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Everything you need to know about kidney disease in cats

Brown cat in litter box advice © Shutterstock

Cat’s kidneys play a part in everything from blood pressure to hormone production. With so much to do, there’s no surprise the kidneys often wear out as cats grow older. Here’s everything you need to know about kidney disease in cats

By Alice Lang

Your cat's kidneys are busy things. Day-to-day, they produce hormones, red blood cells and enzymes, control blood pressure, remove waste from the blood along with a host of other things. They’ve got quite a responsibility on their hands!

With so much to do, it comes as no surprise that kidney disease is common in older cats. Sadly, once kidney problems in cats progress, the knock-on effects can be life-threatening to your cat.

On the plus side, being in the know about the condition could help you to diagnose and treat the condition early - which in turn, could save your cat's life. With that said, let’s chat about everything there is to know about kidney disease in cats:

What is kidney disease in cats?

When the kidneys are functioning appropriately in cats, they’re able to filter the blood and remove toxic by-products, which are then added to water and turned into urine to pass out of the body. Kidney disease occurs when the kidneys lose their ability to carry out their vital functions, which leads to a dangerous build-up of waste products in the body.

The kidneys are an incredible thing - they can keep on going for years, despite severe damage. In fact, you’re unlikely to notice any symptoms or signs of kidney problems in cats until around 75% or more of the kidney function has been lost.

A report titled ‘Diagnosis and investigation of chronic kidney disease in cats’ says “It is estimated that chronic kidney disease (CKD) affects around 30 per cent of cats that are over 12 years of age,”

“A recent UK study of 3309 cats treated at first-opinion veterinary practices identified it as the second most common cause of death in cats of five years and older, accounting for 12.1 per cent of cats.”

Causes of kidney disease in cats

Unfortunately, cats are particularly at risk of kidney disease - it can be triggered by a long, long list of health conditions and problems.

By the time the kidney disease in cats has been recognized, the initial cause may well have disappeared - yep, it’s an extremely frustrating condition!

Some of the most common causes of kidney disease in cats are:

  • Degenerative kidney disease (normally caused by ageing)
  • Abnormalities of the kidney (these are normally present from birth)
  • Bacterial and viral infections
  • Cancer
  • High blood pressure
  • Obstructions such as kidney stones
  • Exposure to toxic substances
  • Dental disease

Symptoms of kidney disease in cats

kidney disease in cats
You might notice that your cat needs to wee more ©Shutterstock

As previously mentioned, chronic kidney disease in cats can take a while to discover. Generally, symptoms will be mild and sometimes, completely unnoticeable until the condition of the kidneys worsens.

Spotting the disease early can make management and treatment of the disease much more successful. Therefore, if you do notice a subtle change, it’s wise to get your cat checked out by your vet at the earliest opportunity.

Signs of symptoms of kidney disease in cats include:

  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness and weakness
  • Increased thirst
  • Increased need to urinate
  • Poor coat condition
  • High blood pressure
  • Vomiting
  • Foul-smelling breath
  • Pale gums (a sign of anaemia)

Diagnosis and treatment of kidney disease in cats

kidney disease in cats
Your cat might need fluids or steroids to ease symptoms ©Shutterstock

If you suspect your cat could be suffering from kidney disease or may have other kidney problems, head to the vet as soon as you can and voice your concerns. Your vet will carry out a combination of tests, namely blood and urine, to detect kidney disease. In rare cases, a biopsy will be needed to find the underlying causes.

Unfortunately, there is no cure for kidney disease in cats. However, treatment is available which can help to minimize the symptoms, delay progression and provide relief for your cat.

Fluid therapy is a common option, which helps deal with symptoms such as dehydration, weight loss and vomiting and to help push waste build-up out of the system. In most cases, a vet will teach you how to administer fluids at home. Steroids to improve appetite and increase weight are often used, too.

A big part of treating kidney problems in cats is down to management at home. There are lots of ways that you can improve your cat’s quality of life and slow damage to the kidneys:

Management of kidney disease in cats

If your cat is suffering from kidney disease or kidney problems, one of the best things you can do to help them is change up their diet.

Food should be lower in protein, phosphorus and sodium than a standard cat food and higher in fibre, water-soluble vitamins and antioxidants. Implementing these changes could help you to lengthen their lifespan, slow down kidney disease progression and ultimately, make them feel much, much better.

Your vet will be able to prescribe or recommend a cat food specifically formulated for cats with kidney disease. Cats dislike change (as you probably already know!) so you might have to trick them into trying the new food by gradually mixing in some of the new formulae to their old food.

Always make sure your cat has access to fresh water - even if they’re outside. You can encourage them to drink by placing water bowls in multiple rooms of the house.

How long will a cat with kidney disease survive?

kidney disease in cats
As long as you give your cat a happy home, you should feel proud of yourself! ©Shutterstock

This is a very difficult question to answer - because the simple fact is, all cats are different! Kidney disease in cats life expectancy can vary depending on the extent of the kidney damage, genetics, general health and how well you manage the disease with medication and diet.

Some cats can live for years following a diagnosis, but in severe cases, cats have been known to deteriorate in a few weeks.

The most important thing is that your cat is happy, loved and comfortable. As long as you’re doing the best you can to manage your cat’s kidney problems, you can be proud of yourself for giving your kitty a loving home. Good luck!