s a blood test that can detect kidney malfunction far earlier, which is saving many lives. The test, called IDEXX symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA), measures biomarkers that indicate how the kidneys—in both canines and felines—are functioning. The SDMA test is more sensitive and allows veterinarians to make a far earlier diagnosis if kidney function is declining.
My cat Roxy, who is nearly 15 years old, just underwent a dental. We noticed she was chewing her moist food on one side of her mouth, and sometimes she swallowed pieces of her dry food whole. Her dental X-rays looked good a year ago, so there are several lessons learned here.
First: All pets, especially older animals, can experience vast changes in health within 12 months.
Second: Our veterinarian, Dr. Natalie Marks at Blum Animal Hospital, didn’t see anything wrong with Roxy’s teeth upon physical exam. By taking X-rays, Dr. Marks was able to see what was happening below Roxy’s gum line, called tooth resorption, which is painful and common. Tooth resorption is almost like a cavity, except this begins on the inside of the tooth and affects the nerve. And, X-rays are truly the only way to identify the problem. The most humane way to deal with this issue is to remove the affected tooth or teeth. Listen as veterinary dentist Dr. Jan Bellows describes tooth resorption on my national Steve Dale’s Pet World radio show.
Of course, before you can perform a dental on an animal, you have to do blood work to ensure the pet is healthy enough to undergo the procedure. (Blood work twice a year for senior pets is a good idea, anyway.)
Roxy had no history of kidney issues, and there were no symptoms since her last blood work. Still, I know that as she ages, she will likely begin to show at least some kidney insufficiency.
So, I jumped out of my seat when Dr. Marks told me that her SDMA score was 6. You begin to worry—or at least identify kidney disease—with a score that’s around 15 or more. I am proud of our cat’s kidneys; she has kitten kidneys!
Regarding Roxy’s dental procedure: She had four teeth removed, all due to resorption. I’m glad we did it.
There were several other lessons learned from this situation:
*In cats, signs of a dental problem are often as subtle as a cat chewing a bit differently. I know Dr. Charlier, and I sent her a video of Roxy chewing moist food “differently.” Dr. Charlier picked up on the fact that Roxy was swallowing at least some of her dry food without swallowing.
*Of course, veterinarians know to do blood work on senior pets, but some pet owners refuse and assume all is well by the way the cat or dog is acting. Blood work, however, is important (and so in many cases is a urinalysis). Had Roxy’s SDMA levels been higher, we could have caught kidney malfunction early enough to make a difference for her.
*SDMA is a game changer. Many veterinarians offer this as part of their routine blood profile, but some don’t. SDMA, in my opinion, should be standard of care.
*A 15-year-old cat with good blood work and without certain other health conditions benefits far more by undergoing a dental to remove a painful problem, than whatever the risk is of anesthesia, especially when technicians trained in monitoring anesthesia are in attendance.
* The staff members at Blum Animal Hospital, including Dr. Marks, are Fear Free certified. Because of that, I know that Roxy’s emotional health and physical comfort (appropriate pain meds) are being considered at all times.