Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Cats

Whether an acute or chronic condition, failing kidneys can make your feline friend severely ill. Our South Charlotte vets explain causes, symptoms and potential treatments for kidney failure in cats.  


What is kidney failure in cats?

Kidney failure in cats is also known as renal failure, and it can be caused by numerous conditions that can impact the kidneys and related organs.

In healthy cats, kidneys play a vital role - they eliminate waste from the blood, regulate calcium and hydration, manage blood pressure, stimulate red blood cell production and maintain a normal electrolyte balance. Conversely, cats who are experiencing kidney failure no longer have functioning kidneys.

Are there different types of kidney failure in cats?

Cats can experience one of two different types of kidney failure. These types differ in causes, treatment options and prognosis.

Acute Renal Failure

Acute renal failure happens suddenly, within days or weeks. Typically caused by diseases, disorders, poisons, medications, organ failure or other occurrences or conditions, it can happen in cats of any age.

If it is caught in time, acute renal failure can often be reversed.

Chronic Kidney Failure

In cats with chronic kidney failure, their kidneys gradually quit functioning over months or years as the ability to filter toxins from the blood is lost. This type of kidney failure may lead to total kidney failure.

What causes kidney failure in cats?

Your cat’s kidneys have a filtering system made up of thousands of microscopic tubes, or nephrons. While a kidney can still function if some nephrons are damaged, failure can occur when too many nephrons stop working too suddenly for the good nephrons to compensate.

The most immediate symptom of kidney failure is that dangerous toxins will not be cleared from the blood. While your cat’s kidneys may fail with age, senior cats aren’t the only ones at risk (as we noted above).

Here are some common causes of both acute and chronic kidney failure in cats:

Acute Kidney Failure

  • Bacterial infection (when the urinary tract becomes infected with bacteria that then travel to the kidneys)
  • Blockages
  • Cancer and other illnesses
  • Clotting disorders
  • Dehydration
  • Heart failure
  • Ingestion of toxins or harmful substances (human medications, antifreeze, rat poison, toxic pants)
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Specific medications (antibiotics or some chemotherapy drugs)
  • Shock (as a result of losing an excessive amount of blood quickly, vomiting, diarrhea, overheating and more)
  • Trauma (broken pelvis or ruptured bladder)

Chronic Kidney Failure

  • Autoimmune diseases (in which the immune system attacks the body’s organs)
  • Blockages
  • Cysts
  • Genetics

Symptoms of Kidney Failure

If waste isn’t being removed from your cat’s body, you may notice some of these symptoms, which can include:

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

Symptoms of chronic kidney failure in cats also include increased urination, and easily bleeding or bruising.

In addition, cats with acute kidney failure may have a stiff-legged gait or arched back (an indication that your cat is in pain due to failing kidneys), and either no urination or frequent trips to the litter box.

Because it can take years for chronic kidney failure to progress, it may go unnoticed. By the time you do notice symptoms, the disease may already have advanced in your cat’s body.

However, some cats that have experienced chronic kidney failure live a good quality of life for years to come - if they receive appropriate treatment.

What are symptoms of end stage kidney failure in cats?

Sometimes, indications of kidney failure in cats are not detected early enough. That’s when the disease progresses to its end stage.

Symptoms of end stage kidney failure in cats include general symptoms we listed above, in addition to inability to walk, body odor, sunken, dull eyes, confusion, incontinence in bladder, bowels seizures, running away, hiding or withdrawing, restlessness, pacing, blindness, twitching, and refusal to eat or drink.

Though your cat will have more than one of these symptoms, you may not see all of them. Their condition may also improve suddenly, but do not let this fool you into thinking he or she is better.

There are no easy answers with kidney failures, as different symptoms may appear at different times. These symptoms may also indicate other illnesses, which is why early diagnosis, disease management and clear communication with your vet is critical to prognosis.

When it comes to symptoms of kidney failure in cats, which stage they are in will factor heavily into his or her prognosis. While chronic kidney disease cannot be cured, your cat’s longevity and quality of life can improve with early detection, diagnosis and treatment.

How is kidney failure in cats treated?

When treating kidney failure in cats, our goal is to slow the progression of the disease and manage your furry friend’s symptoms. Depending on the symptoms and stage of the disease, treatment options can include medication to manage nausea, supplements to correct low potassium levels, vitamin injections, intravenous fluids to correct dehydration, and more.

Our South Charlotte vets are experienced in treating many conditions and illnesses in cats, including co-occurring illnesses. With advanced technology in our in-house lab, our veterinary team can perform same-day tests and get results quickly for effective, efficient care.

Cats with end stage kidney failure can be nursed in their final days. This will mean keeping them warm and comfortable, with food, water and a nearby litter box, as well as lots of quiet human companionship to let them know you’re there.

If your cat is experiencing pain or having seizures, or is vomiting regularly and soiling itself, you may want to discuss with your vet whether to consider euthanization. Though this is likely the most difficult part of pet ownership, if all other treatment methods 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?

Contact our veterinary hospital today to book a vaccination appointment for your pet.

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