Feline Kidney Disease

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Feline kidney disease: a progressive, but usually manageable disorder

It’s estimated that 16 in every 1,000 cats suffer from feline kidney disease. It can occur in cats of all ages, but is usually a disease of older pets. For kidney disease cats with chronic renal failure, the mean age of diagnosis is 7.4 years.

Since chronic feline kidney disease is usually a progressive disorder, involving the loss of adequate function over a period of months to years, chronic kidney disease in cats cannot be cured. However, medical treatment and dietary management can help reduce or eliminate symptoms and make your cat more comfortable.

Normal kidney function

Under normal conditions, the kidneys have numerous functions beyond the production of urine. These include:

  • elimination of waste products from protein metabolism
  • maintenance of proper hydration
  • management of electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and chloride to help maintain acid/base balance in the blood
  • production of hormones that help control red blood cell production and blood pressure

Acute feline kidney disease versus chronic kidney failure

Acute kidney failure is the sudden inability of the kidneys to regulate water and electrolytes. It can occur from a number of causes, including:
  • ingestion of toxins such as ethylene glycol in antifreeze
  • eating toxic houseplants such as Easter lilies
  • infection
The kidney damage associated with acute kidney failure may be reversible or irreversible.

Chronic kidney failure in feline kidney disease, on the other hand, occurs over months to years, and may be caused by various factors including:
  • infections
  • tumors
  • immune-mediated disorders
Typically, by the time chronic renal failure is diagnosed, significant damage has occurred to the kidneys.

Understanding kidney failure in feline kidney disease

Kidney failure is caused by the progressive and irreversible loss of nephrons, the functional units of the kidney. A healthy kidney in cats contains hundreds of thousands of nephrons.  In early feline kidney disease, the remaining nephrons compensate by increasing their workload. As the disease progresses, more and more nephrons are lost. Eventually this results in the loss of the kidney's ability to excrete metabolic waste and maintain hydration. Your cat may show signs of kidney disease including:
  • increased urine volume
  • increased thirst
  • decreased appetite
  • vomiting
  • unusual breath odor

Diagnosing feline kidney disease

To determine the severity of your cat's condition, your veterinarian may recommend: blood tests, a urinalysis, measuring blood pressure, radiographs, ultrasound or a biopsy.

Effective treatment for kidney disease in cats

Your cat's treatment program will depend on the severity of the disease.

Water/Fluids:

  • If your cat is dehydrated, your veterinarian may institute fluid therapy.
  • Always provide plenty of fresh water to maintain hydration and help remove waste products.

Diet:

Dietary therapy is typically the mainstay of the management of kidney failure. A therapeutic food helps reduce the signs of kidney failure, and slow the progression of the disease to help your pet feel better.

Medication:

Because cats with kidney failure may also experience complications such as anemia, high blood pressure and stomach ulcers, specific medications may also be recommended.