Your cat’s kidneys are responsible for some very important jobs, including cleaning toxins and waste from his or her blood and managing blood pressure. Unfortunately, this means that, if the kidneys start to fail, your cat will suffer ill health. While we don’t want to scare you, kidney failure in cats is one of the top 10 injuries in cats, even among kittens, so it is important that owners be aware of the symptoms. Early recognition of the signs will greatly improve the chances of successfully treating your cat.


Types of kidney disease

Acute kidney failure is when the problem appears suddenly and it can affect cats of all ages. Meanwhile, chronic kidney failure is when the problem has developed over a longer period of time. Causes tend to be less apparent and middle-aged and older cats are more vulnerable.  

What causes kidney failure in cats?

Acute kidney failure most frequently occurs from a single cause. Typically, this includes the ingestion of something poisonous, which can include plants, human medications or household chemicals, such as antifreeze. When your cat’s kidneys try to filter the bloodstream, they become damaged by the poison. Other causes of acute kidney failure include:

  • Blockages to either the bloodstream or the urinary tract
  • Damage to the kidneys or the bones or tissues around them
  • Dehydration or sudden loss of blood
  • Heart failure or reduced blood pressure
  • Infection of the kidneys

It is harder to know the cause of chronic kidney failure in cats, primarily because it develops over a long period of time, making it hard to pinpoint the determining issues. However, vets will examine for kidney blockages and infections which may have been present for a long time, and anything which might cause your cat’s blood pressure to fall or create trauma in or around the kidneys, such as cancer, blood pressure issues, or dental disease.  

What are the signs of kidney problems in cats?

Kidney failure is serious, but there are a lot of symptoms you can spot to help you identify it. If you see any of the following signs, take your cat to see your vet immediately to begin an appropriate course of treatment.

  • Bloody, cloudy and/or very dilute urine
  • Brown colour to the tongue and ammonia-like smell
  • Frequent urination and drinking much more to replace the lost water
  • Constipation
  • Loss of appetite; emaciation; general weak demeanour to his/her behaviour
  • Indifferent attitude; particularly to things which normally excited him/her
  • Drier than usual coat (caused by the dehydration)
  • Ulcers in the mouth, on the tongue and the gums
cat in floor

Is kidney failure in cats painful?

Unfortunately, cats cannot communicate if they are in pain, nor do they tend to display signs of pain, even when pain experience is likely. However, if your cat changes their normal behaviour, including their grooming, eating and toilet habits, and if they display unusual movement, start to bite or scratch more, or pine for more attention from you, they may be experiencing discomfort. Other signs of discomfort include rapid and shallow breathing, bloodshot eyes, quickened heartbeat and changes to the body shape. If you suspect anything is disrupting your cat’s comfort, go and see your vet to see if they can prescribe something to help.  

Is kidney disease treatable?

Acute kidney failure is normally treatable, so long as it is caught early enough. If the vet can pinpoint the problem, treatment to relieve the cause can be given and then fluid treatment administered to flush out the bloodstream and the kidneys while keeping your cat hydrated. Once your cat is stable, you will be allowed to take them home to continue treatment. Normally, this involves keeping them well hydrated and well fed, giving them plenty of rest in a quiet corner of your home. Not all cats suffering from acute kidney disease will require a change in diet, however, your vets will be able to advise you on your individual cat. Unfortunately, chronic kidney failure in cats cannot be treated however it can be well managed with diet and medication to help slow its progression. In cases of chronic kidney failure, a special diet for kidney disease will most likely be recommended alongside any treatment your vet advises as your cat will now require a restricted phosphorus diet with high levels of EPA/DHA and antioxidants to help support the damaged kidneys.

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