Polycystic kidney disease in cats is a serious and painful condition. It's hereditary and develops over time—symptoms show up more in senior cats. Without treatment, it can lead to severe complications, including kidney failure. Let's look at this kidney disease and how pet health insurance helps unload some of the treatment costs for pet owners.

Polycystic kidney disease in cats: What is it?

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is an inherited condition. Unfortunately, it's incurable, yet it is manageable. When a kitten is born with PKD, they have small, liquid-filled sacs (cysts) growing in their kidney tissue. As your feline friend ages, these cysts multiply and grow and may require cat insurance to help keep an eye on them and cover the cost of frequent visits to the vet.

In some cases, the cysts become so big they overwhelm any normal tissue in the kidneys. Polycystic kidney disease in cats can be diagnosed by your vet when your kitten is only a few months old. The number and size of these liquid-filled cysts vary from cat to cat.

In most PKD cats, the growth rate of the cysts is relatively slow. Yet, you can expect to see signs of this kidney disease when your furry friend is approximately seven years old.

What are the causes of this kidney disease?

As pet parents that love our feline friends immensely, we want to find out the causes of any illness or condition they have. According to Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, there's no apparent cause of polycystic kidney disease in cats except a genetic anomaly.

Certain cat breeds are more prone to this type of kidney disease than others. PKD is ubiquitous in Persian cats, with the disease affecting one-third of this breed. Other breeds diagnosed with this kidney disease include Himalayan cats and British Shorthairs.

As an abnormal gene causes it, if one of your feline friend's parents had PKD, the affected gene stays dominant and passes to the cat's offspring.

If your cat has been diagnosed with this kidney disease, there’s a strong possibility it could pass PKD on to the next generation. As a cat parent, you may need to consider spaying or neutering your furry friend as a preventative measure.

How to identify if your cat has polycystic kidney disease

For many PKD cats, owners only begin to notice symptoms when their cat's kidney functioning deteriorates. This is because cats are notorious for hiding their discomfort. So, how is it possible to identify polycystic kidney disease in cats?

For pet parents of the cat breeds mentioned above, these are the signs and symptoms of PKD you need to look for:

  • excessive thirst;
  • excessive urination;
  • fatigue;
  • vomiting;
  • weight loss;
  • high blood pressure;
  • anemia;
  • weakness;
  • depression;
  • listlessness;
  • spikey, dull hair coat.

Many of the symptoms of PKD in cats are shared with other kidney illnesses and conditions. Even if your cat isn’t predisposed to developing PKD, it's vital to get your feline friend examined by a vet if they have any of the symptoms mentioned in this list.

Diagnostic and treatment options

Your vet must carry out various diagnostic exams to rule out other illnesses. Depending on your cat's breed, they will do genetic testing and examine their medical history. If PKD is detected, a urinalysis exam and ultrasound testing are needed to check your cat's kidney functioning.

Unfortunately, genetic testing will never give a vet enough information to tell how severe your cat's PKD is. Running a urinalysis helps vets determine the pH level of your cat's urine and the presence of bacteria, proteins, and other abnormal cells. An ultrasonic test is also needed. This helps vets determine the size and quantity of cysts in the kidney tissue.

Once PKD is confirmed, pet parents and vets must create a care plan. As there is no specific treatment for this form of feline kidney disease, the goal is to keep the cysts in check and your furry friend comfortable. Managing PKD may look similar to this:

  • Diet changes: PKD cats require nutritional changes depending on the severity of their condition. A diet that supports kidney health should contain reduced protein, sodium, and phosphorus. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids are highly beneficial for cats with kidney issues.
  • Fluid therapy: Your feline friend might require frequent trips to the vet for fluid therapy via an IV drip to help kidney function.
  • Medication: Many vets will prescribe PKD cats with a treatment course of antibiotics, pain medication, anti-inflammatories, and appetite stimulants. While these won't cure polycystic kidney disease in cats, they will manage symptoms.
  • Surgical draining: In severe cases, your cat may require surgical draining. During this procedure, your vet will drain fluid from troublesome cysts to relieve pressure on the kidneys. This only provides temporary relief, so repeat visits to the vet will be necessary.

Early prevention is key when it comes to managing PKD symptoms. The sooner your vet can diagnose this disease, the quicker treatment plans can start.

Managing PKD in cats: What can pet owners expect financially?

Feline kidney disease is a lifelong disease, and its management is costly. As a pet parent, frequent vet visits, specialized diets, and medications all add up. Depending on your cat's life expectancy, management could cost up to $500 per month. And this doesn't include the initial diagnostic tests, which can range from $200 to $750.

Without a pet insurance plan, PKD cat owners are in for a shock. Managing your cat's kidney problems is a substantial financial commitment. In cases where your cat needs dialysis, this procedure alone can cost thousands of dollars. All of these recurring veterinarian fees and expenses would be out of pocket.

Wagmo pet insurance for cats

Thankfully, many pet insurance plans cover pets with hereditary conditions, including ours at Wagmo. Signing up for a comprehensive Wagmo Pet Health Insurance plan will save on long-term PKD management costs.

Pet parents of PKD cats love us because we reimburse you up to 100% after deductibles for various treatments, including prescription medication and ultrasounds. Combine one of our insurance plans with pet wellness protection, and we'll also help with the costs of your cat's routine urinalysis checks. With Wagmo, cat parents get more: more support, more community, and more coverage. This allows you to focus on what matters most—more cat cuddles.
Looking for pet health insurance but not sure which plan is right for you? Take our pet insurance quiz today to find a plan that works for you and your kitty.