Does Your Pet Need an Organ Transplant?
Kidneys are hot commodities. If your kitty needs one, here’s where to start.
You’ve heard about humans seeking a kidney donor. But what if your cat needs one?
For many people, pets are part of the family, and we’d do just about anything we can afford to keep them alive and well. The options for doing so if your cat or dog has kidney failure now include getting him an organ transplant.
Kidney transplants are the only kind of organ transplant widely available for pets today, according to the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, although some vets have transplanted eyes and parts of bones donated by grieving pet owners who wanted other pets to benefit from their loss.
Related: When To Take a Sick Pet To The Vet
Cats are the usual recipients of kidneys. Dogs’ immune systems are more likely to reject a donor kidney if it doesn’t come from a dog from the same litter (or another relative). In cats, the donor and recipient don’t have to be related. Veterinarians do blood testing to ensure the cats are compatible — and most cats are a good match, according to the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital at the University of Wisconsin.
How to find an organ donor
Humans have the United Network for Organ Sharing to help match donors with people who need an organ. But finding an organ donor for you pet is trickier business.
“When organs are donated for humans, airplanes and helicopters can deliver them, and the costs of donation are covered by somebody,” says Karthik Ramachandran, PhD, a pioneer of pet organ transplant treatment. “It’s too expensive to conceive of this occurring for pets, so we have been working on ways to make this possible.”
The best place to start is your veterinarian. Depending on your location, the vet may be able to point you to a specialist or pet transplant facility.
Your options may come down to:
- Adopting a shelter cat. A cat scheduled to be euthanized at an animal shelter may be a solution. By adopting the pet (and caring for it forever), you save that animal’s life. And taking one of animal’s kidneys (like people, cats can live with just one) can spare the life of your other kitty. Your veterinarian should check out any cat you’re thinking of adopting from a shelter to make sure it isn’t diseased.
- Taking a kidney from your healthy cat if you have one. The cat should be at least a year old but young and in good health.
- Contacting a research vendor to find a cat bred for the purpose of being a kidney donor (and possibly adopting that cat).
Is your cat eligible for a transplant?
And as with people, your pet will have to be in fairly good shape to have the transplant.
“It doesn’t make sense to take a kidney from a donor and then the recipient has heart disease and does not live six months after,” Chad Schmiedt, DVM, associate professor of soft tissue surgery at the University of Georgia’s College of Veterinary Medicine told VetStreet.com. "[Recipients] need a healthy heart and no other infections or diseases.”
This surgery, like other pet surgeries, comes with a hefty price tag (a reminder to get pet insurance before your pet falls sick). According to the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine it will likely cost around $15,000, plus the cost of the donor surgery (and not to mention the costs of medication and vet check-ups after the surgery). Pets live an average of two more years after the surgery, according to the college.
Pet organ donor networks
Ramachandran started the Pet Organ Donation Network in Kansas City in 2013. (It’s now called Cheri’s Hope). With the growth of more pet organ donor networks, the day may come when pet licenses routinely offer organ donor status, like human driver’s licenses do.
Asked what resistance, if any, Ramachandran has encountered to the idea of pet transplants, he says pet owners have been very supportive.
“So many families are grateful that their pets can leave a lasting legacy,” he says, and the families who receive the organ donations are extremely grateful. “It’s the same gratitude you see in human organ transplant.We cannot thank donors and their families enough for being a part of this program.”
Other types of organ donations
If your dog or cat has a leg injured beyond repair by bone cancer or after being hit by a car, you might want to check with your vet about a transplant. Some bone banks for animals keep donated animal bones in a freezer so they can be used in bone grafts and repair.
If your dog or cat is close to losing his sight from an injury or tumor, your vet may know where to find a cornea that was donated by bereaved owners.