Transplant not recommended for aged cat in kidney failure

Q: My 15-year-old cat Angie is in kidney failure, and my vet says she’ll die soon. I asked about dialysis or a kidney transplant, but I don’t think he took me seriously. What are my options here?

A: Kidney failure (aka chronic renal failure) is as common among geriatric cats as it is universally deadly. Recent years, however, have seen innovations that can improve and prolong the lives of cats with renal disease.

Hemodialysis (dialysis) is one of these. Unfortunately, however, dialysis is only rarely undertaken for cats with chronic renal disease. Here’s why:

▪ Few centers perform hemodialysis in pets (fewer than 10, nationwide). In Florida, only the University of Florida in Gainesville offers it.

▪ Hemodialysis is typically indicated for the short-term management of acute renal conditions to support patients temporarily as the kidneys recover. Cats like Angie would likely require dialysis three days a week, four hours at a stretch, for the rest of her life.

▪ The lifetime cost for treatment of chronic renal disease sufferers like Angie is considered exorbitant by most pet owners’ standards.

▪ Cats are often considered poor patients for long-term hemodialysis. This all depends on the cat’s personality, of course, but cats aren’t typically comfortable enough in a hospital setting for this to be considered a humane option in the long run.

Fortunately, there are a few additional options to help improve the lives of kidney disease patients, though none is as cutting edge and permanent as a kidney transplant.

Though kidney transplants are sometimes successful where dialysis fails, this expensive option is offered by only a handful of centers (the University of Florida included). What’s more, veterinarians tend only to undertake this dramatic measure on younger sufferers (less than 10 years of age).

And take note: Those who elect kidney transplant of behalf of their cats must either supply a healthy matching donor … or adopt one.

All of the above might explain why your veterinarian might’ve taken your request lightly. Indeed, I’ve not yet had one patient receive either hemodialysis or an organ transplant. But, as I mentioned before, there are plenty of other options designed to improve Angie’s quality of life.

These include drugs for nausea, appetite, anemia and blood pressure regulation; fluid therapy and nutritional support (including vitamins, nutraceuticals and therapeutic diets).

Referral to an internal medicine specialist is a good idea as well.

Dr. Patty Khuly has a veterinary practice at Sunset Animal Clinic in South Miami. Her website is Send questions to