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Kidney Failure in Cats

Your cat's kidneys play several key roles in keeping them healthy. Here, our Rancho Cucamonga veterinary team explains the causes, symptoms, and treatments for kidney failure in cats, as well as the symptoms, causes, and expected outcomes.

What is kidney (renal) failure in cats?

Healthy kidneys in your pet help to control blood pressure, maintain an electrolyte balance, remove toxins, produce important hormones that encourage red blood cell production, and regulate calcium levels and hydration.

What causes kidney failure in cats?

Kidney failure (renal failure) occurs when your cat's kidneys no longer function properly. This can be caused by a variety of factors or conditions, including consuming toxic substances, infections, or the growth of tumors in your cat's body. 

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

The type of diet you feed your feline companion may be a contributing factor to kidney failure. Cats have a low desire to drink water, so they are often dehydrated but not thirsty. Dehydration can contribute to urinary tract infections and chronic kidney disease in cats.

As a result, feeding your cat dry food can lead to kidney failure, whereas wet or canned food can help them stay hydrated and healthy.

The 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

Acute kidney failure occurs when your cat's kidneys become suddenly unable to function properly. This type of kidney failure develops suddenly, within days or weeks. Acute renal failure is frequently reversible if detected early.

Poisons, trauma, infection, organ failure, urethral blockages, dehydration, and other causes can all cause it in cats of any age. Poisons, including toxic plants, pesticides, cleaning fluids, and human medications, are the leading cause of acute renal failure.

Chronic Kidney Failure

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

Chronic kidney failure is a progressive illness that can lead to total kidney failure, in which the kidneys gradually cease to function as they lose their ability to filter toxins from the blood.

Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Cats

If your cat has kidney failure, they may experience a range fo symptoms. When their kidneys aren't removing waste from their body, you may notice that they drink more water and urinate more frequently. Because toxins accumulate in the cat's body, they may become nauseous and stop eating.

General symptoms of kidney failure in cats may include:

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

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

Chronic kidney failure gradually progresses over the 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.

How is kidney failure in cats diagnosed and treated?

Your veterinarian will thoroughly examine your cat, including blood and urine tests, X-rays, and an ultrasound. A kidney biopsy may also be required. For a biopsy, your vet will collect a tissue sample and send it away for examination and testing.

If your cat has kidney disease, treatments may include intravenous fluids to correct dehydration, supplements, medications, vitamin injections, and, in some cases, surgery to remove blockages. The goal of treating kidney failure is to slow its progression and alleviate its symptoms. 

You can help your cat's treatment by providing a carefully planned and managed diet and plenty of fresh and clean water. Your veterinarian will also advise you to gradually transition your feline companion to a specialized diet low in protein and phosphorus but 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, keeping food, water, and a litter box nearby, and providing plenty of loving human companionship.

What is the life expectancy for cats with kidney failure?

The prognosis for cats with kidney failure will depend on the stage at which the disease was diagnosed and treatment began. For example, cats diagnosed at stage II are likely to live more than a year after diagnosis, while cats diagnosed at stage IV may only live for another month or so.

Can cats recover from 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.

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.

Is your cat showing signs of kidney issues? Contact our Rancho Cucamonga vets for diagnosis and prompt treatment.

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Rancho Regional Veterinary Hospital is accepting new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Rancho Cucamonga companion animals. Get in touch today to book your pet's first appointment.

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