Your cat's kidneys help their body filter the blood and stay nice and healthy. So when they don't work as they should it can have serious implications. Today, our Doraville internal medicine vets talk about kidney failure in cats, the symptoms, and how we can use veterinary internal medicine to treat their condition. 

Kidney Failure & How It Affects Cats

Your cat's kidneys help to eliminate waste from the blood, maintain a normal electrolyte balance, regulate hydration and calcium, manage blood pressure, and stimulate the production of red blood cells.

when a cat experiences kidney failure, their kidneys are no longer functioning efficiently. Kidney failure (also known as renal failure) can be caused by several conditions that affect the kidneys and related organs.

What are the different types of kidney failure in cats?

When it comes to kidney failure in cats, there are two different types that a cat may be diagnosed with. These are:

Acute Renal Failure

This type of kidney failure in cats can occur quite quickly, developing over weeks or months. It can happen in cats of any age and typically results from poisons, disorders, diseases, organ failure, medications, and other causes.

If diagnosed and treated early, acute kidney failure can be treated successfully.

Chronic Kidney Failure

With chronic kidney failure, the kidneys gradually stop working over months or years as they lose the ability to filter the blood of toxins. If a cat experiences this type of kidney failure they can experience complete failure of the renal system.

What causes cats to have kidney failure?

The filtering system in your cat’s kidneys consists of thousands of microscopic tubes (nephrons). While the kidneys can do their job even with some damage, if too many nephrons stop working too suddenly for the good nephrons to compensate, the kidneys can fail.

The most immediate symptom of kidney failure is that it stops clearing the blood of dangerous toxins. While kidney failure may be caused by age, it can also be caused by toxins, medications, and more, as noted above.

Here are some common causes of both acute and chronic kidney failure in cats:

Acute Kidney Failure

  • Ingestion of toxins or harmful substances (toxic plants, antifreeze, rat poison, human medications)
  • Dehydration
  • Bacterial infection (the urinary tract becomes infected with bacteria, which travel to the kidneys)
  • Illnesses such as cancer
  • Clotting disorders
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Heart failure
  • Blockages
  • Specific medications (some chemotherapy drugs or antibiotics)
  • Trauma (ruptured bladder or broken pelvis)
  • Shock (from losing an excessive amount of blood quickly, overheating, vomiting, diarrhea, and more)

Chronic Kidney Failure

  • Genetics
  • Blockages
  • Autoimmune diseases (in which the immune system attacks the body’s organs)
  • Cysts (which grow and destroy tissues in the kidneys)

What are the symptoms of kidney failure in cats?

If your cat’s kidneys aren’t removing waste from his or her body, you may notice many signs. Some of the most obvious signs of kidney failure in cats might include:

  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Depression
  • Bad breath
  • Diarrhea (may contain blood)
  • Vomiting (may contain blood)
  • Dehydration
  • Excess thirst

Additionally, indications of acute kidney failure include an arched back or stiff-legged gait (a symptom that your cat’s kidneys are causing pain), and either frequent or no urination.

Because chronic kidney failure may gradually progress over the years, you may not notice it. Unfortunately, the symptoms may not appear until the disease is already quite advanced.

However, with appropriate treatment, some cats that have experienced chronic kidney failure live a good quality of life for years to come.

Symptoms of chronic kidney failure include easily bruising or bleeding, and increased urination.

What happens if my cat has end-stage kidney failure?

If kidney disease in cats isn't diagnosed and treated quickly, it can become progressive to the point of complete renal failure or end-stage kidney failure. Symptoms of end-stage kidney failure in cats include the general symptoms listed above, as well as dull, sunken eyes, inability to walk, body odor, incontinence in bladder or bowels seizures, confusion, refusal to eat or drink, twitching, blindness, pacing and restlessness, withdrawing, hiding and running away.

Though more than one of these symptoms will be present, you may not see all of them. There may also be a sudden improvement in their symptoms, but do not let this fool you.

With kidney failure, there are no easy answers, as different symptoms may be present at different times. These symptoms can also be signs of other illnesses, which is why early diagnosis, disease management, and communication with your vet are critical.

When it comes to symptoms of kidney failure in cats, the stage is key to prognosis. 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.

What are the treatment options for cats with kidney failure?

The goal of treating kidney failure is to slow the progression of the disease and manage symptoms. Depending on the symptoms and their stages, treatment options may include intravenous fluids to correct dehydration, vitamin injections, medication to manage nausea, supplements to correct low potassium levels and other measures.

Our Doraville vets are experienced in treating veterinary internal medicine conditions and diseases in cats, including co-occurring illnesses. Using advanced technology in our in-house lab, our veterinary team can provide same-day testing and results for efficient, effective care.

For cats with end-stage kidney failure, nursing them in their final days will mean keeping them warm and comfortable, with food, water, and a litter box nearby, as well as lots of quiet human companionship.

If your cat is in pain with seizures, regular vomiting, and soiling, you may want to discuss with your vet whether euthanization should be considered. Though this is probably the most difficult part of pet ownership, if all other measures have failed, it may be time.

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. 

Are you concerned that your cat is experiencing the symptoms of kidney failure? Our Doraville internal medicine vets can diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions. Book an appointment today.