The College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia is accepting feline patients with chronic renal failure for renal transplantation.
Currently, we offer transplantation for cats with chronic kidney disease. We do not have the facilities to transplant cats with acute renal failure (antifreeze toxicity, etc.). To be considered as a candidate, your cat must be relatively healthy other than the kidney disease. Active infections, cancer, and other systemic diseases cannot be present.
Prior to being considered for a renal transplantation, all recipients must be thoroughly screened. Some of this may be done at your local veterinary clinic and some should be done by a specialist either at UGA or elsewhere. Following the initial screening, each cat will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
The following tests must be done prior to transplantation:
Dogs present a unique problem in veterinary transplantation. Because their immune system differs from cats and people, dogs tend to reject their kidneys very rapidly. Other complications, such as blood clots and infections after transplantation, are also more common.
Additionally, dogs tend to have protein-losing renal disease, which complicates long-term care and lessens the prognosis. To be considered for transplantation, the donor must be young, healthy, and related to the recipient. Additional tests will also be required to minimize the chance of rejection after surgery.
No one knows the ideal time to transplant a cat with chronic kidney disease. Certainly, not all cats with chronic kidney disease need a transplant right away, as many don’t have significant clinical signs associated with their disease. We prefer the cats to have a creatinine concentration of at least 4 mg/dL.
On the other hand, waiting until late in the course of the disease substantially increases anesthetic risk and is not recommended. This is an individual decision, made on a case-by-case basis.
Donor cats “give” one of their kidneys in exchange for a permanent and loving home. All donor cats must be adopted by the recipient’s family. Clients assume financial and legal responsibility for the donor prior to the transplantation.
We can work with you to find an appropriate donor. Donor cats must be young and healthy. Clients may provide their own donor cats as long as they meet these criteria. After surgery, donor cats are expected to live a normal life.
To be considered as a donor, the following tests must be performed:
Donor cats will usually stay in the hospital around 2 to 4 days. Recipient cats stay in the hospital around 2 to 3 weeks.
Renal transplant recipients must receive oral anti-rejection medication (cyclosporine and steroids) once or twice a day, every day, for the rest of their lives. Blood levels of creatinine, BUN, and glucose are also monitored. Initially blood levels of cyclosporine are checked regularly (weekly to monthly). This is may be done in cooperation with your veterinarian.
As time passes after transplantation, the tests are spaced out to every 2 to 3 months. Owners generally spend around $1,000 per year for medication and testing after the transplantation.
Around the time of surgery, the major risks include general anesthesia, leakage of blood or urine, very high blood pressure, and obstruction of the ureter.
Long-term complications result from the anti-rejection medication. Following renal transplantation, cats are immunosuppressed. That means they are more susceptible to infection compared to other animals. Transplant patients may also be more likely to get cancer, diabetes, or high blood pressure as a result of the anti-rejection drugs.
Historically, at other institutions, roughly 80% of cats will survive to discharge from the hospital. Based on studies from the University of Wisconsin and University of California, 6-month survival after renal transplantation is around 80% and 3-year survival is around 65%. In the long term, most cats will die of diseases other than renal disease.
Without serious complications, the estimated cost of a renal transplant is $12,000 to $15,000, including the donor and recipient. These costs are subject to change and serious complications do occur in some cats, resulting in increased cost.
While this is a future goal, currently there are no studies to help with the cost of transplantation at UGA.
Dr. Chad Schmiedt is the board-certified surgeon in charge of the transplant program at UGA. He is accompanied by other soft tissue surgeons, anesthesiologists, experts in critical care medicine, and a talented support staff.
Dr. Schmiedt was trained in transplantation at the University of Wisconsin. If you are interested in learning more about renal transplantation in cats, including discussion from owners who have experienced the procedure in their cats, we recommend visiting the Feline Chronic Renal Failure Information Center.