Kidney damage can’t stop a young cat from soaking up lots of love

These days, Zarra might be one of the friendliest, most affectionate cats in Cat World. She’s known for nuzzling her head under your chin and reaching out a paw to gently place a soft white paw on your cheek when she’s picked up.

You might think that Zarra’s been around people and soaking up their love since she was a baby. But her initial interest in people was more of a cry for help. When she was about a year old, Zarra had a health crisis: Her kidneys were failing, and she needed help fast. When she suddenly started acting extra friendly (something she’d never done before), someone noticed and stepped in to help save her life.

Zarra, the brown and white tabby cat, being held by Cat World volunteer

Help for a community cat

Zarra used to live in a community cat colony not far from the Sanctuary. The colony’s caregiver realized that something wasn’t right when Zarra, who wasn’t normally very social with people, suddenly allowed her caregiver to pet her one day. Because the young cat also wasn’t interested in food, it was clear that this wasn’t just a sudden change of heart, but that something was wrong. The concerned caregiver reached out to Best Friends for help.

Find resources to help community cats

It was Christmas day last year when Zarra arrived at the Best Friends Animal Clinic, but the young cat had no energy for holiday cheer. She was feeling worse by the minute and was cold, lethargic and dehydrated. The Best Friends veterinary team jumped right in to find out what was wrong and to save her life, but for Zarra there would be no easy answers.

Zarra, the brown and white tabby cat, walking on a wooden board

Poisoning or illness causes cat’s kidney failure

Bloodwork showed very high kidney values, which meant that her kidneys had somehow been injured. They were struggling to filter toxins from her blood and, because they couldn’t keep up, those toxins were building up and making her sick.

Since Zarra lived on the streets, no one knew what had happened to her. Best Friends veterinarian Dr. Erin Katribe suspects the possibility that Zarra had somehow ingested antifreeze. But, she says, there was no obvious evidence of antifreeze in her body, and the poison is typically fatal to cats in anything but the tiniest of amounts. Other possibilities included a kidney infection or that Zarra had eaten plants (such as lilies) that are toxic to cats.

Zarra, the brown and white tabby cat, lying on a blanket on her back so her head is upside down

Although the tests weren’t conclusive, saving Zarra’s life was more important than figuring out exactly what had caused her kidneys to fail. At the clinic, she was treated with intravenous fluids to support her kidneys, medication to help settle her stomach and antibiotics to fight the possible infection.

Having done everything possible to help Zarra pull through her health crisis, vets watched her carefully and waited. Little by little, over the course of several days, she began feeling better. Sadly, though, her kidney values never came back down to normal, which meant that whatever had made her sick had left her with permanent kidney disease.

Zarra, the brown and white tabby cat, lying on a blanket

Lifelong care for cat’s kidney disease means extra snuggle time

Even though Zarra is barely 18 months old, her kidney disease is like that of many geriatric cats. That means she’ll need extra medical care for the rest of her life, including fluids under her skin and medication to regulate her blood pressure, since high blood pressure is common with kidney disease. For that reason and because she became so friendly with people, she stayed at the Sanctuary rather than going back to her community cat colony. Instead, she’s living at Cat World until she finds a home of her own.

“She's been doing well with her fluid treatments and blood pressure medication,” says Dr. Erin. And although the kidney disease will likely shorten Zarra’s life, it’s also likely that she’ll enjoy a few good years — time she wouldn’t have if she hadn’t gotten lifesaving medical care in the nick of time.

Whatever the future holds, Zarra’s not thinking of her life in terms of months or years. Right now, she looks and feels just like any other healthy young cat. When it’s time for her medication and her fluids, the sweet cat just sees it as an opportunity to soak up some extra attention and to enjoy some extra cuddle time.

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Zarra, the brown and white tabby cat, looking at the camera

Photos by Kurt Budde