Understanding Feline Kidney Transplant Procedures

For cats with feline kidney failure there are now multiple treatment options available for the management of the disease. Kidney transplants are a treatment method that can give cats additional years of quality living, but every cat is not a candidate for this type of procedure.

Qualifications for Feline Kidney Transplantation

In addition to hemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis for cats, feline kidney transplants offer an additional treatment option for cats that have very little natural remaining kidney function. In kidney transplant surgery, a kidney from a donor cat is placed into the abdomen of the recipient. One requirement is that the donor cat must then be adopted and cared for by the recipient’s family. This is a fairly straightforward process, as the donor cat is able to live a fully normal life following the kidney donation process. The donor cat must be in good health and free from disease. Donor cats usually come from nutritional research facilities, animal shelters or the recipient’s home.

Candidates for renal transplant therapy are cats that are free from other medical problems besides kidney disease. Screening tests for infection, tests to evaluate heart function, dental exams and blood typing must be performed before the procedure can be performed. The cat must be in the best possible condition prior to the operation. Renal transplant is not a last resort therapy.

Feline Kidney Transplant Procedure

The new kidney is transplanted into the recipient’s abdomen. The cat’s natural kidneys are not removed unless they present a risk for infection or are completely non-functional. Non-functional kidneys can give rise to complications from high blood pressure. The blood vessels of the donor kidney are connected to the arteries and veins of the recipient cat. To put perspective onto the complexity of this procedure the operation is performed with microscopes, using sutures that are finer than human hair. The ureter is sutured into the bladder and urination proceeds as normal.

The most common complications following feline kidney transplant are infection and rejection of the new kidney, both of which are highest in the first month following surgery. Other potential immediate complications include:

  • Reactions to anesthesia
  • Blood clots
  • Leakage of urine into the abdominal cavity
  • Shock
  • Heart failure
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Death

Post Surgical Care

Cats having kidney transplant surgery will have to have lifelong medication therapy. Medications must be given to suppress the immune system, or the new kidney will be rejected. These medications can be very expensive and the owner must be ready for this commitment both in terms of finances and time.

Frequent medical exams and laboratory testing will be required. Gradually, the interval of these will decrease and the amount of medication required will lesson, as the cat’s body becomes accustomed to the presence of the new kidney.

The success rates of feline kidney transplant for cats in good condition are 80 to 90 percent. Life expectancy following the procedure is variable, as many recipients are senior cats. Longevity of two to six years is common, and ten years is not unheard of.