The kidneys of your cat play several important roles in keeping him or her healthy. Today, our Rochester veterinarians discuss kidney failure in cats, including potential causes, symptoms, and treatment options.

What is kidney failure in cats?

Healthy kidneys aid in the removal of toxins, the regulation of blood pressure, the maintenance of a normal electrolyte balance, the regulation of hydration and calcium, and the production of hormones that stimulate the production of red blood cells.

When your cat has kidney failure, also known as renal failure, the kidneys no longer function properly. This can be caused by a variety of factors and conditions, including infections, tumors, or consuming something toxic.

The immediate risk of failing kidneys in cats is that they cannot clear the blood of dangerous toxins.

What are the different types of kidney failure in cats?

There are two types of kidney failure in cats. Each type differs in causes, treatment options, and prognosis.

Acute Renal Failure

If your cat has acute kidney failure, it means that its kidneys have suddenly become unable to function normally. This type of kidney failure happens quickly, within a few days or weeks. Acute renal failure can often be reversed if detected in time.

Poisons, trauma, infection, organ failure, urethral blockages, dehydration, and other causes can all cause it in cats of any age.

The most common cause of acute renal failure is poison, which includes toxic plants, pesticides, cleaning fluids, and human medications.

Chronic Kidney Failure

Chronic kidney failure in cats is more gradual, developing over months or even years. Autoimmune diseases, cysts in the kidneys, and genetics are the most common causes of this type of kidney failure.

Chronic kidney failure is a progressive illness that can lead to total kidney failure, where the kidneys gradually stop working as they lose the ability to filter toxins out of the blood. 

What are the symptoms of Kidney Failure in Cats? 

If your cat’s kidneys aren’t removing waste from his or her body, you may notice that your cat is drinking more water and attempting to urinate more. Because the toxins build up in the cat's body, they may feel nauseous and stop eating their food. In general, your cat will appear to be lethargic and not very happy. Generally, signs of kidney failure in elderly cats are the same as those for younger cats.

General symptoms of kidney failure in cats can include:

  • Dehydration
  • Excess thirst
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Diarrhea (may contain blood)
  • Vomiting (may contain blood)
  • Depression
  • Bad breath

If your cat is suffering from acute kidney failure you may also notice an arched back or stiff-legged gait, symptoms that your cat’s kidneys are causing pain.

Chronic kidney failure gradually progresses over years, and the signs may not be noticeable. By the time you do see symptoms, the disease may already be leading to total kidney failure. 

While there is no cure for chronic kidney disease if it’s detected and treated early your cat’s longevity and quality of life can be improved.

What are the symptoms of end-stage kidney failure in cats?

End-stage kidney failure symptoms in cats include dull sunken eyes, inability to walk, body odor, incontinence in the bladder or bowels, refusal to eat or drink, seizures, confusion, pacing and restlessness, withdrawing, hiding, and fleeing.

Though your cat may exhibit more than one of these symptoms, you may not see them all. There are no simple solutions to kidney failure because different symptoms may appear at different times.

These symptoms can also be signs of other illnesses, which is why early diagnosis, disease management, and communication with your vet are critical. 

How is kidney failure in cats diagnosed and treated?

Your vet will do a comprehensive examination of your cat, including blood and urine tests, X-rays, and possibly an ultrasound. A kidney biopsy might also be required. 

If kidney disease is discovered, treatments may include intravenous fluids to replace lost fluids, vitamin injections, supplements, medications, and possibly surgery to remove blockages. The goal of treating kidney failure is to manage the symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.

A carefully managed diet and plenty of clean, fresh water can help your cat's treatment. Your veterinarian will advise you to gradually transition your cat to a kidney diet that is low in phosphorus and protein and high in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.

Cats with end-stage kidney failure will require palliative care in their final days, which will include keeping them warm and comfortable, providing food, water, and a litter box, and providing lots of loving human companionship.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

If your cat is showing signs and symptoms of kidney disease, contact Stoney Pointe Pet Hospital to book an appointment or visit your nearest emergency veterinary clinic.