Your Cat's Kidneys
When your cat's kidneys are healthy they work to remove toxins, manage blood pressure, maintain a normal electrolyte balance, regulate hydration and calcium, and produce hormones that stimulate the production of red blood cells.
If your cat is diagnosed with kidney failure - also known as renal failure - the kidneys are no longer functioning efficiently. This can be caused by several factors and conditions, such as infections, tumors, or ingesting something toxic.
The immediate risk of failing kidneys in cats is that they cannot clear the blood of dangerous toxins.
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 is suffering from acute kidney failure, it means that their kidneys are suddenly unable to function properly. This type of kidney failure occurs suddenly, within days or weeks. If diagnosed in time, acute renal failure can sometimes be reversed.
It can happen in cats of any age and typically results from poisons, trauma, infection, organ failure, urethral blockages, dehydration, and other causes. Poisons, such as toxic plants, pesticides, cleaning fluids, and human medications, are the most common cause of acute renal failure.
Chronic Kidney Failure
Chronic kidney failure in cats is a gradual condition that typically develops over several months or even years. This type of kidney failure is typically caused by autoimmune diseases, cysts in the kidneys, and genetics.
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.
Signs of Kidney Failure in Cats
When the kidneys aren’t properly removing waste from your cat's body, your cat may drink larger than normal amounts of water and attempt to urinate more often. 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.
General symptoms of kidney failure in cats can include:
- Dehydration/excess thirst
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- Diarrhea (may contain blood)
- Vomiting (may contain blood)
- 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 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.
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.
Symptoms of End Stage Kidney Failure in Cats
The most common symptoms of end-stage kidney failure in cats include:
- Dull sunken eyes
- Inability to walk
- Body odor
- Incontinence in the bladder or bowels
- Refusal to eat or drink
- Pacing and restlessness
- Withdrawing/hiding and running away.
Though more than one of these symptoms will be present, you may not see all of them in your cat. It's important to note that these symptoms can also be signs of other illnesses, which is why early diagnosis, disease management, and communication with your vet is so important.
How Kidney Failure in Cats is Diagnosed & Treated
Your vet will do a comprehensive examination of your cat, including any of the following diagnostic tests:
- Blood test
- Urine tests
- Kidney biopsy
If kidney disease is found, treatments could include intravenous fluids to correct dehydration, vitamin injections, supplements, medications, and possibly surgery to remove blockages. When treating kidney failure the goal is to manage the symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease.
You can support your cat’s treatment with a carefully managed diet and plenty of clean fresh water. Your vet will recommend that you gradually transition your cat to a kidney diet that is low in both phosphorus and protein and is enriched with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
Palliative care is required for cats with end-stage kidney failure. In their final days, this will mean keeping them warm and comfortable, with food, water, and a litter box nearby, as well as 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.