Symptoms of Polycystic Kidney Disease in Cats

Polycystic kidney disease is a disease affecting several breeds of cats, particularly Persians and Persian mixes. This inherited disease progresses slowly, and the damage it does cannot be reversed. Here's what you should know about polycystic kidney disease in cats.

Risk Factors for Polycystic Kidney Disease in Cats

Polycystic kidney disease, or PKD, is a genetic disease, so certain breeds of cats are more prone to it than others. While Persians develop this illness most often, it has been diagnosed in other breeds as well. Other breeds susceptible to PKD include:

  • Scottish Folds
  • British Shorthairs
  • Exotics
  • Himalayans

Cats are born with PKD, but symptoms do not usually appear until the cat is three to ten years of age. 

Symptoms of Polycystic Disease in Cats

The first symptoms of PKD appear in cats aged three to ten years old. These cats have abnormally formed kidneys at birth, and in some cases, kittens with PKD die of the disease before they are even two months old. The average age of symptom onset, however, is seven years of age. 

Cats with PKD are born with small, fluid-filled cysts inside their kidneys. As time passes, these cysts grow, and new cysts can appear. The bigger and more numerous the cysts, the more damage your cat's kidney's suffer. Eventually, the kidneys are no longer able to function and kidney failure occur. 

Cats with advanced polycystic kidney disease often display the following symptoms:

  • Weight loss
  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Poor hair coat
  • Increased thirst
  • Changes in urinary habits
  • Loss of appetite
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Anemia
  • Weakness
  • Blindness
  • Seizures
  • Loss of motor control
  • Hypertension

Rarely, cats with PKD may develop fluid-filled cysts in other organs, such as the liver or uterus.

Treating Polycystic Kidney Disease in Cats

Treating PKD in cats is difficult. Surgical removal of cysts from the kidneys is often not an option, since there are often many cysts by the time kidney function becomes impaired. Treatment often involves mitigating the symptoms of kidney failure, rather than the underlying cause.

Your cat may need to eat a moist diet of canned wet foods, and receive IV or subcutaneous fluids in order to avoid dehydration. Dietary changes may be necessary: low-phosphorous, low-protein diets may be recommended, and your cat may need calcium and potassium supplements. Medications can control vomiting, anemia and high blood pressure; drugs such as calcitriol can slow the progression of polycystic kidney disease, to extend your cat's life and improve his quality of life.

Preventing Polycystic Kidney Disease in Cats

The best way to prevent polycystic kidney disease in your cat is to buy your cat from a reputable breeder who has tested all of his breeding cats for the disease. Since PKD is genetic, cats with PKD should never be bred. An ultrasound examination of the kidneys can tell breeders whether or not a particular cat is afflicted with PKD. If a kidney ultrasound reveals cysts in a cat's kidneys, that cat should not be bred. 

Even if a cat does not have PKD, discerning breeders need to examine that cat's ancestry to make sure it doesn't carry a recessive gene for the disease. It's possible for a cat to carry the gene for PKD, and spread that gene to its offspring, without developing the disease itself.