Maine Coon Polycystic Kidney Disease Explained

Maine Coons are one of the oldest natural living cat breeds in America, well respected for being able to survive even the harshest Winter climates of New England.

Their natural resilience to many common cat health issues has gained them a reputation for being a very hardy cat breed to own, however, they can still suffer from Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease.

Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is an inherited condition in cats that causes kittens to be born with multiple cysts in their kidneys. These pockets of fluid slowly increase in size during a Maine Coons lifetime, resulting in kidney failure, if the kidney function has been disrupted. PKD displays no signs until a cat reaches 7 years old.

Despite their impressive health record, owners should not take a laissez-faire attitude when it comes to their treasured Maine Coons health.

Instead, owners must be alert to symptoms of Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease, since this breed has a higher chance of developing this condition than other cat breeds, during the later stages of their life.

Keep reading to discover the signs and symptoms owners can watch out for, to identify Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease in their own cat.

What Is Polycystic Kidney Disease?

Polycystic kidney disease is also known as ‘PKD’, or ‘Feline Polycystic Kidney Disease’.

It is a hereditary condition whereby multiple pockets of fluid, otherwise known as ‘cysts’ grow in the kidney tissues of infected cats.

These sacs of fluid will usually multiply, growing larger and larger over the years.

Although the pace of cyst growth is usually slow, this is not always the case, so owners must therefore always be alert to visible symptoms that their cat is sick.

Although PKD is more common in older cats, it can be difficult for owners to identify because cats tend not to show any signs of the disease until they reach seven years old.

At this point, a veterinary professional will be able to confirm via ultrasound of your Maine Coons kidneys, how severe the situation is.

In the more severe cases, cyst growth may have begun to overwhelm a cat’s kidney tissue, disrupting kidney functions. If this is the case, fatal kidney disease is a possibility.

On the plus side though, some cats are luckier than others, because not all cats carrying the PKD disease will develop kidney failure.

What Causes Polycystic Kidney Disease?

Polycystic kidney disease is caused by an autosomal dominant gene abnormality, whereby the kidneys do not develop correctly.

This ultimately leads to multiple cysts forming in a cat’s kidneys.

Cats only need one parent to be infected with the defective gene, to inherit PKD.

In fact, without DNA testing it may not even be evident that a breeding cat is carrying the defective gene at all.

This is because they may only be a carrier of the gene, therefore showing no signs or symptoms of the genetic defect.

PKD Symptoms In Cats

The signs and symptoms of Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease are very similar to those present when a cat is suffering from chronic renal failure.

Thus, depending upon the level of cyst growth in your Maine Coon cat, you can generally expect your feline friend to be suffering from are range of symptoms.

Early signs of Maine Coon PKD include:

  • Poor quality coat
  • Weight Loss

Although these signs appear early, they also relate to a number of other medical conditions and the normal process of aging in cats.

Thus, it is quite common for veterinary professionals to not immediately diagnose PKD as the root cause.

Other signs of Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease (PKD) are as follows:

  • Frequent urination
  • Increased thirst
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy

PKD symptoms do not often show themselves until later on in a cat’s life (around the seven-year mark).

If you are at all concerned that your cat may be suffering from Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease it is best that you take them to a veterinary professional, immediately.

Tests can then be undertaken, to assess what is wrong with your cat. If in any doubt, request the vet test your Maine Coon for PKD, specifically.

Maine Coon Polycystic Kidney Disease
Symptom of Maine Coon Polycystic Kidney Disease

Treating Polycystic Kidney Disease In Maine Coon Cats

One of the saddest facts of this disease is that PKD symptoms are considered progressive, and untreatable.

This is because, once clinical signs and symptoms do start to appear, approximately 67-70% of your cat’s kidneys are already infected.

It is likely that the process has been developing undiscovered, for many months or years.

Effectively, what this means is that the invisible disease only becomes outwardly visible when the majority of a cat’s kidney function has been disabled (source 1).

There is no known cure or treatment for Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease since cysts are evident when a kitten is born, and cannot be surgically removed or flushed.

Additionally, scientists have also not yet discovered a pharmaceutical method or dietary supplement that is able to control the rate at which these small cysts grow, during a cat’s lifetime.

In cases where PKD has been identified, owners can manage their cat’s disease using the following methods.

These techniques are thought to reduce vomiting and nausea, whilst also blocking the absorption of phosphorus (source 1):

  • Special diets
  • Medication
  • Fluid therapy

On the plus side, however, scientists are continually discovering new ways to treat and cure many animal diseases.

Therefore, although the solution was not known at the time I wrote this article, that is not to say that a cure will never be discovered soon.

Additionally, many Maine Coon breeders are now also testing their breeding cats for this hereditary condition.

They do this so that they only breed Maine Coon kittens from adult cats that tested negative for PKD.

This is important since positive breeding techniques help to ensure that the PKD genetic defect is not passed onto the next generation of Maine Coon kittens.

PKD Cats Tests

Modern science has developed considerably over the last few decades, now making it possible for owners to test their precious Maine Coon cats for the presence of various genetic defects.

There are two ways of testing your Maine Coon for PKD, these include:

  • Ultrasound Scan
  • Genetic Test

1. Ultrasound Scan

Historically, ultrasound scans were the only method available to vets to confirm whether a Maine Coon cat was carrying the PKD disease, or not.

This method of testing involved a trained veterinary professional conducting an ultrasound of the cat’s kidneys.

According to some websites, the ultrasound can only be carried out once a kitten reaches 8-10 months of age (source 1).

Ultrasounds checking for PKD are considered more effective on older Maine Coon cats since they are able to identify both the number and size of cysts growing on a cat’s kidneys.

By comparison, it is far harder for veterinary professionals to determine the number of cysts present when conducting an ultrasound on a Maine Coon kitten since with PKD are born with very small cysts growing in their kidneys.

2. Genetic Testing

The AD-PKD gene test is the most recent form of testing available and tends to be the preferred test of registered Maine Coon breeders wishing to identify if their breeding cats are affected by the Maine Coon polycystic kidney disease.

It can be used to test cats of all ages.

Gene testing must be performed by reputable veterinary laboratories only.

Despite this, genetic testing has still grown in popularity since it only requires a cheek swab or small blood sample.

In cases where a pre-weaning kitten is being tested though, a blood sample will be necessary to determine the existence of PKD (source 1). 

What Can You Do If Kitten Is Born With A Kidney Disease?

This potentially fatal condition is more commonly associated with older Maine Coons, rather than Maine Coon kittens.

In fact, it is thought that less than 10% of cats under the age of three are affected by this particular condition (source 1).

To date there is no treatment or cure available, to remove or limit the growth of the cysts growing in a cat’s kidney tissue.

Therefore, should you discover that your kitten has polycystic kidney disease, the best you can do is take all necessary steps to limit any pain suffered your their kitten.

Although there is no evidence to support this, some researchers also claim that kittens with PKD should be given a veterinary-approved diet.

They consider this vital to help ensure the kitten’s small body is getting the nutrients and vitamins they need, to stay as fit and healthy as possible.

How Long Do Cats Live With Kidney Disease?

Symptoms of Maine Coon polycystic disease are not usually evident until roughly 67-70% of a cat’s kidneys are damaged.

A cat’s kidneys are unlikely to recover at this point, since the majority of the kidney is damaged, and therefore unable to function at optimal levels.

Although this assessment sounds relatively bleak, it is important to be aware that implementing the following care routines will potentially slow down the growth of cat cysts.

This effectively means that your Maine Coons lifespan will be extended by a couple of extra good quality years:

  • Special diets
  • Medication
  • Fluid therapy

Other Maine Coon Health Problems

The Maine Coon cat has an average lifespan of between 10-15 years and has always been considered a relatively hardy cat breed.

They are, however, known for being predisposed to developing the following health conditions:

  • Spinal Muscular Atrophy
  • Obesity
  • Periodontal Disease
  • Hip Dysplasia
  • Stomatitis
  • Polycystic Kidney Disease
  • Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

For more information on these particular health conditions, check out my article top 7 Maine Coon health issues.


Maine Coon Polycystic Kidney disease (PKD) is an extremely sad hereditary disease, which usually develops over several years.

This genetic disease is thought to be more common in older cats and often does not show its signs or symptoms until a cat reaches 7 years of age.

This disease is potentially fatal for your Maine Coon cat, should cyst growth multiply, or grow to such an extent that a cat’s normal kidney tissue becomes overwhelmed.

Maine Coons are more prone to developing this genetic polycystic kidney failure than other cat breeds.

Therefore, if you are concerned that your Maine Coon may develop PKD, consider having your cat’s genes tested for abnormalities, by a trained veterinary laboratory.

PLEASE NOTE: I am not a trained veterinary professional. The information provided in this article has been sourced from a wide range of veterinary professional websites.

Maine Coon Central

Hello! My name is Katrina Stewardson, and I’m a CRAZY CAT LADY! I've been in love with the Maine Coon cat breed ever since we welcomed an adorable male Maine Coon kitten into our home 10 years ago. We called him 'Pippin', but he also goes by the name ‘Pipsteroo’! Our enormous, kind-hearted cat genuinely thinks he's a dog and has convinced me that cats are Man's True Best Friend! UPDATE: We recently adopted two 4-year-old male Maine Coon cats. They are named Mika and Bali.

Recent Posts