A Guide to Kidney Disease in Cats

As with humans, the kidneys provide a vital function for the body. The kidneys main function is to filter the blood of toxins, get rid of excess water in the body through the production of urine and hormone production to regulate blood pressure and red blood cells. Kidney disease in cats is fairly commonplace, particularly in older cats. However, cats of any age can be diagnosed with acute or chronic feline kidney disease due to a range of factors.

Types of Feline Kidney Disease

There are two types of kidney disease is cats – Chronic and Acute.

Chronic Kidney Disease

This type of kidney disease is progressive and is most common in middle-aged and elderly cats. The disease usually develops over a matter of months and in some cases years. Causes of chronic kidney disease can include some long-term medications, kidney infections and blockages, high blood pressure, cancer and thyroid problems. It is also possible for young cats to be born with this disease.

This type of disease is not curable and treatment is aimed at reducing the symptoms.

Acute Kidney Disease

Seen in cats of any age, this type of kidney disease is classed as sudden onset over a just a few days or weeks. It is most commonly caused by ingestion of poisons such as antifreeze, ibuprofen and houseplants like lilies, but can also be caused by trauma, rapid dehydration, heart failure and kidney infections and blockages.

Usually, depending on the cause, it can be possible to reverse the effects of this type of kidney disease or kidney failure in cats.

Symptoms of Kidney Disease in Cats

  • Excessive drinking
  • Frequent urination
  • Reoccurring bladder and kidney infections
  • Weight loss and decreased appetite
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Cloudy or bloody urine
  • Constipation
  • Mouth ulcers

Diagnosis and Prognosis

Your veterinarian will usually take blood and urine samples and in some cases scans or x-rays depending on the presenting symptoms. The blood and urine results will confirm if your cat’s kidneys are functioning at the normal rate.

If kidney disease is diagnosed, your vet will be able to advise you of the stage of the disease. Your cat’s body can still function with only 25% kidney function and why staging can help in understanding the extent of the damage and prognosis of your cat. The stages are categorised into the following:

  • Stage 1 – Early kidney insufficiency – function is between 33% and 99%
  • Stage 2 – Late stage kidney insufficiency – function is between 25% and 33%
  • Stage 3 – Early kidney failure – function is between 15% and 25%
  • Stage 4 – End stage kidney failure – function is reduced to less than 15%

With early diagnosis and treatment, it can be possible for cats to live a relatively good quality life for anywhere between 3 to 5 years. However, if diagnosed at the stage of kidney failure it is unlikely that your cat will survive longer than a few months or years. At this point, you will need to discuss quality of life and the best way forward with your vet.

Treatment and Care

One of the most common treatments for feline kidney disease is actually a change to a veterinary grade kidney diet food. The food is specifically made to be low in protein to help improve kidney function and reduce symptoms. There are various different types to choose from including dry, wet and a range of flavours. However, it can be less than easy to get your cat to actually eat the food as many cats are naturally fussy eaters at the best of times. Therefore, it is advised you should gradually introduce the foods by mixing with their ordinary food over a period of time until they become more accustomed to it. In general though, as a poor appetite is a common problem with kidney disease in cats, it is important that they eat something so if your cat is refusing to eat the specialised food, discuss your options with your vet.

Providing plenty of access to fresh water is vital to ensure your cat is kept hydrated. Cats can be fussy about what water they will drink, so it is best to trial different containers and makes it as readily available as possible. Special cat water fountains can be worth the investment if your cat has a particular preference for running water. In later stages, if dehydration persists, it may be necessary for your cat to have intravenous fluids to maintain their hydration levels. This is something that can be done at home on advice from your veterinarian.