orange kitten

Could I have Kidney Disease?

Chronic Renal Failure in Cats

Author,  Professional Pet Sitting Etc.


Chronic renal failure in cats is also known as chronic kidney disease, kidney failure, or chronic renal insufficiency.  It refers to a degeneration of the kidneys that has been progressing over a period of months or years.  The damage to the kidneys is irreversible and although there is no cure, supportive treatment can delay the progression of disease to increase the quality of life for the elderly feline.



Symptoms of kidney failure can vary depending on the severity and progression of disease.  Common symptoms include:

  • Increased thirst (polydipsia) and increased urination (polyuria)
  • Incontinence or leaking urine
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting (diarrhoea may also be present)
  • Lethargy and weakness


As the disease progresses additional symptoms that can develop include:

  • Poor hair coat
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Pale gums
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Cold body temperature



Kidney damage in cats occurs when the kidneys ability to function and remove waste products from the blood is impaired.  Chronic renal failure refers to damage that has occurred over a course of weeks, months, or years resulting in inflammation and non-functional scar tissue.

Kidney failure in cats is most commonly idiopathic (of unknown origin), however there are several underlying conditions that can contribute to kidney disease:

  • Reoccurring bacterial kidney infections
  • Tumors in the kidneys
  • High blood pressure
  • Diseases that affect the immune system
  • Toxicities
  • Polycystic kidney disease in certain breeds of cat (Persians, Abyssinian)
  • Congenital kidney defects



Alongside a full history and veterinary examination, common pathways in the diagnosis of chronic renal failure in cats include blood tests, urinalysis, and diagnostic imaging.

Physical examination may reveal dehydration, enlarged lymph nodes, signs of anemia such as pale mucous membranes, and dilated pupils.  The veterinarian will also palpate the abdomen to feel for kidney abnormalities such as nodules or irregular sizing.


Blood testing

Blood tests are performed to determine abnormalities related to renal failure along with any complications that have developed due to decreased kidney function.  Blood values assessed include blood urea nitrogen, creatnine, phosphorus, amylase, and a red blood cell count.



The urinalysis is a complete assessment of urine components.  Kidneys play an important role in the dilution and concentration of urine.  Cats with chronic renal failure often have dilute urine along with excess protein in the urine.  The urine sediment will also be examined under a microscope to look for the presence of cast cells associated with renal failure.


Diagnostic imaging

Diagnostic imaging may involve radiographic or ultrasound evaluation of the kidneys.  Radiographs are useful in visualizing the kidneys, checking for calcification associated with renal failure, and assessing the urinary system for stones.  Ultrasonography is more sensitive and helps to determine the size and internal anatomy of the kidneys.



Initial treatment is aimed at supportive therapy in order to stabilize the cat’s overall condition and correct dehydration as well as electrolyte imbalances.  There is no cure for chronic renal failure in cats.

After initial stabilization and therapy, treatment is aimed at prolonging kidney function and increasing the quality of life.  The aim is to reduce the workload on the kidneys, replace electrolytes that are lacking, and to decrease the accumulation of waste materials.  Ongoing treatment involves a combination of life-long medications and dietary management in order to counteract symptoms of renal failure and slow the progress of disease.

Kidney transplantation is available at specialized veterinary universities, however it is not commonly performed to due to the high cost and risk of complications.  Even after a kidney transplant, cats need to be kept on life-long medications and immuno-suppressive therapy.

Ongoing monitoring of renal failure is vital for monitoring the progression of disease and ongoing quality of life.  Cats that have been diagnosed with chronic renal failure should be reassessed by the veterinarian every 3 – 6 months including a blood panel and urinalysis.

Chronic renal failure in cats has a guarded prognosis, but with early diagnosis an effective management plan can be formulated to slow disease progression.



Although there is no cure or preventative treatment against kidney disease, there are a few steps owners can take to slow the process of damage.


Health and wellness screenings

Overall health plays a crucial role in a cat’s predisposition for chronic renal failure.  Cats should be kept in good health and treated promptly for any disease or infections.  Yearly veterinary check ups should include vaccinations and dental scale and polishing if needed.  Senior cats over the age of eight will benefit from a yearly screening involving blood and urine tests.



Water is the ONE absolute thing you can do to help the kidneys function best. Cats are easily dehydrated.  when cats are dehydrated it makes the kidneys work harder to flush their systems.  Feeding dry food further dehydrates your cat.  Feed 90-100% moist canned food.   Ultimately, feeding at least twice a day of approximately 3 ounces of canned food at each time will help.  Adding 1/4 cup more water to each meal, will also help.  See our article on Feeding Cats by Gus Bennett to learn more.


Limiting exposure to toxic substances

As toxins are filtered through the kidneys, exposure to toxic substances should be limited.  Toxins include antifreeze, lilies and other plants, grapes and raisins, diets consisting solely of fish, and over-use of certain medications.


Understanding genetic connections and being aware of the signs of disease

Owners should be aware of possible genetic connections to chronic renal failure in cats.  Breeds such as Persians and Abyssinians have an increased prevalence of chronic renal failure.

It is important to be aware of the clinical signs of renal failure as listed above and seek prompt veterinary diagnosis and treatment.  Ongoing management and monitoring will play a vital role in delaying the progression of chronic kidney disease and increasing a cat’s overall quality of life.




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Dorinne Whynott, is a long time animal professional.  She is a successful business owner establishing one of the largest pet sitting companies in New Hampshire since 1990. Click to Read her complete History. 

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