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Kidney Failure in Cats

Kidney Failure in Cats

Kidney failure, whether chronic or acute, can have devastating effects on your cat's kidneys, related organs and bodily functions. Today, our Brentwood vets discuss the symptoms of kidney failure in cats, as well as possible causes and how this condition is treated. 

Kidney Failure & Your Cat's Health

Kidney failure (also known as renal failure) in cats can be caused by a number of conditions that affect the kidneys and related organs.

Healthy kidneys eliminate waste from the blood, maintain a normal electrolyte balance, regulate hydration and calcium, manage blood pressure and stimulate production of red blood cells. If your cat experiences kidney failure, the kidneys are no longer functioning efficiently.

Types of Cat Kidney Failure

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

Acute Kidney Failure in Cats

This type of kidney failure occurs suddenly, within days or weeks. It can happen in cats of any age and typically results from poisons, disorders, diseases, organ failure, medications and other causes.

Chronic Kidney Failure in Cats

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 of Kidney Failure in Cats

The filtering system in your cat's kidneys is made up of thousands of microscopic tubes (nephrones). While a kidney will continue to function if some nephrons are damaged, if too many nephrons stop working suddenly for the good nephrons to compensate, the kidneys may 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:

Causes of 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)

Causes of 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 to Watch For

If your cat’s kidneys aren’t working as they should, you may notice one or more of the general symptoms listed below:

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

Signs of acute kidney failure include:

  • Arched back
  • Stiff-legged gait (a symptom that your cat’s kidneys are causing pain)
  • Frequent urination
  • No urination

Because chronic kidney failure may gradually progress over years, you may not notice it. By the time you see symptoms, the disease may already have advanced.

That said, 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:

  • Easy bruising or bleeding
  • Increased urination

Symptoms of End-Stage Kidney Failure in Cats

In many cases, the signs of kidney failure in cats are not detected early enough, and the disease progresses to its final stage. Cats with end-stage kidney failure may exhibit the following symptoms: dull, sunken eyes, inability to walk, body odor, bladder or bowel incontinence, seizures, confusion, refusal to eat or drink, twitching, blindness, pacing and restlessness, withdrawing, hiding, and running away.

While more than one of these symptoms is likely to 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 is 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.

Treatment for Cats with Kidney Failure

If your cat has been diagnosed with kidney failure, you may wonder if it can be reversed. Unfortunately, there is no cure for kidney disease. The goal of treatment is to slow the progression of the disease while also managing your cat's symptoms. Depending on the symptoms and stage, treatment may include intravenous fluids to correct dehydration, vitamin injections, nausea medication, potassium supplements, and other measures.

The life expectancy for a cat with kidney failure can vary depending on the severity of the condition and how well it responds to treatment. With proper care and management, some cats with kidney failure can live for several months to a few years. 

Our Brentwood vets are experienced at 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 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.

Do you think that your cat may be suffering from kidney failure? Contact Brentwood Veterinary Clinic right away to book an examination for your kitty.

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Brentwood Veterinary Clinic is happily welcoming new patients! Our experienced vets are passionate about the health of Brentwood pets. Get in touch today to book your cat or dog's first appointment.

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