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Kidney failure (also called renal failure) can be fatal to your cat's kidneys, related organs, and bodily functions. Today, our Thousand Oaks veterinarians discuss the signs and symptoms of kidney failure in cats, as well as possible causes and treatment options.

What is kidney failure in cats?

Kidney failure can be caused by a number of conditions that affect the kidneys and related organs.

Healthy kidneys remove waste from the blood, keep electrolytes balanced, regulate hydration and calcium levels, control blood pressure, and stimulate red blood cell production. If your cat's kidneys fail, they are no longer functioning properly.

Are there different types of kidney failure in cats?

There are two types of kidney failure in cats, and they differ in causes, treatment options, and prognosis.

Acute Kidney Failure

This type of kidney failure develops quickly, usually within a few days or weeks. It can affect cats of all ages and is typically caused by poisons, disorders, diseases, organ failure, medications, and other factors. If detected early enough, acute kidney failure can often be reversed.

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. This type of kidney failure can lead to total kidney failure.

What causes kidney failure in cats?

Your cat's kidneys contain thousands of microscopic tubes (nephrons) that serve as a filter. While some nephrons will continue to function, if too many nephrons stop working too quickly for the good nephrons to compensate, the kidneys will fail.

The most immediate symptom of kidney failure is that they stop clearing the blood of dangerous toxins. Though cats’ kidneys may start to fail with age, they aren’t the only ones at risk (as is 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)

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. Signs of kidney failure in elderly and young cats can 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.

Chronic kidney failure can progress slowly over time, so you may not notice it. By the time you notice symptoms, the disease may have advanced. However, with proper treatment, some cats with chronic kidney failure can live a good life for many years.

What are the symptoms of end-stage kidney failure in cats?

Sometimes the signs of kidney failure in cats are overlooked, and the disease progresses to its final stage. The general symptoms of end-stage kidney failure in cats include dull, sunken eyes, an inability to walk, body odor, bladder or bowel incontinence, seizures, confusion, refusal to eat or drink, twitching, blindness, pacing, restlessness, withdrawing, hiding, and fleeing.

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.

How is kidney failure in cats treated?

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

Our Thousand Oaks vets are experienced in treating many 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 due to seizures, frequent vomiting, or soiling, you should talk to your veterinarian about euthanasia. Though this is arguably the most difficult aspect of pet ownership, if all other options 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. 

Is your cat showing signs of kidney disease or other serious illness? At VSEC, our Thousand Oaks vets can diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions. Contact us today.

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VSEC Thousand Oaks is accepting new patients! Our board-certified specialists and experienced emergency veterinarians are passionate about restoring good health to animal companions.

Contact (805) 492-2436