Your cat's kidneys play several key roles in keeping them healthy. Here, our Lithia Springs vets discuss the causes, signs, and treatment of kidney failure in cats.
Kidney Failure in Cats
Healthy kidneys in your pet help to manage their blood pressure, maintain a normal balance of electrolytes in their body, remove toxins, produce important hormones to encourage red blood cell production, and regulate their calcium levels and hydration.
If your cat experiences kidney failure (also known as renal failure), it means that its kidneys aren't functioning properly any longer. This can be caused by a wide variety of factors or conditions such as consuming something toxic, infections, or the development of tumors in your cat's body.
The immediate risk of failing kidneys in cats is that they cannot clear the blood of dangerous toxins.
One possible contributor to kidney failure in cats is the kind of diet you are feeding your feline companion. Cats have a very low drive to drink water, which means that they will often be dehydrated but not feel thirsty. Dehydration can be a contributor to infections in your cat's urinary tract or chronic kidney disease.
Because of this, feeding your cat dry food can contribute to kidney failure, while wet or canned food can help to keep them hydrated and healthy.
The Different Types of Feline Kidney Failure
There are two types of kidney failure in cats. Each type differs in causes, treatment options, and prognosis.
Acute Renal Failure
If your cat has acute kidney failure, it means that its kidneys are suddenly unable to function properly. This type of kidney failure occurs suddenly, within days or weeks. If diagnosed in time, acute renal failure can often be reversed.
It can happen in cats of any age and typically results from poisons, trauma, infection, organ failure, urethral blockages, dehydration, and other causes. Poisons, such as toxic plants, pesticides, cleaning fluids, and human medications, are the most common cause of acute renal failure.
Chronic Kidney Failure
Chronic kidney failure in cats is more gradual and usually develops over several months or even years. This type of kidney failure is typically caused by autoimmune diseases, cysts in the kidneys, and genetics.
Chronic kidney failure is a progressive illness that can lead to total kidney failure, where the kidneys gradually stop working as they lose the ability to filter toxins out of the blood.
Signs of Kidney Failure in Cats
If your cat’s kidneys aren’t removing waste from his or her body, you may notice that your cat is drinking more water and attempting to urinate more. Because the toxins build up in the cat's body, they may feel nauseous and stop eating their food. In general, your cat will appear to be lethargic and not very happy.
General symptoms of kidney failure in cats can include:
- Bad breath
- Excess thirst
- Weight loss/lack of appetite
- Diarrhea (may contain blood)
- Vomiting (may contain blood)
If your cat is suffering from acute kidney failure you may also notice an arched back or stiff-legged gait, symptoms that your cat’s kidneys are causing pain.
Chronic kidney failure gradually progresses over years, and the signs may not be noticeable. By the time you do see symptoms, the disease may already be leading to total kidney failure.
While there is no cure for chronic kidney disease if it’s detected and treated early your cat’s longevity and quality of life can be improved.
Diagnosing & Treating Kidney Failure in Cats
Your vet will do a comprehensive examination of your cat, including diagnostic tests such as blood and urine tests, X-rays, and possibly an ultrasound. A kidney biopsy might also be required.
If your cat is diagnosed with kidney disease, treatments can range from intravenous fluids to correct dehydration, to supplements, medications, vitamin injections, and potentially surgery to remove any blockages. The goal of treating kidney failure is to slow its progress and manage its symptoms.
You can support your cat's treatment with a carefully planned and managed diet as well as plenty of fresh and clean water for them to drink. Your vet will also recommend that you gradually transition your feline companion to a specialized diet that is low in protein and phosphorus and high in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
For cats with end-stage kidney failure, they will require palliative care in their final days will mean keeping them warm and comfortable, with food, water, and a litter box nearby, as well as lots of loving human companionship.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.