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The Case of the Cat with a Drinking Problem
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Mon Apr 19 2010, 02:28PM

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Net Vet Newsletter 9

This veterinary newsletter is written by Dr Gerry Retief, the owner of a veterinary hospital in Durban South Africa. In these newsletters you will read about some interesting cases and how they were resolved. Previous newsletters can be seen on the forum (see link below) If you want to join in the fun and make comments, ask questions or post pictures of your pets, have a look at this link. If you have found this newsletter interesting, please feel free to send it on to all your friends and family!

The Case of the Cat with a Drinking Problem

I first saw Mitsie about 18 years ago when she was a little ball of fluff. She easily fitted into the palm of my hand. She was brought in every year for her annual check-up and her shots. We developed quite a special relationship through the years and when she came in for her infrequent visits, she would curl up in my arms and purr noisily as she rubbed her face against my cheek. Her owner Helen is the type of client that every vet wishes for: she listened to my advice and followed my instructions implicitly about nutrition and general health care for Mitsie. As a result, Mitsie lived a happy and healthy life.

But on this fateful day about three years ago, Helen came into my consulting room looking very worried and upset. Mitsie was certainly not her sprightly self. Her fur was lustreless and she looked miserable. She also didn't greet me in her usual way with the tiny mewing sound so typical of her.

I asked, "Helen, what on earth happened to Mitsie since the last time I saw her? She looks really sick and has lost weight!"

With a tremor in her voice Helen replied, "Gerry, she's been really sick for the past few days. Looking back I suppose it started a few weeks ago, but I thought she was just slowing down. After all she's 18 years old now! But I really got worried when she started vomiting this morning. She hasn't eaten a thing since yesterday!"

"Has she been drinking a lot of water lately?" I asked.

"Yes! Now that you mention it, she has been drinking a lot lately..."

"And urinating a lot as well?"

She looked thoughtful and said, "You know Gerry, it's quite difficult to say because she usually goes out in the garden to do her business, but I suppose it's possible."

I said, "Helen, I don't want to alarm you, but we may be dealing with something quite serious here. Older cats often get diabetes or kidney failure, which can cause the symptoms you describe. Fortunately we can do a few tests very quickly to find out what ails her. Nowadays we've made a lot of progress with treatment of these chronic diseases of old cats, so we can certainly help her!"

I drew some blood from Mitsie's jugular vein to send off to the lab for analysis. Normally she would have let me know in no uncertain terms what she thought of this procedure. But on this day, she was too listless to fight. I put a drop of her blood in a glucometer and the reading was within normal limits.

"I think we can probably rule out diabetes at least." I told Helen.

Next I placed a drop of blood on a special test strip and placed it inside a plastic chamber.

"I'm testing her blood urea nitrogen levels." I explained. "If these levels are high, it means that the kidneys are not excreting urea properly and it's accumulating in her bloodstream. That would be bad news as urea is poisonous to her system."

Mitsie's blood urea nitrogen levels were fairly high. 'Helen,' I said, 'I really can't say for certain until I get further results from the lab, but it looks like Mitsie has developed kidney failure. I'm not going to wait for all the results to come back. I think we should start treatment as soon as possible."

"But Gerry, is she going to make it? What are her chances?" Helen was getting even more upset and I quickly reassured her.

"Remember what I told you? We can treat chronic kidney failure nowadays. This doesn't mean I can cure her. You must understand that for symptoms to develop, about two-thirds of her kidneys must already be damaged beyond repair. Our job now is to nurse along and treat the remaining third and at least keep her reasonably comfortable for the last few years of her life. What she really needs right now are new kidneys, but obviously I can't give her that! But with treatment, we'll at least make her more comfortable and help her to feel better."

"Does that mean she has to stay in hospital?" Helen asked.

"Unfortunately, yes. We'll have to put her on a drip to 'flush' the kidneys and by tomorrow I hope she'll feel a lot better. Depending on her response to the drip, we'll be able to tell how she'll respond to further treatment."

Unfortunately the blood tests confirmed that the kidneys were not coping very well. A urine test showed that the specific gravity was low, which meant that the kidneys were excreting too much water. So the reason for her constant drinking was an effort to replenish the water lost through the urine.

Mitsie responded well to the treatment and she started eating again. I decided to send her home with tablets (Fortekor) and placed her on a special kidney diet (Hills K/D).

With regular treatment at home and at our hospital she lived a reasonably healthy life for a further two years. When Mitsie was 20 years old, the quality of her life had deteriorated to such an extent that Helen and I decided that putting her to sleep would be the kindest and most humane thing to do.


Chronic kidney failure is a very common disease of old cats. The usual symptoms are excessive thirst, poor appetite, lethargy, vomiting and loss of weight. New advances in veterinary science have made it possible for us to control the disease and prolong life, but unfortunately the disease itself is incurable. If your old cat starts having a 'drinking problem', please take him/her to your vet as soon as possible. With an early diagnosis and treatment s/he may still be able to live a long and relatively healthy life.

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Mon Feb 22 2016, 10:46AM
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Good luck!Hope you have a great day!

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