Helen Fitzsimons: Fighting Back against Chronic Kidney Disease

Helen Fitzsimmons

Tanya, a Persian Blue, came into Helen Fitzsimons’ family as a kitten and enjoyed a happy and healthy life until age 12. When Tanya went in for her annual checkup that year, the vet mentioned that she might be showing signs of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). He said that nothing could be done at that point.  

A month later, Helen and Tanya returned to the veterinarian’s office because Tanya was steadily losing weight. This time they saw a different veterinarian who diagnosed CKD definitively and prescribed steroids, antibiotics and prescription food as a treatment. Sadly, Tanya passed away a few months after receiving her diagnosis.

Chronic kidney disease in cats
What heart disease is to humans, kidney disease is to cats– a leading cause of suffering and death. Sadly, 1 in 3 cats and 1 in 10 dogs will get kidney disease. Kidneys play a vital role in controlling blood pressure, producing hormones and removing waste– so it’s important to know if your pet’s kidneys are functioning properly. When kidneys break down, toxic waste forms in the bloodstream, affecting other organs and leading to renal failure.

Unfortunately, Helen has gone on to have two more cats with CKD pass away, despite her dedicated care and medical intervention. As a result of dealing, first-hand, with the shock and fear of a diagnosis of CKD, Helen has created a detailed website and authored a book, which provide detailed, practical information to help pet parents dealing with the disease. Tanya’s Comprehensive Guide to Feline Chronic Kidney Disease describes symptoms; explains what symptoms and test results may mean; discusses treatment options; and covers the emotional aspects of living with and caring for a cat with CKD. Fortunately, since Helen first established her site, detection of CKD is improving and more veterinarians are aware of standard treatments for the disease.

Positive changes for kidney disease detection
“Diagnosis is much easier now. When Tanya was diagnosed, you had to send blood out to be tested, which could take several days and in the meantime you were working in the dark,” said Helen. “Thanks to companies such as IDEXX, provider of the SDMA test, most vets can now perform tests with a very quick turnaround time. This helps save lives.” (Editor’s Note: IDEXX is the parent company of Pet Health Network.)

Helen also believes there is greater awareness of the disease generally, and attributes this to veterinary researchers who are actively investigating the disease and publishing helpful guidelines. She further believes that the Internet has helped people find the guidance and information they need when their cat is first diagnosed. Helen recommends that people focus on the word “chronic” when they receive a diagnosis of CKD, which means the disease is ongoing, so death is not necessarily imminent.

“Don’t worry too much if your cat’s test results are very high at initial diagnosis,” said Helen. “Treat the cat, not the numbers- is the mantra for my CKD support group. The numbers will not be accurate until your cat has been stabilized with appropriate treatment.”

The future of fighting chronic kidney disease
Helen is anxious to see further progress in the field. She is watching the new IDEXX SDMA test with interest and is pleased that cats can be diagnosed earlier with CKD. She hopes to see the same kind of progress being made with treatments for the disease. She is tracking stem cell therapy advances, but the results aren’t in yet on whether that field will supply needed treatment.

As a feline health advocate, Helen is also concerned with dental disease as many people may not realize that cats should have their teeth cleaned regularly. Pet owners can buy special cat toothpaste and toothbrushes for this, and it is not difficult. She encourages people to take their cat’s oral health seriously, as periodontal disease has been linked to other diseases, such as CKD and heart disease.

Obesity in cats is another health concern which Helen believes needs to be taken seriously. Obesity is more common in younger and middle-aged cats. Older cats are prone to weight loss, which can be a warning sign of illness generally, and CKD. Helen recommends weighing your cats every week to ensure they stay in the healthy range. This is very important because cats, with their fluffy coats, can lose a lot of weight before the pet parent realizes it.

Helen also recommends reacting quickly if your cat begins to urinate or defecate in the wrong place. Typically, this behavior means that your cat is ill and needs to see the veterinarian. The key is to be alert to changes:

  • Eating less
  • Sleeping more
  • Drinking from showers

If you suddenly see any of these changes, it is time for a vet visit.

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed on: 
Tuesday, December 27, 2016