Black cat sitting down

Cats can live several years in good health following diagnosis of kidney disease.

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Kidney problems in cats

By Dr. Helen Donald BA BVetMed MBA MSc MRCVS Veterinarian

Updated on the

Catching kidney disease early and then carrying out careful management are very important to slowing the problem's progress and steering your pet towards better health.

Chronic kidney disease is one of the most common problems in older cats and spotting it early is important, so that you can slow down its progress.

How long can cats live with kidney disease?

Sadly, kidney disease is progressive and, once signs are visible, your cat has probably already lost about two thirds of their kidney function. If the disease is caught early, careful management and treatment can slow down further progress and many cats can then live several years in good health following diagnosis.

What causes kidney failure in cats?

A vet will be alert to signs of kidney failure in any older cat, but younger cats can get sick too. Infections, some cancers, high blood pressure (hypertension), certain toxins such as lily plants and antifreeze, and polycystic kidney disease, seen in some Persian cats, can all be a cause of kidney failure.

Can a cat recover from kidney disease?

Kidney disease cannot be cured and so cats will need management and treatment for the rest of their lives. Yet many cats start to feel a lot better once their condition is under control. Kidney transplants have been reported in cats, but they are rarely successful and there are ethical issues over sourcing of donor kidneys.

Are cats with kidney failure in pain?

Kidney failure itself is not painful but its effects probably are. Your cat may become dehydrated or develop bladder infections and so an untreated cat with kidney failure probably feels quite unwell. In addition, as urea builds up in the blood, your cat may feel very nauseous and want to vomit.

What is the prognosis for a cat with kidney failure?

The prognosis for a cat with kidney failure is guarded, often because kidney failure can also lead to other health problems such as high blood pressure, anaemia and bladder infections, which will all also require treatment. In addition to routine blood tests to measure urea and creatinine levels, a vet will probably suggest a blood test called SDMA and a urine-protein-creatinine test that will help them to advise you on how far your cat’s disease has progressed and what the prognosis is.

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

Many of the signs of kidney failure in cats are vague at first and common in older cats. As such, you should always see a vet, if your cat seems more lethargic than normal, and drinks and pees more, becomes less keen to eat and starts to lose weight or vomit regularly. You may also notice that your cat’s breath has started to smell and its coat looks unkempt.

What can I feed my cat with renal failure?

Cats can be quite picky with food at the best of times and particularly if they have renal failure. A vet may suggest a renal prescription diet to slow down the progression of kidney disease, but many cats aren’t keen to eat them, especially if they are already feeling nauseous and losing weight. The two most important things are to reduce protein levels and phosphate in your cat’s diet and to increase water intake. If your cat won’t eat a prescription diet, a good quality senior diet is the next best thing. Wet food is ideal or you could try adding water to their dry food or invest in a water fountain to increase their water intake.

When should I see a vet?

Always see a vet if you notice any changes in your cat’s eating, drinking or behaviour, or if your cat starts to vomit regularly.

What should I ask a vet about kidney disease in a cat?

When you speak to a vet ask them to help you with dietary management; vet nurses are often full of good tips on how to persuade a reluctant cat to eat. It can also be helpful to ask a vet for an estimate of the probable cost of testing and treating your cat for a year, and for the signs that will tell you when your cat’s quality of life is no longer good enough.

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