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Saving One Life While Providing a Lifelong Home For the Other

By Immydog
I went to a continuing education meeting.  I admit, at times they can be less than exciting, but lately, the topics have been useful to even the smallest practice with minimal equipment.  As a result, I learn and I enjoy the meetings more.  A few years back, it seemed as though they loved to tap into all the new technology being offered to veterinarians, and that left small practices that could not afford this high tech equipment in the dark.
I took all sorts of notes on new ideas, things to remember, things to consider at the most recent meeting.  Then, during a lecture on kidney disease, the speaker very briefly touched on Kidney Transplants in cats as a possible treatment for kidney failure in a patient.  I have known this was a possibility in animals but never have I had an opportunity to speak with someone who has performed the procedures!
It is absolutely fascinating that some veterinarians are fortunate enough to participate in such medically advanced procedures!  The entire idea fascinated me!  You cannot help but admire the skills of these doctors.  But it brought up a lot of questions, some of them medical, and some of them ethical.
Do they have to seek a "match" as in human medicine?  How long will a kidney transplant cat survive if it is successful?   How much does the procedure cost?  How long does the recipient live?  How is the recovery for the recipient of the kidney?   How tiny is the suture that attaches one ureter to the next, as the ureter itself is a small anatomical feature?  Is the life of the donor cat shortened as a result of losing a kidney?  From where do the donors come?  What happens to the donor after the surgery?
Saving One Life While Providing a Lifelong Home For the Other
I was able to gain answers for most of my questions. I was thrilled to find out that the life expectancy of the donor cat is not significantly affected since the remaining kidney hypertrophies or grows larger to compensate for the missing one.  I was thrilled to find out that participation in a kidney transplant procedure regardless of where it is performed, means the family of the recipient MUST adopt the donor.  I discovered that 85% of the procedures are successful, and the recipient can live a few years, averaging 2-3 years. Some of her clients have taken out second mortgages on their house for the procedure.  The question I hesitated to ask was the last one...from where do the donor cats come.
The question was answered first by a colleague sitting next to me at the table. He informed me that there are cat colonies bred and raised for such purposes that are called SPF cats.  SPF is an acronym for Specific Pathogen Free.  The cats are purposely bred and raised in an environment that prevents them from being exposed to certain contaminants such as bacteria and viruses.  The purpose of breeding SPF cats is mainly for their use in research.
I looked up several cat kidney transplant services throughout the US on the Internet.  Most referred to donors coming from "sources" or "colonies".  These terms are likely referring to SPF cats.  Some of these websites do mention that the owner can "provide the donor" as long as the cat fits the donor requirements.  With the owner choosing, I assume the source would be a cat already in the household or possibly a shelter cat.
 
I only found one cat kidney transplant service website that specifically mentions it's use of shelter cats.  Pet Care Veterinary Hospital in Santa Rosa, California is the only one of the websites that I searched from the list found on  Feline CRF Information Center Website that directly states, "Transplant donors are young, healthy shelter cats that are adopted by the recipient family, thus saving one life while providing a lifelong home for the other."  While the other Renal Transplant Centers might consider a shelter cat at the owner's request, they do not state that they specifically use shelter cats.
At first glance, the thought of taking a homeless cat and removing it's kidney to save another cat's life may seem unethical, the thought of purposely breeding SPF cats for this purpose when so many young healthy candidates are being euthanized in shelters across America strikes me as being more unethical. 
For certain research studies, the SPF cats are probably a necessity.  Research is not my subject of expertise, so I cannot and will not assume that SPF cats are never necessary in research.  When it is proven that a young healthy shelter cat will serve the same purpose, and have a guaranteed home after the procedure rather than ending up euthanized, I applaud the clinic that chooses that option. 
For the owners who love their cats enough to choose these options, I applaud the dedication you have for your cat, and I do respect your desire to keep him or her around at all costs.  But I wonder about the lives that a small shelter or rescue could save with a donation of $15,000-$20,000. 
Then again, you cannot put a price on love.
Saving One Life While Providing a Lifelong Home For the Other
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