Warming Signs and Diagnosis
As many of you know, I was once roommates with Jewel's former owner, but it wasn't a good situation, so I moved out. A month or so before I moved out, I noticed that Jewel was drinking even more than she usually had. I planned to take her to my vet as soon as I could because her former owner didn't think this change warranted a vet visit.
After I moved away from the house, it was two months before Jewel's former owner brought her to see me. When I saw her, my heart broke. She had lost 3 or 4 pounds in that short time span. Jewel went to see my vet shortly after that visit. The vet took a blood and urine sample from Jewel and called me with the results the next day. Jewel had CRF. I was rather upset when I heard the news and began to research the disease and how best to help her. Jewel received her diagnosis in November, 2011.
Since Jewel's phosphorus levels were high, we immediately started her on Epakitin, a powder phosphorus binder you can mix into wet food. Epakitin worked well for Jewel. Her phosphorus levels normalized, and she didn't mind eating the powder in her wet food.
The vet also recommended we start her on Hill's Prescription k/d wet and dry food. While Jewel didn't mind eating her k/d kibbles, she wanted nothing to do with the wet food.
I did a little research and discovered Royal Canin also has a prescription kidney diet. Unfortunately, she didn't want anything to do with the Royal Canin LP either.
I had joined a CRF support group and asked if there were any other kidney diets she could try. I learned about Purina NF, and tracked some down at a hospital close to her former owner's home. Sadly, Jewel didn't like Purina NF, either.
She was eating very little at this point so we started feeding her anything she would eat. The vet confirmed that this was the right thing to do; we didn't want her to starve to death trying to get her to eat a kidney diet.
High Blood Pressure's Sneak Attack
High blood pressure often co-occurs with CRF. Our vet discovered pretty early on that Jewel's blood pressure was slightly elevated. We started her on Benazepril to help control it. It was at this point that Jewel's former owner and I decided that it would be best for her to stay with me full-time due to the fact that her former owner had a lot of other people, children, and a kitten living in his home. We thought the stress was too much for Jewel to handle. Later on, of course, I adopted her as my own kitty.
Earlier this year, Jewel's blood pressure became out of control. Her blood pressure was so high that her retinas were 50% detached. We changed Jewel's medication to Amlodipine, beginning with one-half tablet once a day. We had to raise Jewel's Amlodipine dose a few times before we found a dose that was able to control her blood pressure. Thankfully, her retinas did reattach.
Coping With Nausea and Stomach Acid
Shortly after being diagnosed with CRF, Jewel didn't have much interest in eating. While part of this was due to the fact that she didn't like the kidney diets, nausea also played a part. Our vet recommended giving Jewel 1/4 of a 10mg Pepcid to help her nausea. This did, in fact, help, and she began to eat more. However, Jewel didn't get the Pepcid daily because I wasn't able to pill her alone. Jewel was always VERY stubborn about taking her medication.
When I talked with the vet about the situation, she recommended we try Reglan for Jewel, which can be compounded into a liquid that I could squirt into her mouth. Compounding medication can be expensive ($40 for a one-month supply of Reglan) though, so I did a little research and discovered a natural nausea remedy for kitties with CRF - slippery elm bark. When I wasn't able to afford Jewel's compounded Reglan, I used the slippery elm bark to help her. The drawback of this remedy is that you cannot give any other medications within two hours of slippery elm bark because it interferes with the effects of medication. On the plus side, it wasn't difficult at all to get Jewel to eat her slippery elm bark mixed into a little bit of a Fancy Feast appetizer.
As the disease progresses, kitties with CRF lose their appetites. Jewel would go for days or even weeks without wanting to eat much, but we found ways to encourage her to eat more. A few times, I got her Hi'll's Prescription a/d, a canned food that's high in calories and can be syringe fed if necessary. I didn't use this very often, though, because it really seemed to increase her stomach acid and nausea.
Most of the time, I would go to the store and pick out a lot of different kinds of food in different flavors to see what Jewel would and wouldn't eat. I discovered one of her favorites was Fancy Feast Fish and Shrimp Feast, so I always made sure to have at least one of those in the house for the times she turned her nose up at other foods.
My vet also prescribed Mirtazapine to increase Jewel's appetite when she didn't feel like eating. This medication really helped when Jewel wouldn't even eat her favorite foods, but after about a year of using the medication as needed, it stopped working for her. We switched to Cyproheptadine to increase her appetite.
Fluid therapy helps the kidneys filter toxins out of the body. I was really nervous at the idea of sticking Jewel with a needle to administer the subcutaneous fluids, and I was doubtful that I could do this effectively given my severe vision impairment. The first time I stuck her by myself at home, I was a nervous wreck!
Over time, though, Jewel and I both became more comfortable with this treatment. Whereas initially, Jewel would try to run away from me during treatment, she soon began to lay down and patiently wait during treatment time. She always received treats after fluids time, which I know she looked forward to. Jewel LOVED treats!
It might sound cliche, but I think what helped Jewel, perhaps more than medication, was being loved. Jewel had a difficult life, and due to her past, it took her a long time to trust me. The love my friend, D, and I gave her gave Jewel something to keep fighting for. Jewel turned from a cranky senior into a little love bug within months of me taking over her care. She seemed to really begain to enjoy her life, despite all the pilling and poking we had to do to keep her stable.
CRF Is A Roller Coaster
CRF is truly an emotional roller coaster. One day, you're thrilled that your kitty seems happy, wants to eat, and seeks out your attention. The next day, you're worried because she turns her nose up at her favorite food, and she's hiding under your dresser.
To be completely honest, shortly after Jewel was diagnosed with CRF, I tried to distance myself from her emotionally so I wouldn't have to be hurt when she went to the Rainbow Bridge. That didn't work. Jewel wove herself into every fiber of my heart. Yes, it hurt more than I ever could have imagined when she went to the Bridge, but I don't regret a second of our time together. I don't regret opening my heart to her and loving her more than I can ever say. It still hurts me; every single day I have to spend without her is painful. I don't think that will ever change. But I know that I will see her again, and I know that she is still around, even if I can't see her or touch her or hear her anymore.
The love I have for my beautiful Jewel will never go away. Even though I only knew her for four short years, she changed my life. I love and miss my baby.