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Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)

By: Dr. Arnold Plotnick

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Polycystic kidney disease (PKD), also known as PKD or Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease (ADPKD), is a slowly progressive, irreversible, inherited kidney disease. Ultimately, PKD can result in renal failure, with clinical signs similar to those of cats with naturally occurring kidney failure.

Polycystic kidney disease is most common in Persian and Persian-related cats. Himalayans, long-haired and exotic short-haired cats are also affected. It is an inherited condition as an autosomal dominant trait.

The disease can occur in either gender and it can be diagnosed in kittens less than 6 months old. It may be diagnosed in some cats between 3 and 11 years of age with the clinical signs of the disorder typically occur around the age of seven years. It is estimated that 40% of all Persian and Persian related cats are affected. Not all cats with PKD will develop kidney failure.

What to Watch For

  • Depression
  • Lethargy
  • Anorexia or reduced appetite
  • Increased thirst and urination (Polydipsia and Polyuria )
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Occasional vomiting


    Screening of healthy cats to determine if disease is present may include:

  • Genetic testing is available for cats older than 8 weeks of age

  • Radiography with or without contrast

  • Ultrasound is the test of choice for establishing the diagnosis

    Clinically ill cats may have tests that include:

    Physical examination findings and routine laboratory data are recommended for diagnoses. The results will vary depending on the severity of the disease.

  • Complete blood count.
  • Serum biochemical profile
  • Blood pressure
  • Urinalysis
  • . Radiographs
  • Ultrasound
  • Biopsy


    There is no specific treatment for PKD. Treatment is the same as that for chronic kidney failure of any cause, for example:

  • Restricted protein and phosphorus diets
  • Possible subcutaneous fluids
  • Phosphorus binders
  • Calcitriol (Vitamin D)
  • Erythropoietin

    Home Care and Prevention

    There is no specific home care for cats with PKD that have no symptoms. Cats with PKD that have developed chronic kidney failure undergo home care typical for that condition including:

  • Prescription diet
  • Possible subcutaneous fluid therapy
  • Medication

    There is no way to slow the progression or prevent the onset of chronic renal failure once PKD has been diagnosed. Prevention requires responsible breeding to eliminate PKD from Persians and Persian-related breeds. Screening using abdominal ultrasound is recommended in kittens older than 16 weeks. If this screening is negative, abdominal ultrasound should be repeated at > 10 months.

    Pets affected with PKD that should be neutered and not bred. Affected cats with no signs of illness should be monitored by checking laboratory work (including BUN, Creatinine, and urine specific gravity) every 6 to 12 months to evaluate progression of the disease to kidney failure.

    Genetic testing is available for cats older than 8 weeks of age. A swab of the oral mucous membranes can be collected by the pet owner. The laboratory performing this test is Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California at Davis. For more information, go to their website:

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