The Maine Coon is a normally healthy breed of cat but like most of the breeds, it is perhaps more susceptible to certain types of problems. Whilst it isn’t certain that your Maine Coon will develop these illnesses there are some known genetic predispositions to certain diseases and ailments.
One of the issues that occurs more frequently in Maine Coons than other breeds is Polycystic Kidney Disease, also known as PKD. It is not unique to Maine Coons, as Persians are also susceptible to this disease but it occurs in Maine Coons above average, thus it’s included as a known problem for Maine Coons. In short PKD is a cystic kidney failure that should develop later in life and is currently untreatable. While it is most predominant in Persians, Maine Coons can be susceptible to the condition.
Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is a hereditary condition whereby a number of cysts form within the kidneys of your Maine Coon. The Maine Coon kitten will have been born with this condition but the cysts will be very small within the kidneys. During the Maine Coons lifetime these cysts will develop in size and eventually will start to compromise and damage the surrounding healthy kidney tissue until the kidney can no longer function correctly which leads to Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD).
As mentioned the cysts will be present at birth as it’s a hereditary condition and will grow in size and number as the Maine Coon gets older. Over time you will see a decline in renal function. Kidneys are important to any animal as they help manage blood pressure, make hormones, stimulate the bone marrow to make more red blood cells, and remove waste from the blood.
PKD will progress slowly in your Maine Coon and will not be evident for many years as a problem. The cysts start small with a great deal of healthy tissue able to let the kidneys perform naturally. Symptoms will start appearing when your Maine Coon becomes an adult, say around 7 years of age. However it can be seen anywhere from around 3 to 10 years making it quite a challenge to monitor.
You should look out for any of the following
Loss of appetite
The symptoms that show in your Maine Coon will very much depend upon size and number of the cysts in the kidneys. Early on the cysts do not effect the kidney function and you will not notice any abnormal behaviour.
Problems start occurring when the cysts start to occupy the heathy tissue and the remaining healthy tissue is not sufficient to carry out normal kidney operations. The Maine Coon will then start to fall ill. This should happen around 3 to 10 years into the Maine Coons life, but can be earlier depending upon the severity of the cysts.
At the onset of the disease the symptoms are extremely vague. Your Maine Coon will probably both drink and urinate more than they usually do and will refrain from eating as much. The Maine Coon will loose its normally keen appetite. Effectively the blood is becoming more poisoned and they will start to loose the sheen of their glossy coat.
As the cysts further develop, hindering even more kidney function the Maine Coon will start to eat a lot less and as a result will loose weight.
While it’s important to be vigilant to these symptoms it should be noted that not every Maine Coon with PKD will develop Chronic Kidney Failure. It’s possible for the cysts to stay small and the Maine Coon to live a full and active life without showing any symptoms.
For a quick video on symptoms, please check this out;
PKD is a genetic condition and the gene has recently been isolated by US researchers.
There are two main ways to diagnose PKD, genetic testing and ultrasound technology.
Tests with either a blood sample or saliva from your Maine Coon can now be done. The result of the test is either positive or negative. It is only detecting the presence of PKD, not the severity. Thus it’s a good early indicator. It is said to be reliable but I have no direct experience.
This is perhaps more useful for testing a Maine Coon kitten as ultrasound may not detect very small cysts that will be in a kitten. Small cysts will be detected by a positive genetic test only. The number of the cysts will not be available as information from this test either.
So genetic testing should only be used to test for the presence of the PKD gene. It is a positive or negative result and will confirm the susceptibility of your Maine Coon to the disease. It will not however give you any further information, like the number of cysts or the severity. Severity can be gauged by the age and the health of the Maine Coon. For a much more accurate diagnosis, ultrasound would be used to take a look at the cysts.
A blood test can be used to test for levels of red blood cells along ureum, creatine and phosphorus. If the kidneys of your Maine Coon are not functioning then you will see elevated levels of ureum, creatine and phosphorus.
A urine test can be performed as well to check for the proper functioning of the kidneys.
Any parents, male or female will be familiar with ultrasound. Sound waves are used to give a graphical depiction in real time of organs within a body. It’s a non invasive technique which should not trouble any Maine Coon.
Maine Coons will not have to be sedated unless they are very restless or afraid and keep moving so a good scan cannot be obtained. If your Maine Coon has a calm temperament the veterinarians then this should be a quick and easy procedure.
Maine Coons have good thick coats so it is almost certain that a small rectangular area near the kidney(s) will have to be shaved so the ultrasound transducer probe can be placed against the skin, aided by contact layer gel.
Here’s a video of what an ultrasound may look like;
Unfortunately, at the time of writing there is no know treatment for the onset of PKD. It is a hereditary condition and the Maine Coon will have been born with small cysts in the kidneys if it has the PKD condition.
The cysts cannot be surgically removed or flushed as it is kidney tissue and there is no known pharmaceutical or dietary supplement that will hinder the growth of the cysts. It is what is referred to as a progressive disease. The best you can hope for is use supportive treatment and lifestyle choices to minimise its impact. More on that later.
With the growing knowledge within Maine Coon breeders the use of positive breeding techniques have been used to ‘breed out’ the defective gene being passed down the line.
Gene tests are now available which can accurately identify PKD in Maine Coons. The test requires a blood sample or a mouth swab. The test can be performed on any age of Maine Coon.
If you’d like more information check out this website for kits to test for PKD (http://www.animalsdna.com)
In humans it is recommended that a good diet and exercise to keep healthy gives the kidneys less stress as well as keeping well hydrated. This keeps the blood pressure low in order to keep the kidneys in good health. Again in humans non contact sports and no alcohol would be advised.
I can’t find any specifics for this but it would seem prudent to follow similar steps for your Maine Coon. You shouldn’t be giving your Maine Coon any alcohol anyway as it is extremely poisonous and I am guessing your Maine Coon isn’t a secret ninja so just keeping it healthy and hydrated seems to be the best advice. As always, consult a veterinarian before starting any regime.
Monitoring your cat’s activity and overall appearance in combination with regular visits to your veterinarian are the best ways to keep your cat health and happy for its lifetime.
Rather than give specific advice I will present some quotes from www.medicanimal.com with respect to the issue that seem pertinent.
Cats with renal failure are often elderly and commonly have oral pain and a reduced appetite; therefore, highly palatable food is essential. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the choice in renal diets, but remember the most important criteria for a renal diet is that your cat will eat it!
If a special kidney diet is recommended for your cat it is important to note that some animals will demonstrate a preference for one brand over another. If the first kidney food you offer your cat is not met with enthusiasm does not despair, talk to your vet about which other brands might be suitable. These foods are designed with palatability in mind; it is probable that your cat will like one of the other options available
Correcting dehydration is an essential objective in the management of patients with renal failure. In order to encourage as much fluid consumption as possible, it is worth considering that use of a wet diet, as a dry food has a negligible water content. If your cat enjoys drinking from a dripping tap you may want to consider a water fountain for cat to increase water intake.
There are two primary mechanisms by which these foods work.
1. Low quantity, high-quality protein content
Dietary protein is broken down in the gut to make the building blocks that make up the body and help it to function. During this process, toxic by-products are produced that normally leave the body via the urinary system. When the kidneys aren’t working properly, they cannot do this job efficiently anymore so the uremic toxins build up in the blood and cause the cat in renal failure to feel very poorly. The predominant effect of the low protein diet is to minimize the production of uremic toxins so that the cat feels better.
Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that their natural diet would consist almost entirely of protein and fat. Protein, therefore, tastes good to cats and stimulates their appetites – this is one of the reasons cats with kidney disease must continue to have some protein in their diet. Special kidney foods contain less protein than regular foods, however, although present in lesser amounts, the protein that is used in them is of a higher quality than that in a normal diet. Therefore there is less protein to cause the toxic waste effect in the blood, but the protein that is within the diet is able to be used to greater effect by the cat.
2. Restricted phosphate content
High phosphorus accelerates renal failure, and restricted phosphorus slows it down. Therefore, reduced phosphate content will help to protect the kidneys from further damage, thereby slowing the progression of kidney disease. In cats restricted phosphate content helps to reduce the incidence of a secondary syndrome called Renal Secondary Hyperparathyroidism. Restricting the dietary phosphate content also helps to reduce the incidence of calcification of various body tissues, including the kidneys.
Whilst understanding each of these aspects of renal diets, the most important point is that research has shown that foods meeting these criteria can provide significant benefits to your cat in terms of improving their clinical condition and decreasing the levels of the toxins in the bloodstream that your vet uses to monitor the progression of renal disease.]
An ideal diet for Maine Coons with PKD then appears to be foods that are both low in protein, fat and less phosphorus than traditional cat food you will purchase from a supermarket. A damaged kidney cannot remove the phosphorus from the bloodstream so the intake of phosphorus needs to be regulated.
Although it doesn’t appear to be fully advocated there seems some evidence that Omege-3 fatty acids are helpful so some renal cat foods will contain it.
Here’s a good video for information on the foods good for a Maine Coon with kidney issues;
A study published in December 2013 studied just this subject.
According to the abstract of the paper the purpose was study the prevalence of PKD in purebred Maine Coons. Over an 8 year period, 187 healthy Maine Coons were analysed retrospectively and 27 cats were found to have renal changes.
However, renal cysts (PKD) were found in 7 cats and it was deduced that “Cystic renal disease occurs with a low prevalence in Maine Coons and is unrelated to the PKD observed in Persians and related breeds.”
Currently there is no way to accurately predict the progress of PKD within a Maine Coon. If you know your Maine Coon has been tested genetically positive for PKD then the best you can do is put them on a special renal diet.
There is a great deal of variation with all factors relating to PKD within Maine Coons. The number of cysts and there size within each kidney varies too much within the species to give any hard and fast rules.
A badly infected Maine Coon will experience faster progression of the disease and succumb to PKD. However, some Maine Coons may experience either smaller cysts or slower progression of bad tissue growth and will experience no issues at all. In fact they will live to a good old age and may pass away by something completely unrelated to kidney problems.
The first point to be made here is that if you are still in the process of buying a Maine Coon and you are selecting one from a breeder you should ask whether the Maine Coon you are purchasing has been screened for PKD. It may also give the breeder the correct impression you have done your research.
Ask to see whether the parents have been genetically tested for AD-PKD and if the results were negative. If both parents have had a negative result then the prevailing kitten litter will be negative.
Interestingly, International Cat Care has established a register for all cats that have been proved to be free of the PKD gene. Or at the very least, they will have been professionally included by having been scanned by an approved ultrasound specialist.