Maine Coons are one of the oldest natural living cat breeds in America, well respected for being able to survive even the harshest Winter climates of New England. Their natural resilience to many common cat health issues has gained them a reputation for being a very hardy cat breed to own. However, despite their impressive health record, owners should not take a laissez faire attitude when it comes to their treasured Maine Coons health. Instead, owners must be alert to symptoms of Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease, since this breed have a higher chance of developing this condition than other cat breeds, during the later stages of their life.
Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a hereditary health condition, whereby a kitten is born with cysts in their kidneys. Cysts slowly increase in size during a Maine Coons lifetime, though signs and symptoms are often not evident until they reach 7 years old. Only one parent needs to be a carrier of this genetic defect, for it to be passed onto their offspring. Scientists claim polycystic kidney disease is the result of an autosomal dominant gene abnormality.
What Is Polycystic Kidney Disease?
Polycystic kidney disease is also known as ‘PKD’, or ‘Feline Polycystic Kidney Disease’. It is a hereditary condition whereby multiple pockets of fluid, otherwise known as ‘cysts’ grow in the kidney tissues of infected cats. These sacs of fluid will usually multiply, growing larger and larger over the years. Although the pace of cyst growth is usually slow, this is not always the case, so owners must therefore always be alert to visible symptoms that their cat is sick.
Although PKD is more common in older cats, it can be difficult for owners to identify because cats tend not to show any signs of the disease until they reach seven years old. At this point, a veterinary professional will be able to confirm via an ultrasound of your Maine Coons kidneys, how severe the situation is. In the more severe cases, cyst growth may have begun to overwhelm a cats kidney tissue, disrupting the kidney function. If this is the case, fatal kidney disease is a possibility.
On the plus side though, some cats are luckier than others, because not all cats carrying the PKD disease will develop kidney failure.
What Causes Polycystic Kidney Disease?
Polycystic kidney disease is caused by an autosomal dominant gene abnormality, whereby the kidneys do not develop correctly. This ultimately leads to multiple cysts forming in a cats kidneys.
Cats only need one parent to be infected with the defective gene, to inherit PKD. In fact, without DNA testing it may not even be evident that a breeding cat is carrying the defective gene at all. This is because they may only be a carrier of the gene, therefore showing no signs or symptoms of the genetic defect.
PKD Symptoms In Cats
The signs and symptoms of Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease are very similar to those present when a cat is suffering from chronic renal failure. Thus, depending upon the level of cyst growth in your Maine Coon cat, you can generally expect your feline friend to be suffering from are range of symptoms.
Early signs of Maine Coon PKD include:
- Poor quality coat
- Weight Loss
Although these signs appear early, they also relate to a number of other medical conditions, and the normal process of aging in cats. Thus, it is quite common for veterinary professionals to not immediately diagnose PKD as the root cause.
Other signs of Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease (PKD) are as follows:
- Frequent urination
- Increased thirst
- Loss of appetite
PKD symptoms do not often show themselves until later on in a cat’s life (around the seven year mark). Therefore, if you are at all concerned that your cat may be suffering from Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease it is best that you take them to a veterinary professional, immediately. Tests can then be undertaken, to assess what is wrong with your cat. If in any doubt, request the vet test your Maine Coon for PKD, specifically.
Treating Polycystic Kidney Disease In Maine Coon Cats
One of the saddest facts of this disease, is that PKD symptoms are considered progressive, and untreatable. This is because, once clinical signs and symptoms do start to appear, approximately 67-70% of your cats kidneys are already infected. It is likely that the process has been developing undiscovered, for many months or years. Effectively, what this means is that the invisible disease only becomes outwardly visible when the majority of a cat’s kidney function have been disabled (source).
There is no known cure or treatment for Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease, since cysts are evident when a kitten is born, and cannot be surgically removed or flushed. Additionally, scientists have also not yet discovered a pharmaceutical method, or dietary supplement that is able to control the rate at which these small cysts grow, during a cats lifetime.
In cases where PKD has been identified, owners can manage their cats disease using the following methods. These techniques are thought to reduce vomiting and nausea, whilst also blocking the absorption of phosphorus (source):
- Special diets
- Fluid therapy
On the plus side, however, scientists are continually discovering new ways to treat and cure many animal diseases. Therefore, although the solution was not known at the time I wrote this article, that is not to say that a cure will never be discovered soon.
Additionally, many Maine Coon breeders are now also testing their breeding cats for this hereditary condition. They do this, so that they only breed Maine Coon kittens from adult cats that tested negative for PKD. This is important, since positive breeding techniques help to ensure that the PKD genetic defect is not passed onto the next generation of Maine Coon kittens.
PKD Cats Tests
Modern science has developed considerably over the last few decades, now making it possible for owners to test their precious Maine Coon cats for the presence of various genetic defects.
There are two ways of testing your Maine Coon for PKD, these include:
- Ultrasound Scan
- Genetic Test
1. Ultrasound Scan
Historically, ultrasound scans were the only method available to vets to confirm whether a Maine Coon cat was carrying the PKD disease, or not. This method of testing involved a trained veterinary professional conducting an ultrasound of the cats kidneys.
According to some websites, the ultrasound can only be carried out once a kitten reaches 8-10 months of age (source).
Ultrasounds checking for PKD are considered more effective on older Maine Coon cats, since they are able to identify both the number and size of cysts growing on a cat’s kidneys. By comparison, it is far harder for veterinary professionals to determine the number of cysts present when conducting an ultrasound on a Maine Coon kitten, since with PKD are born with very small cysts growing in their kidneys.
2. Genetic Testing
The AD-PKD gene test is the most recent form of testing available, and tends to be the preferred test of registered Maine Coon breeders wishing to identify if their breeding cats are affected by the Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease. It can be used to test cats of all ages,
Gene testing must be performed by reputable veterinary laboratories only. Despite this, genetic testing has still grown in popularity since it only requires a cheek swab, or small blood sample. In cases where a pre-weaning kitten is being tested though, a blood sample will be necessary to determine the existence of PKD (source).
What Can You Do If Kitten Is Born With A Kidney Disease?
This potentially fatal condition is more commonly associated with older Maine Coons, rather than Maine Coon kittens. In fact, it is thought that less than 10% of cats under the age of three are affected by this particular condition (source).
To date there is no treatment or cure available, to remove or limit the growth of the cysts growing in a cat’s kidney tissue. Therefore, should you discover that your kitten has polycystic kidney disease, the best you can do is take all necessary steps to limit any pain suffered your their kitten.
Although there is no evidence to support this, some researchers also claim that kittens with PKD should be given a veterinary approved diet. They consider this vital to help ensure the kittens small body is getting the nutrients and vitamins they need, to stay as fit and healthy as possible.
How Long Do Cats Live With Kidney Disease?
Symptoms of Maine Coon polycystic disease are not usually evident until roughly 67-70% of a cat’s kidneys are damaged. A cat’s kidneys are unlikely to recover at this point, since the majority of the kidney is damaged, and therefore unable to function at optimal levels.
Although this assessment sounds relatively bleak, it is important to be aware that implementing the following care routines will potentially slow down the growth of a cats cysts. This effectively means that your Maine Coons lifespan will be extended by a couple of extra good quality years:
- Special diets
- Fluid therapy
Other Maine Coon Health Problems
The Maine Coon cat has an average lifespan of between 10-15 years, and has always been considered a relatively hardy cat breed. They are, however, known for being predisposed to developing the following health conditions:
- Spinal Muscular Atrophy
- Periodontal Disease
- Hip Dysplasia
- Polycystic Kidney Disease
- Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy
For more information on these particular health conditions, check out my article “Top 7 Maine Coon Health Issues“.
Maine Coon Polycystic Kidney disease (PKD) is an extremely sad hereditary disease, which usually develops over several years. This genetic disease is thought to be more common in older cats, and often does not show its signs or symptoms until a cat reaches 7 years of age.
This disease is potentially fatal for your Maine Coon cat, should cyst growth multiply, or grow to such an extent that a cats normal kidney tissue becomes overwhelmed.
Maine Coons are more prone to developing this genetic polycystic kidney failure than other cat breeds. Therefore, if you are concerned that your Maine Coon may develop PKD, consider having your cats genes tested for abnormalities, by a trained veterinary laboratory.
PLEASE NOTE: I am not a trained veterinary professional. The information provided in this article has been sourced from a wide range of veterinary professional websites.