A guide to kidney failure in cats

Your cat’s kidneys work extremely hard to keep them healthy. They filter toxins from the blood and eliminate them in the urine, maintain fluid balance, regulate blood pressure, maintain calcium levels and encourage the products of blood cells, as well as many other functions.

If the kidneys become damaged and are unable to do their numerous jobs this can cause your cat to become extremely ill.

Kidney disease can be acute, coming on abruptly due to sudden kidney damage, or chronic, developing gradually over a long period of time. There is no cure for chronic kidney failure in cats, but in some cases, the right treatment and care can help to maintain and prolong their quality of life.

In this guide you’ll find out:

  • What is kidney disease in cats?
  • Types of cat kidney disease
  • Symptoms of kidney failure in cats
  • How to care for a cat with kidney failure
  • Lots more

If your cat needs urgent treatment find an emergency vet here.

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There are two types of cat kidney disease — acute and chronic

What is kidney disease in cats?

Simply put, kidney disease is when your cat’s kidneys are unable to function the way they should. There are two types of kidney disease in cats — chronic and acute.

Chronic kidney disease

Chronic kidney disease usually comes on gradually and progressively and is typically diagnosed in older cats. This gradual loss of kidney function can be due to many different factors and the cause is often never identified. There is no cure for it but a good quality of life can sometimes be maintained with fast and appropriate treatment.

Acute kidney disease

Acute kidney failure in cats is sudden kidney damage which usually develops quickly within a matter of days. It is usually caused by a single factor and typical causes include:

What are the signs of chronic kidney failure in cats?

Symptoms of kidney disease can result from a build-up of toxic substances in the bloodstream, which healthy kidneys would normally remove or control. They may also be unable to concentrate their urine appropriately and may lose important proteins and vitamins from their urine.

Some of the signs of feline kidney disease to look out for include:

  1. Vomiting
  2. Loss of appetite
  3. Drinking a lot of water
  4. Urinating more (or sometimes less, depending on the cause)
  5. Lethargy/tiredness/lack of energy
  6. Losing weight
  7. Smelly breath
  8. Looking scruffier or less groomed then usual
  9. Pale gums

In many cases, damage may have been occurring for some time before symptoms start to show.

However, these symptoms could also be caused by lots of other illnesses and the best person to get to the bottom of the cause is your vet. If you’re worried at all, contact your vet or at nights and weekends, when your vet is closed, find your nearest emergency vet.

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Drinking more water than usual is a sign of kidney disease in cats

How is cat kidney disease diagnosed?

Typical diagnostic tests for cat kidney failure are:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests

Other possible tests include:

  • Biopsy
  • X-rays
  • Blood pressure
  • Abdominal ultrasound

If your cat is showing signs of kidney disease your vet may recommend a blood test and urine analysis in order to test their kidney function and make a diagnosis. Among other things, these tests can pick up on any increase in toxic substances in the bloodstream (which healthy kidneys would normally deal with), and the concentration of urine and amount of protein it contains.

Other tests your vet could recommend include an abdominal ultrasound, x-rays, a biopsy, and blood pressure.

Your vet will be able to recommend the most appropriate tests once they’ve examined your cat.

What can I do if my cat has kidney failure?

If you’re worried that your cat has kidney failure you should contact your vet for advice. The quicker the diagnosis and treatment is started the better the chances of prolonging and improving their quality of life. If your cat is showing signs which could indicate kidney failure there’s always a chance they are actually symptoms of another condition which could require urgent treatment.

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In some cases, treatment and care can help prolong your cat's quality of life

Treatment for kidney failure in cats

There is no cure for chronic kidney disease. Instead, the focus will typically centre on treating the symptoms in order to help improve your cat’s well-being, for example by slowing down the speed of progression and reducing toxins in the bloodstream. Treatment can vary from surgery and fluids to dietary changes and medication.

Your vet will decide on the best course of treatment depending on your cat’s individual situation.

Can cats survive kidney failure?

The prognosis for chronic kidney failure varies depending on the severity and the speed of progression. There is no cure for chronic kidney failure but in some cases, with quick and appropriate treatment, cats can live for months or even years to come. Sadly, in other cases, cats with the disease can deteriorate very quickly.

However, evidence suggests that the quicker a cat receives treatment, the better their chances of survival with a better quality of life.

How to help a cat with kidney problems?

Your vet will advise you on how to care for your cat in the long term. They will offer advice based on your cat’s individual circumstances, but here are some general guidelines for caring for a cat with kidney failure at home:

  • Provide 24/7 access to water
  • Encourage drinking to avoid dehydration
  • Discuss dietary needs with your vet and follow their advice
  • Provide any prescribed medications
  • Attend all vet appointments
  • Look out for any changes and contact your vet if you’re concerned