Renal Failure in Cats

Renal Failure in Cats

Renal failure in cats can be very alarming to pet owners. Find out what it means, the symptoms, causes, how to diagnose it and what to do about it here.

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A cat’s kidneys are very important to their overall health. The kidneys help manage blood pressure, produce hormones and red blood cells, and remove waste from the blood. When the kidneys become damaged or start to deteriorate, it results in renal failure in cats. While there’s no cure, kidney failure can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. As with any disease, when caught early, the progress of the disease can be slowed and cats can sometimes live for several years after a diagnosis of chronic kidney failure.

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Types and Causes of Renal Failure in Cats

16 out of every 1,000 cats will suffer from kidney failure. Kittens can be born with it but it’s most often seen in aging cats. While any breed can develop kidney disease or experience kidney failure, Abyssinian and Persian cats are at higher risk.

There are several things that can cause kidney failure in cats, including:

  • Any disease of the kidneys
  • Obstruction of the urinary tract or of the ureters, which can cause urinary blockage
  • Certain medications
  • Lymphoma
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Genetic factors
  • Trauma
  • Infection


There are two types of renal failure, acute and chronic, and each can have different causes of kidney failure. Acute kidney failure comes on very suddenly within days or weeks, and can be seen in cats of all ages.

The Most Common Causes of Acute Renal Failure in Cats

  • Toxins. These are the most common cause of acute renal failure and they can include toxic plants such as lilies, pesticides, medications meant for people, and antifreeze. It’s essential that if you have these items in your home, you keep them in a place your cat cannot get into.
  • Trauma. Trauma can always cause kidney failure, but acute renal failure is likely to be a result of a broken pelvis or burst bladder.
  • Loss of fluids. Rapid dehydration, loss of blood, overheating, vomiting, and diarrhea can all cause a rapid loss of fluids and this can be very hard on the kidneys, leading to acute renal failure.
  • Infection of the kidneys.
  • Heart failure. This can cause a significant drop in blood pressure, which can slow the flow of blood to the kidneys.

Acute renal failure is quite common and if caught in time, the effects can often even be reversed. Chronic renal failure on the other hand, is much more difficult to treat. This type of the disease can develop over several months, or even years. The kidneys are an incredible organ that can find other ways of functioning when they begin to break down. Because of this, by the time symptoms start to show, it may already be too late.

The exact causes of chronic renal failure are unknown, but kidney infections and blockages definitely due to the development of the disease. These types of kidney problems can wear down the kidneys over time and eventually cause them to fail. Other conditions that are thought to contribute to chronic renal failure are advanced dental disease, high blood pressure, problems with the thyroid, and cancer.

Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Cats

Kidney failure can have a number of different symptoms, and some could be symptoms of another problem. Some of the most common symptoms cats with kidney failure experience are:

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  • Anorexia
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Increased thirst
  • Acute blindness
  • Seizures

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  • Comas
  • Blood in the urine
  • Cloudy urine
  • Frequent urination, indicating they can no longer hold fluids
  • Relieving themselves outside of the litter box
  • Decreased appetite
  • Ulcers in the mouth, especially on the gums and tongue
  • Discoloration of the tongue
  • Constipation


Diagnosing and Treating Renal Failure in Cats

Like with the start of any diagnosis, your vet will start by performing a full physical exam, paying special attention to the lower back where the kidneys are located and the rectal area. They’ll also ask for a full medical history, including a thorough explanation of the most recent symptoms.

If renal failure is suspected, the vet will likely perform further diagnostic tests to confirm the diagnosis. These will include blood and urine tests, X-rays, ultrasounds, and even biopsies.

There are a number of treatments available for both acute and chronic kidney failure. They can be as simple as changing the cat’s diet to a “kidney diet”, one that is low in both phosphorus and protein, and enriched with Vitamin D and fatty acids.

It’s also important to keep any cat suffering from renal failure well hydrated, as a loss of fluids will only worsen the disease. Make sure they always have access to fresh, clean water and, if they can’t drink fluids or keep them down, they may need fluids administered intravenously.

Medications can help stop the disease from progressing and keep the cat comfortable, but once kidney failure has set in, it cannot be reversed. Your vet may also prescribe medications that need to be injected just under the skin, which you can do at home.

In extreme cases, surgery may be required to remove blockages of the kidneys.

Unfortunately, not only is there no cure for renal failure in cats, there’s also no way to prevent it. It’s a progressive disease, meaning that cats suffering from it should be monitored to periodically check if the diet or medication needs to be changed. While a diagnosis of kidney failure or disease can be devastating, it’s important to remember that many cats can live a full and happy life for years after diagnosis when it’s properly managed and treated.

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