What You Need to Know About Kidney Disease in Cats

What exactly is kidney disease in cats and what are the signs of kidney disease in cats? Can you prevent kidney disease in cats?

Tired or sick brown tabby cat lying down.
Tired or sick brown tabby cat lying down. Photography © Vladdeep | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Your cat’s kidneys are vital to her overall health. Among their many functions, the kidneys keep her blood pressure in check, help create red blood cells and eliminate waste. Unfortunately, kidney disease in cats becomes more common as our feline friends approach their senior years, with a progressive loss of kidney function creating a number of potentially serious health complications.

The good news is that kidney disease in cats doesn’t always mean a trip over the rainbow bridge is imminent. You’ll want to contact your vet right away if you suspect your cat might be experiencing kidney failure, but here are a few things you need to know about kidney disease in cats.

Symptoms of kidney disease in cats

A cat peeking out of a litter box.
Increased urination is sometimes a sign of kidney disease in cats. Photography © Lightspruch | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

According to Drs. Tash Taylor and Bonnie Dechant at the Cat Clinic of Johnson County in Lenexa, Kansas, some of the first symptoms of kidney disease in cats include increased thirst and urine output. Other symptoms of kidney disease in cats include vomiting, constipation, weight loss, loss of appetite and weakness. Additionally, some cats afflicted with kidney disease might meow more at night.

Causes of kidney disease in cats

While kidney disease in cats is often a chronic condition that has no cure, kidney failure in cats can also be acute when caused by toxins, trauma or infection. Kidney disease is often called renal failure due to the organs’ vital role in the renal (or urinary) system, which is responsible for removing waste from the body. When the kidneys fail, the renal system cannot function.

Some causes of chronic kidney disease in cats include birth defects, high blood pressure, immune system disorders, infections or congenital diseases. Acute kidney failure can also lead to chronic kidney disease in cats, as can certain diseases like FIV and feline leukemia. Some studies suggest dental disease and diabetes may also contribute to the development of kidney disease in cats, but often an exact cause isn’t clear.

What cats are at risk for kidney disease?

Kidney disease in cats is most common in middle-aged to older felines, though other factors play a role as well. Kidney failure in cats occurs more often in certain breeds, notably Persians, as well as in outdoor cats, who have more ready access to toxins such as antifreeze that can cause acute renal failure.

Diagnosis of kidney disease in cats

To diagnose kidney disease in cats, veterinarians run blood tests and perform urine analysis to determine whether the kidneys are properly filtering and eliminating waste. The tests check the concentration of certain waste products that healthy kidneys normally help regulate.

Treatment of kidney disease in cats

After a cat has been diagnosed with kidney disease, according to Drs. Taylor and Dechant, renal-protective diets can help extend their quality years. These diets have an increase in fat, restricted protein, restricted phosphorus and additional potassium. Feeding canned food may also help in increasing water consumption. As kidney disease in cats progresses and dehydration worsens, Dr. Taylor says the “gold standard” for treatment involves giving fluids from an IV bag, which takes about five minutes and you can do it at home.

“The dose and frequency depend on severity of disease, size of the cat and other systemic illnesses,” Dr. Taylor says. “Many cats get anemic, and I put them on vitamin B supplementation. There is a probiotic (azodyl) that can help remove the toxins through the gastrointestinal tract. It isn’t as effective as fluids, but it can be given if the cat won’t allow fluids, the owner isn’t comfortable with giving fluids, or if the fluids alone aren’t enough. Cats with kidney disease can have difficulty keeping potassium or getting rid of phosphorus. We can supplement potassium and give phosphate binders as needed.”

Prevention of kidney disease in cats

The risk of kidney failure in cats naturally increases as kitty gets older, but there are a few ways to help prevent its onset. Encourage your cat to stay well hydrated by keeping water fresh and easily accessible, and keep your cat’s litter box clean so she will have an easy time urinating. Feeding wet food can also help with hydration — but don’t overdo it, as this can lead to obesity and diabetes, which is a potential risk factor for kidney disease in cats. Finally, be sure you’re keeping up on your cat’s regular veterinary checkups, as early diagnosis of kidney disease is your best bet at keeping your cat healthier longer.

Prognosis of kidney disease in cats

There is no cure for kidney disease in cats, but with good care and appropriate treatment, a cat with kidney disease may live for months or even years.

“The prognosis for kidney disease varies dramatically depending on when it is diagnosed,” Dr. Taylor says. “Early detection and diet change at the appropriate time can extend good quality of life by years.”

Thumbnail: Photography © Vladdeep | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

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13 thoughts on “What You Need to Know About Kidney Disease in Cats”

  1. Pingback: Do Cats Cry? What to Know and What to Do About a Crying Cat –

  2. Just learned my cat has early stage CKD. Tried everything to get her to eat the prescription food and after five days of refusing to eat and losing weight gave her the regular food. A cousin has a similar situation and told me she just gives her cat the OTC urinary tract formula foods. My grudgingly eats one flavour and occasionaly a second. Want to know if pre and pro biotics will help and any supplements. She loves drinking water from her fountain, I add water to her food and give a bowl of water mixed with the cat broths being sold. Really curious about supplements and the pre/pro biotics. She is a companion cat.

  3. Pingback: Do Cats Cry? What to Know and What to Do About a Crying Cat – Lwiks.com

  4. My cat has kidney failure he was diagnosed with this a month ago, he’s been drinking water and I have been feeding him with a syringe. He’s been hiding and I have been giving him Kenny support food, he is 18 years old not sure if I should put him down, he doesn’t cry like he’s in pain.please give me some advice of what you do ever you don’t want him to suffer if he’s in pain. Am I doing the right thing I am putting him down. Please give me your advice on what to do?

    1. Hi Ken,

      We suggest getting your cat to the vet ASAP. These articles might provide more insight, but please reach out to your vet:

  5. My dear departed Isabeau was diagnosed with kidney failure when I noticed her breath smelled like acetone! The vet said I could give her subcutaneous fluids but that I should prepare to say goodbye within 6 months.

    I gave her a 1/2 IV bag every-other-day, and she was lovely about it (I pre-warmed it in a jug of hot water).

    Fast-forward over FOUR YEARS later, and we said farewell two months short of her twentieth birthday. ???? ????

  6. I lost my Tripod to kidney disease. She was 19. She’d had hyperthyroidism since she was 12 and was taking methiamizole pills for it. I wished I’d had the money for I-131 therapy–one shot of radioactive iodine, and it would’ve cured her. But I had a hard time getting and keeping jobs, so couldn’t afford those things she needed. Now I carry her ashes in a box wherever I go.
    Vaccines have a 300 year safety record; they do not cause diseases. Wherever you’re getting the information that they cause diseases or medical conditions like kidney failure, you should get the real facts.

  7. I had 3 cats who succumbed to kidney failure and had to be put to sleep. We did the fluids at home for the first one with that problem and it was a fight to get him to hold still for the fluids drip. (He spent a weekend at the vet’s getting IV fluids instead, and lasted 3 more weeks. He was 17.)
    The next 2 we decided to take to the vet for fluids as they had an easier time (and more hands) getting it in them. (these problems were over a year apart, not all at once)
    The 2nd cat went blind suddenly over a weekend and that was the sign that her kidneys had failed completely. We had to put her to sleep the next day. (She was 16 years old.)
    The 3rd cat was very old and got dehydrated even with fluid therapy, so had to spend a weekend at the vet’s getting an IV with fluids instead of sub-q fluids. She lasted a couple of weeks after that and then had to be put to sleep as well. (She was 24 years old.)

    1. Chris, my totally anecdotal advice on vaccines (I am not a vet) is that I have always had my kitties vaccinated for FIV and feline leukemia. When they were outdoor cats I also had them vaccinated for rabies. Once I started keeping them totally indoors I stopped the rabies vaccine as it is very hard on older cats. The only however here is if you travel with your pet. If you cross the Canada/US border with your pet you must supply proof of rabies vaccination both coming and going.

  8. #1 cause of kidney disease in cats is over vaccinating. A lot of vaccines are grown on kidney cells and their immune systen begins to treat kidneys as an invader. For indoor cat, vaccinate as a kitten and never again. Chances are almost zero they will be exposed to these diseases.

    1. Rabies vaccines are often state or county laws and have to be given at least every 2-3 years. You can’t say “never” on those. I tried and my old cat was required to have a rabies vaccine otherwise the vet could not have her in the office by law. (the vet’s tech told me that they recently had a rabid cat in the office and all the techs who came in contact had to go through the rabies vaccine series of shots because of it)

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