Kidney Disease in Cats: How to Spot and Treat it

Luckily for us, most cats enjoy a long and happy life, with some cats reaching the age of 20 years old – and some living even longer! Unfortunately, as with humans, a cat’s senior years can often be affected by health issues. Among middle-aged and senior cats, a common condition is kidney disease. There are two types of kidney disease in cats: chronic and acute. We’ll discuss the difference in this blog, along with the symptoms of kidney disease to look out for in your cat, and how to manage the condition.

What is Kidney Disease?

The kidneys play a vital role in the body, filtering impurities and toxic waste products out of the blood and into the urine so that your cat can get rid of them. When the kidneys fail to do their job, waste and other compounds can build up in the blood, which ultimately causes your cat to feel unwell.

Types of Kidney Disease in Cats

There are two types of kidney disease in cats: acute and chronic. These different types vary in terms of the symptoms they cause and how they affect the cat.

Acute Kidney Disease

This is usually a result of a sudden and severe injury to the kidneys. In cats, this could be caused by ingestion of a toxic substance such as antifreeze or lilies, or it could be a result of an infection.

If this happens, your cat will quickly become very ill. Symptoms of acute kidney disease in cats may include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Listlessness
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea that may contain blood
  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid or slower than normal heart rate and/or seizures
  • Frequent urination, or difficulty urinating at all

Most notably, some or all of these symptoms will onset very suddenly for cats with acute kidney disease, and they require immediate veterinary attention.

Acute kidney disease can have serious long-lasting consequences on the kidney, but sometimes the damage can be reversed and treated depending on the cause.

Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease is an umbrella term for a long-term, ongoing disease affecting renal function. This could be because of a slow insidious disease process like renal lymphoma or it could be due to several smaller acute insults to the kidney that over time cause a sustained loss of kidney function.

Because it often progresses slowly, the signs of chronic kidney disease in cats can be difficult to spot. By the time cats show any symptoms, the disease can be quite advanced. Chronic Kidney Disease is fairly common in senior cats, so it’s a good idea to get your pet regularly checked by a vet if they are over the age of 7.

In the majority of cases, it’s not possible to identify the cause of chronic kidney disease in cats. However, possible underlying causes include cysts in the kidneys, infection, kidney or urinary stones, or the ingestion of toxins earlier in life.

Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats

Particularly when it comes to chronic kidney disease, the sooner you can spot the symptoms in your cat, the better. It gives vets the chance to slow down the progression of the disease and to support your cat’s quality of life.

Symptoms of chronic kidney disease in cats may include:

  • Frequently urinating and in large volumes
  • Drinking more water than normal
  • Increasingly lethargic
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Bad breath
  • Matted or messy coat

Diagnosing Kidney Disease in Cats

Don’t delay in taking your cat to the vet if you suspect they have kidney disease. Your vet will examine your cat and discuss some diagnostic tests (which could include blood and urine tests as well as imaging of your cat’s kidneys and bladder) to diagnose your cat. Cats with kidney disease often also have high blood pressure as a result of it, so your vet will likely check this too, and monitor it going forward.

How to Treat Kidney Disease in Cats

Treatment focuses on slowing down further loss of kidney function, and maintaining quality of life by minimising the build-up of waste products in the blood. Management of the disease usually involves feeding your cat a special diet, maintaining hydration and giving them medication to cope with symptoms.

Medication

No cure exists for progressive loss of kidney function. However, your vet will discuss and prescribe appropriate medications that will help to control their symptoms, and help to mitigate ongoing damage within the body caused by the deteriorating kidney function.

This can include medications to control protein loss in urine, address high blood pressure, and control nausea and vomiting. It is very important for your cat to continue eating and drinking so your vet may discuss the early use of an appetite stimulant too.

Diet

A prescription renal diet contains lots of calories, potassium, vitamins and antioxidants, but lower levels of protein, sodium and phosphorus. Ideally this will be your cat’s only food.

Your vet will be able to help you choose the most appropriate diet for your cat. They will likely recommend that you introduce your cat’s new food over 1-3 weeks to ease the transition.


Animed Direct have a wide range of special kidney care diets from leading brands including Hill’s Prescription Diet, Royal Canin and Purina Pro Plan Veterinary.

Please note that you should only feed your cat a specialist renal/kidney diet following the recommendation of your vet.

Hydration

Keeping your cat well hydrated is very important. If a cat is very dehydrated, they may need to be put on a fluid drip to replace the water they’ve lost.


Water fountains, dripping taps or having numerous water bowls dotted about the house will help encourage your cat to drink water regularly.


Many cat bowls are too small. In general, cats don’t like their face or whiskers to touch the sides of the bowl, so ensuring your cat’s bowl can accommodate this will encourage them to drink more water. Dog bowls are usually big enough. For more advice, read our blog ‘Tips to Encourage Your Cat to Drink More Water’.


Feeding wet food is also a good way to increase your cat’s water intake. There are wet cat food options in the kidney care ranges from Hill’s, Purina and Royal Canin. Purina Pro Plan Hydra Care is a great option.


If your cat prefers dry food, try soaking it in water before giving it to them. Not only will this add more water to your cat’s diet, but it will also soften the biscuits if they struggle to eat hard kibble.

Wrapping Up

As with many conditions, the earlier you spot changes in your cat and seek medical advice the better.
Cats with chronic kidney disease can enjoy many happy years after initial diagnosis with regular veterinary visits, medication and dietary care. So, if you think your cat is displaying any of the symptoms discussed, don’t delay in taking your cat to the vets so that you can manage the condition.

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