#Catneys: The Final Project

This Soundcloud file was designed to be complimented by the following links and videos, which follow the order of the audio. Feel free to scroll through as you please, however, I would suggest pausing the audio or muting the videos before you play them. Enjoy!

One of my main inspirations for this research:

Follow the story so far: 

Want to know more about kidney failure in cats? Check out this, or this and this!

Still aren’t satisfied? The Cornwell University has a more scientific look.

Worried about your kitties health? Double check the symptoms of kidney trouble.

The tests your vet will do if kidney problems are suspected are:

Treatment options include:

This is what it looks like to give Tiger his intravenous IV:

Want to know more about organ transplants in cats?

Want to know more about 3D printing?

Cannot recommend this TED talk enough if you want to know more about 3D printing replacement organs:

Models of kidneys:

Some of the scans of Tiger’s kidney:

The organ donor crisis:

The ethics:

More information on kidney transplants for cats.

Oki’s Story!

Thanks for following along!



Vermeulen, N, Haddow, G & Seymour, T 2017, ‘3D bioprint me: a socioethical view of bioprinting human organs and tissues’, Journal of Medical Ethics, pp. 1-7. Retrieved 23 May, 2017, from http://jme.bmj.com/content/medethics/early/2017/03/20/medethics-2015-103347.full.pdf


Catneys: The Printining

We’ve made it to the actual printing of the kidney! Let me just start by saying, I think I’ve grossly overestimated my abilities in actually doing this project.

Just to recap, I’m focusing on the process of 3D printing a scaffold of a replacement kidney for a cat. Sounds pretty simple, right? Wrong. Along with my computer deciding it had had quite enough of being functional, this whole process has been a bit of a challenge.

I had a model of a kidney that I attempted to print out so that I could take a better look at it. It came out not as a kidney, but rather a chaotic tangle of melted plastic. I wish I had taken a photo (it was a very stressful moment and my head was not in the game), so instead you’ll have to settle for a drawing:

An artist’s rendition of the disaster.

So let’s take a few gigantic steps back, to properly explore what it is that I’m trying to do in the first place. Bioprinting is the process of printing living cells, often in conjunction with a scaffold that will melt away when the organ sets. It’s where most of the growth and interest is in 3D printing because it means you have an instant organ. That’s not what I’m trying to do though so we can forget about that.

What I’m trying to achieve does involve a scaffold, and is more commonly known as tissue engineering. If I were in a lab and had proper equipment I would use a high-resolution printer. This is because the scaffold should be made out of a highly porous substrate, that contains the fine features of the organ.

Before even thinking about printing the scaffold we need to take a sample of the patient’s cells, which can then be expanded in the lab using a little TLC (the right temperature, some nutrients and close supervision). When you’ve got sufficient cells they are transferred to the scaffold, which gives the cells a surface to adhere to. Once they’ve found an area to call home they can multiply and thrive, forming an extracellular matrix which involves a delicious mix of structural and functional proteins and saccharides. It’s important to make sure the scaffold is well designed, as both the structure and the composition of the scaffold control how the seed cells act and survive.

So there you have it. Some seriously complicated stuff. I’ll keep you posted, I’m expecting great things.

Catneys: Prevention Is Better than Cure

We now know the difference between various kinds of kidney failure and a bit about the kidney in general, so let’s look at how we can best avoid all this nasty business in the first place. Acute kidney failure is far more preventable than chronic kidney failure, and can occasionally develop into chronic kidney failure if not treated in time. This makes the causes of acute kidney failure a good place to start.

Cat parents can best prevent acute kidney failure by being aware of the most common preventable causes. This first one of which is a no-brainer- limit your cat’s exposure to toxic substances. This seems obvious, but what’s toxic to cats is a little less clear. The most common substances to be aware of include:

  • Ethylene glycol antifreeze- It’s commonly used in cars, and you may have some in your garage or house. If you do and have cats, I would recommend switching over to a propylene glycol versions, which are far less toxic.
  • Any kind of medication- cats systems are much smaller than ours, and it takes much smaller amounts of a drug for them to overdose. You should also never administer human medications, to felines without calling the veterinarian first.
  • Lilies- Pull lilies out of any flower arrangement entering the house, as all portions of the plant are extremely toxic to cat kidneys.
  • The outdoors– if possible, keep your cat indoors when you can. When allowed outside cats are exposed to all manner of environments out of your control. Cats also have a massive impact on the native fauna, and keeping them indoors helps minimise this effect.

There is also a possibility that your cat has a genetic predisposition for kidney failure like it was suspected that Chelsea and Tiger did. Abyssinians and Persians are thought to have a familial predisposition to developing kidney disease, so if you owe either of those breeds it pays to be extra vigilant.

Chronic kidney failure is a bit of a different beast. In most cases, the cause of chronic kidney disease is unknown. There is a suspected link between chronic kidney failure and high sulphur foods, but that’s yet to be proven. Other conditions such as birth defects affecting the kidneys, trauma, hypokalemia (low blood potassium), and hypercalcaemia (high blood calcium) may also cause CKD, but work is still going on to discover the underlying cause of most cases of this disease. There is very little cat parents can do to prevent cats developing chronic kidney failure.

If an underlying cause can be identified, in some cases this may be treatable and so the progression of the condition may be halted. In most cases though, treatment is aimed at management of the disease and complications that arise from it.

Speaking of which, an essential part of treating kidney failure is early detection. If you own any kind of pet, especially a cat or dog, you should take them to the vet twice a year. Often kidney failure in its initial stages doesn’t have any outward signs and is only detectable through a blood work screening. Cases of kidney failure caught early as part of wellness screening have the best chance for long-term health because intervention takes place very early in the disease process.

In saying that, there are some signs to watch out for. These include:

  • Changes in drinking habits
  • Changes is litter box visits
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Bad breath

Funnily enough, these are also symptoms of diabetes in cats, which Tiger also has. Never be afraid to double check with your vet that your cat is okay. It’s far better to make an unnecessary trip to the vet than miss detecting the early signs of disease. In both diabetes and kidney failure, early intervention leads to longer life.

I can say from experience that kidney failure is scary, and at times down right heart breaking. It’s not the be all and end all though. Vigilance pays off. Persistence pays off. A little bit of hope pays off. Many of the pets that have been diagnosed with kidney failure have lived many happy years through the care of their owners and veterinarians. Treat every day as a gift.

Catneys: The Final Frontier

It’s been a long and emotional journey forming the final concepts for my digital artifact. I’m sticking with cat kidneys, and if anything, the stress of almost losing my best friend has really put into focus the need for this development. In this blog, I explore my own personal experience, as well as some of the ethical issues surrounding 3D printed organs.

Want to know more?

There are some great articles featuring the ethics of 3D printed organs for human patients:

To follow the story so far check out:

Further Reading:


Catneys: What Went Wrong

I feel like I’ve got to start with a disclaimer. I’m not a biologist, or a vet, or trained in zoology. I have a degree in chemistry, which to be honest isn’t that helpful here. Alas, scientific thinking is- I’d like to think- pretty universal. So stick with me as I struggle through complex terminology and journal articles that bend my mind, while I try to break it down for you as simply and as accurately as I can.

That being said, we’re still not up to making kidneys yet. We’ll get there eventually. At the moment we’re going to explore why kidneys decide to fail when they do. You don’t need replacements if your organs still work. That would be nice.

First, let’s be clear. There are two main kinds of kidney failure: acute and chronic.

Acute kidney failure most often occurs when a cat eats something toxic. This can be anything from household chemicals, human medications, and even lilies (pro tip: if you have cats don’t keep lilies in your house). It can also be caused by a variety of other reasons, including:

  • the cat being bitten by ticks or snakes
  • bacterial infections of the kidney
  • Clotting disorders
  • Ureteral or urethral obstruction
  • Heart failure

Which is grim stuff. Lucky for us, acute kidney failure is which more straightforward to treat. It’s usually handled by keeping the cat affected on fluids to circulate the toxins as quickly as possible, for anywhere between one and four days. Cats can quite often pull through this to be happy, healthy felines.

Chronic kidney failure is a more insidious character. Chronic kidney failure involves functional kidney tissue slowly being replaced by scar tissue, which reduces the kidneys ability to function over time. It is, as a result, irreversible.

It takes a really long time for cats with chronic kidney failure to start showing visible symptoms. As a result, determining why the kidneys fail is often really hard. There are a few main causes that can often contribute though, which include:

  • Birth defects
  • Chronic bacterial infection of the kidneys
  • High blood pressure
  • Immune system diseases
  • Acute kidney disease can also lead to damage that causes chronic kidney failure

Sadly, all of these things are pretty hard to avoid. There is building evidence to suggest that dry food might also contribute to the high level of kidney failure in household cats.

I know Chelsea had chronic kidney failure, and sadly, even if we had caught it earlier, there was very little we could do.

So which one almost killed Tiger? The answer is both. One of his kidneys was suffering chronic kidney failure, which is why he only has one that’s operational current. The second suffered a block in the ureter, which is one of the common causes of acute kidney failure. He never liked to make things simple.

Now we get to the take-home message: why replacement kidneys are so important!

As I’ve already said, there is little they can do for cats suffering chronic kidney failure except for making them comfortable on their way out. Which is heartbreaking. It’s also one of the lead causes of death amongst household cats. If a transplant was an option, especially for cases such as Chelsea’s, where she was only 8 years old, we could have had many more happy years with her by our side.

At the moment, we flush Tiger’s kidneys every second night with an IV drip, which helps a little bit but is really just delaying the inevitable.

So while printing cat kidneys seems like a long shot, it’s worth exploring, at any rate.

Catneys: The Saga Continues

On Thursday I drove to my coastal home of Newcastle to say goodbye to my long-time family cat Tiger. I had lost his sister Chelsea to the same thing that was killing him, kidney failure, just 8 months before. It was a hard pill to swallow. I’m not very good at expressing grief, but the thought of being a crazy cat lady with no cats choked me up. Fate is a cruel mistress.



Chelsea (right) and Tiger (left) ready for Christmas (2015)


Tiger is something special. He’s a lazy, fluffy ball of love. He has the calmest temperament of any animal I’ve ever meant. People who don’t like cats like him.



What a special man


I writing this because I’m not really sure what else I can do. Also, I’ve missed two weeks of class and I feel like I’ve really missed out on adding my opinion to things. I started the cat kidney project to come to terms with my cat passing away. I guess mostly to confirm in my own mind that putting her down was the right thing to do. That there was no hope with a cat with non-functional kidneys.

I’ve learned that sometimes it’s not all doom and gloom. I’m here to tell you, and believe me, I can hardly comprehend it myself, but Tiger has gotten better(ish). One of his kidneys has failed completely. It’s gone. Well, not gone, it’s still very much in his body, but it’s pretty much useless. The other kidney was both the problem and the savior.

In the process of explaining how it is that Tigs is sitting next to me right now, I’m going to learn you a little bit about cat kidneys.

Let’s begin:



Cat Kidney

Above we can see a kidney. The kidney’s main job in the blood is to filter out a nasty compound call urea and keep the levels of salts and water in the blood balanced.

When you lose this ability, urea builds up in the body and becomes toxic. Which is, obviously, not good. If you’re a person and your kidneys have decided to take a holiday, you can undergo dialysis, which basically works as an “external kidney”. Your blood is circulated out of your body, into a big fancy machine which balances salts, water and harmful toxins, then pumped back into your body. Dialysis is sometimes painful, can lead to scarring from the needle marks, is expensive and time-consuming. We could do it for cats (probably) but dialysis is usually used when waiting for a donor kidney, which isn’t usually an option for cats.

Anyway, I digress. I’m not really sure what exactly caused the failure of Chelsea or Tiger’s kidneys. The vets suspect, being from the same liter, that there might be genetic factors. No use talking about what we can’t help.

Let’s talk about the good stuff. Tiger had a build up of minerals in his ureter, in his functional kidney. This tube is extremely fine, and unfortunately, inoperable. So it looked like his bloodwork was going to fall off the wagon, toxins would build up, and we could either choose to let him slowly be poisoned by his own metabolic processes, or put him down ourselves. Which, all things considered, is a shitty decision to have to make.

Which brings me to Thursday. I drove up, came in for a pat with Tigs, and waited for the vet’s word. On Friday, by some grace of god, Tiger had cleared the blockage in ureter, and the levels of urea in his blood began to drop.

I’m not saying we’re out of the woods yet. He’s still sick, and weak. There is still a partial blockage in his ureter, which could become a full blockage again at any time. If it means I’ve gotten even just one more day of him by my side though, I guess all the pain is worth it.



He’s even got a cool new haircut



Printing Catneys.

For my digital artifact in DIGC335, I’ve decided to explore the possibility of 3D printing replacement kidneys for cats. Check it out!


A brilliant TED talk on 3D printing human kidneys

Some examples of Kidney Models

Printing as the next great innovation

3D printing allows you to create organs on demand

Information about kidney failure in cats

Why so many cats have kidney failure

Current and projected uses for 3D printed organs in humans