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Feline Kidney Failure: Causes Symptoms and Treatment

Kidney function in cats

Cats are known for their independence and ability to take care of themselves, but they still need proper care and attention to maintain their health. One important aspect of feline health is kidney function.

Kidneys are vital organs that filter waste and toxins from the blood, maintain a proper balance of fluids and electrolytes, and produce hormones essential to bodily functions.

Like humans, cats have two kidneys located on each side of their spine.

One of the kidneys usually functions as a backup to the other, but they both need to be working properly to keep your cat healthy. While cats can function with as little as one functioning kidney, its important to monitor their kidney function throughout their lifetime.

Causes of kidney failure

Kidney failure is a relatively common health problem in cats, especially as they age. When the kidneys start to fail, they may not be able to filter waste products and fluids from the blood as effectively as they should, leading to a buildup of harmful toxins.

The gradual loss of kidney function can eventually lead to kidney failure, which can be life-threatening if not addressed promptly.

There are several factors that may contribute to the development of kidney failure in cats.

Some of the most common causes include:

– Aging: As cats grow older, their kidneys may naturally start to lose some functionality. This can lead to a higher likelihood of developing kidney disease.

– Infections: Cats may develop kidney disease if they contract a urinary tract infection or another type of infection that can damage the kidneys. – Genetic predisposition: Certain breeds of cats may be more likely to develop kidney disease.

For example, Siamese cats are known to have a higher risk of developing feline lower urinary tract disease, which can lead to kidney problems. – Environmental factors: Exposure to certain toxins or chemicals can damage the kidneys over time.

This can include exposure to pesticides, certain medications, or even household cleaning products.

Types of Kidney Failure in Cats

Acute Kidney Failure

Acute kidney failure, also known as acute renal failure, is a sudden and rapid loss of kidney function. This can be caused by any number of factors, including the ingestion of toxins or harmful substances, dehydration, trauma, infections, or underlying health conditions.

Acute kidney failure can be a serious and life-threatening condition, and may require immediate veterinary intervention.

Symptoms of acute kidney failure may include:

– Loss of appetite

– Lethargy

– Vomiting or diarrhea

– Increased or decreased urination

– Bad breath or unusual odor to the breath

– Swollen or painful abdomen

If you suspect your cat may be experiencing acute kidney failure, its important to seek veterinary care immediately.

Treatment options may include intravenous fluids, medications to support kidney function, or other interventions based on the underlying cause of the condition.

Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a progressive and long-lasting condition that affects the normal functioning of the kidneys. Its often referred to as a silent killer because the symptoms may not appear until the disease has already progressed significantly.

CKD is most commonly seen in older cats and can develop due to a variety of causes, including genetic predisposition, infections, exposure to harmful chemicals, or long-term use of certain medications.

Symptoms of CKD may include:

– Increased thirst and urination

– Bad breath

– Weight loss

– Decreased appetite

– Lethargy

– Vomiting or diarrhea

Diagnosing CKD in cats typically involves a series of blood and urine tests to assess kidney function and other health markers.

Treatment options may include medications to manage symptoms, special diets to support kidney function, and careful monitoring of the cats overall health.

Preventing Kidney Failure in Cats

While there are no guarantees when it comes to feline health, there are some things you can do to help prevent kidney failure in your cat. These may include:

– Providing fresh, clean water at all times to encourage good hydration

– Feeding your cat a balanced, high-quality diet thats appropriate for their age and health needs

– Regular checkups with your veterinarian to monitor your cats overall health and kidney function

– Keeping your home environment clean and free from harmful toxins or chemicals


While kidney failure can be a serious and life-threatening condition for cats, its not a death sentence. With timely intervention and proper care, cats with kidney disease can still enjoy a good quality of life.

By understanding the causes and symptoms of kidney failure in cats, you can take steps to help prevent this condition and intervene early if your cat develops symptoms. With proper care and attention, your feline friend can live a healthy and happy life.

Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Cats

Kidney failure, also known as renal failure, is a common health problem in older cats. It occurs when the kidneys are unable to perform their functions, which include filtering toxins and waste products from their blood, balancing electrolytes, and producing hormones.

There are two types of kidney failure that can affect cats acute kidney failure and chronic kidney disease. While the symptoms can be similar in both types of kidney failure at early stages, the two conditions develop differently.

In this article, well explore the symptoms of acute kidney failure and chronic kidney disease in cats.

Symptoms of Acute Kidney Failure

Acute kidney failure is a sudden and rapid decline in kidney function. This condition can be caused by toxins, infections, underlying conditions, or physical trauma.

Acute kidney failure can also occur due to dehydration, urinary tract obstruction, or certain medications. In most cases, the symptoms will develop within a few days and can be severe.

The symptoms of acute kidney failure in cats include:

1. Loss of appetite: Cats with acute kidney failure often experience nausea and are unable to eat or drink normally.

2. Intense thirst and urination: Due to a buildup of waste products in the bloodstream, cats may become excessively thirsty and urinate more than normal.

3. Lethargy: Cats with acute kidney failure may appear tired, sleep more than usual, and lose interest in their usual activities.

4. Vomiting and diarrhea: Nausea and gastrointestinal distress can lead to vomiting and diarrhea in cats with acute kidney failure.

5. Bad breath: The accumulation of toxins can cause bad breath and an unpleasant odor that is difficult to brush away.

In advanced stages of acute kidney failure, cats may experience seizures, tremors or twitching, seizures, and loss of consciousness. If you notice any of the symptoms above, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.

Symptoms of

Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a progressive condition that develops over a period of months or years. The early symptoms of CKD in cats may be mild and can be easily overlooked.

Although CKD isnt reversible, early detection and appropriate management can slow down its progression. The symptoms of CKD in cats include:


Increased thirst and urination: Because the kidneys are unable to effectively regulate fluids, cats with CKD tend to drink more water and urinate more frequently. 2.

Weight loss: Although cats with CKD may continue eating the same amount of food as before, they may experience weight loss due to muscle wasting. 3.

Lethargy: Cats with CKD may become lethargic, lose interest in their usual activities and sleep more than usual. 4.

Loss of appetite: Cats with CKD may have a diminished appetite, becoming less interested in food. This can be a potent source of weight loss.

5. Vomiting and diarrhea: Cats with CKD may experience vomiting and diarrhea due to gastrointestinal issues or the buildup of toxins in their blood.

In advanced stages of CKD, cats may develop ulcers on their tongues, gums, and inside their mouth due to a high level of toxins in their blood. In such cases, the cat may also be experiencing lethargy, loss of appetite and weight, and other severe symptoms.

Causes of Kidney Failure in Cats

There are several factors that can contribute to kidney failure in cats. These range from toxin exposure to medical issues to genetics.

Toxin Exposure

Toxins can be found everywhere. Anything from toxic plants to household cleaners, prescription medications, and even certain foods can be harmful to your cats kidney health.

Some common toxins that can cause kidney failure in cats include:

1. Antifreeze: Ethylene glycol, a common ingredient in antifreeze, can cause kidney failure if ingested by your cat.

2. Medications: Some prescription medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can be toxic to cats and cause kidney damage.

3. Cleaning chemicals: Chemicals found in household cleaners, such as bleach, can be toxic to cats.

Exposure to these chemicals can lead to acute or chronic kidney damage.

Underlying Medical Issues

There are also several medical conditions that can cause kidney failure in cats. Some medical issues that can damage the kidneys include:


Urinary Tract Blockages: Blockages in a cat’s urinary tract can prevent urine flow and lead to kidney damage. 2.

Infections: Kidney infections can cause irreversible damage to the kidneys, leading to kidney failure if left untreated. 3.

Congenital Abnormalities: Some cats are born with congenital abnormalities that can cause kidney dysfunction over time. 4.

High Blood Pressure: High blood pressure can cause damage to the tiny blood vessels in the kidneys, leading to damage and eventual failure.

Managing Kidney Failure in Cats

Managing kidney failure in cats requires a combination of medical interventions, supportive care, and changes in the cats lifestyle. The goal of treatment is to slow down the progression of the disease and improve the cats overall quality of life.

This may include:

1. Prescription medications: In the case of CKD, treatment may involve medications such as ACE inhibitors or erythropoietin, depending on individual cat needs.

2. Special diet: A renal-friendly diet specially formulated for cats with kidney disease can help manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

3. Monitoring: Regular monitoring of your cats health, blood pressure, urine output, and kidney function is essential.

4. Providing plenty of fresh water: Make sure your cat has access to fresh water at all times to help prevent dehydration.


Kidney failure is a common and serious health problem in cats. Identifying the symptoms of acute kidney failure and chronic kidney disease early is essential for timely treatment.

Understanding the causes of kidney failure will enable you to take preventive measures and protect your cats kidney health. If you suspect your cat may have kidney failure, prompt veterinary care is essential.

With the proper management, cats with kidney disease can still lead happy, healthy lives.

How Veterinarians Diagnose Kidney Failure in Cats

Diagnosing kidney disease in cats requires a thorough physical examination, a review of the cat’s medical history, and laboratory tests. These tests can help identify the type of kidney failure, the extent of the damage, and how the kidneys are currently functioning.

Diagnosing Acute Kidney Failure

When a cat presents with signs of acute kidney failure, diagnostic tests are essential to determine the underlying cause. The veterinarian may perform a range of tests, including:


Bloodwork: Blood tests can help measure the levels of waste products in the bloodstream and assess electrolytes, blood count, glucose, among others. 2.

Urinalysis: A urinalysis can provide insight into electrolyte imbalances, assess for the presence of bladder stones, and demonstrate the degree of kidney impairment. 3.

Radiographs and ultrasounds: Radiographs or ultrasound images can identify kidney stones or other abnormalities that may be causing the acute kidney failure. 4.

Biopsy: A kidney biopsy allows the veterinarian to examine a piece of the kidney tissue and further understand the cause of the kidney failure. Once the underlying cause of the acute failure has been identified, the veterinarian will develop an appropriate treatment plan to address the primary and secondary conditions that are damaging the kidneys.


Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease in cats can be more challenging to diagnose than acute kidney failure. Most cats with CKD begin to develop non-specific signs of kidney disease gradually.

During subsequent veterinary visits, the vet will ask you about changes in your cats eating, drinking, urination, and general behavior to evaluate for CKD. There may be a need for regular blood and urine tests to help determine the extent of the disease.

Diagnostic tests that may be ordered to diagnose chronic kidney disease include:

1. Blood Tests: Blood tests can help identify the levels of waste products in the bloodstream as well as evaluate electrolyte levels.

2. Urinalysis: Urinalysis assess the changes in the cats urine patterns over time.

For example, when your cat is developing a kidney disease, protein may leak into the urine. 3.

Blood Pressure: High blood pressure can contribute to kidney disease and thus it is essential to know your cats blood pressure. 4.

Ultrasound imaging: An ultrasound can help detect changes in the size and shape of the kidneys, as well as identify kidney stones and tumors in the kidneys or bladder. Once the veterinarian has confirmed the diagnosis of CKD, the cats condition is staged, and the veterinarian will develop a treatment plan based on the severity of the disease.

Treatment of Kidney Failure in Cats

End-stage kidney failure in cats is a severe medical condition that can cause significant health problems. The treatment options for end-stage kidney failure will focus on alleviating the symptoms and improving quality of life.

The most common options include:

1. Dialysis: Dialysis helps to remove excess waste products from the bloodstream.

Hemodialysis is a more advanced procedure that requires more frequent treatments. Kidney dialysis for cats is usually done in a veterinary facility.

2. Fluid Therapy: Hydration support is critical in treating end-stage kidney failure to help improve kidney function.

3. Medications: Using medications that help stimulate kidney function is an option that the vet may explore.

4. Nutritional Therapy: A specialized diet for cats with kidney disease can help reduce the buildup of toxins and waste products that can worsen the symptoms.

In cases where kidneys are not functioning and the condition can no longer be treated, euthanasia may be the only humane alternative.

Recovery and Management of Kidney Failure in Cats

Recovery from kidney failure will depend on many factors such as underlying health conditions, the extent of damage, and the cat’s ability to tolerate treatment. In some cases, cats with acute kidney failure can recover, while for others with chronic kidney disease, recovery may not be possible.

Managing kidney failure in cats usually involves a combination of medications, dietary changes, and fluid therapy. Management of cats with chronic kidney disease involves intervention that can slow down the progression of the condition to ensure your cat is comfortable and happy.

Its important to provide your cat with proper care and a healthy lifestyle to manage kidney failure. This may include providing fresh drinking water at all times, feeding your cat on a renal-friendly diet, regular monitoring of the cat’s health, and using medications recommended by your vet.

In conclusion, diagnosing and treating kidney failure in cats is a critical component of feline health care. Early identification of symptoms and prompt veterinary care can significantly improve outcomes for cats with acute kidney failure or chronic kidney disease, improving their quality of life.

The focus should be on providing supportive care, monitoring the cat’s response to treatment, and making sure daily needs are met, such as water intake and nutrition. Ultimately, working with a veterinarian to manage kidney disease can help ensure your cat lives a long and healthy life.

Kidney Failure in Cats FAQs

Kidney failure is a common health problem in cats, and it can be a difficult and confusing condition for cat owners to understand. In this article, well answer some of the most frequently asked questions about kidney failure in cats, including how to survive with kidney failure and the pain associated with kidney failure.

Surviving with Kidney Failure

Kidney failure is a serious condition that may require intensive veterinary care. However, with proper management, many cats with kidney failure can live happy and healthy lives for years.

Here are some tips to help your cat survive with kidney failure:

1. Stick to a renal-friendly diet: Cats with kidney disease need to eat a diet thats low in protein, phosphorus, and sodium, and high in moisture.

2. Provide fresh water at all times: Proper hydration is essential for cats with kidney disease.

Ensure that your cat has access to clean, fresh water at all times. 3.

Regular vet checkups: Regular vet checkups help monitor your cat’s overall health and treatment progress. 4.

Follow the medication regimen: Follow the medication regimen prescribed by your veterinarian to manage the symptoms of kidney disease and improve the cats quality of life

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