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Pets: Diagnosing cat kidney disease

Q: My 7-year-old cat was just diagnosed with early kidney disease but has no symptoms. My veterinarian says there’s a new test to show if kidney disease is present, yet says that there’s nothing I can do about it. That doesn’t seem right. Any thoughts?

– D.L., Hartford, Conn.

A: Your veterinarian is certainly correct that there’s no “magic pill” to treat kidney disease. This is likely what she’s talking about:

A revolutionary new kidney function test (symmetric dimethylarginine, or SDMA) now included in routine IDEXX blood panels, allows veterinarians to diagnose chronic kidney disease, or CKD, months or even years earlier than before, allowing veterinarians to intervene well before the kidneys are badly damaged.

“Diagnosing CKD earlier allows us to monitor these cats more carefully, and if it’s appropriate, we can begin to treat them,” says Dr. Susan Little, president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners and editor of “The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management” (Elsevier/Saunders Publishing, Philadelphia, 2011; $180).

Little, of Ottawa, Ont., says that there are various other benefits to early diagnosis. For example, high blood pressure is common among cat with CKD. As in people, hypertension is silent but takes some effort to read in cats. Knowing that a cat has CKD, vets may be more inclined to check the pet’s blood pressure.

Dr. Kate Pietsch, of Dartmouth, Mass., says that there are some things you can do: Encourage your cat to drink more water. Offer more choices – bowls to drink from, fresh water and even running water (consider a drinking fountain for cats). Also, talk to your veterinarian about a moist diet, which may support kidney function.

“Most important is to stay ahead of the disease as best you can,” Pietsch says. “That means more frequent visits to the veterinarian, at least once every six months.”


Q: My 8-year-old Shih Tzu has severe separation anxiety. He follows me around the house, and if he can’t keep an eye on me at all times, he barks as if he’s being tortured. He’s also skittish. If I do so much as wave a hand, he jumps back and crouches.

I don’t know why he’s this way, as he has never been spanked or mistreated. Can you help?

– T.K. Oakdale, Minn.

A: It’s apparent that your dog has at least some generalized anxiety, says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Emily Levine, a contributing author to “Decoding Your Dog” (authored by members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and edited by Dr. Debra Horwtiz, Dr. John Ciribassi and myself, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2014, $27).

Just as you would diagnose diabetes before starting insulin shots, the same is true for separation anxiety. A diagnosis must be done by a professional.

Does your pup truly have separation anxiety (distress when family members leave the house), or is he only anxious when not in the same room with you when you’re home? It’s possible to have one problem and not the other, or both. In any case, Levine, of Fairfield, N.J., says, “Your dog does need to learn better how to cope.”

Of course, the question is how to do that. This depends on exactly what your dog’s diagnosis turns out to be. Your best option is to consult a veterinary behaviorist (

Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he will answer those of general interest in his column. Send email to Include your name, city and state.