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What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Disease in Cats?

What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Disease in Cats?

Reviewed by: Dr. Robert Menardi, DVM

As a cat owner, ensuring your cat’s health and happiness is a top priority. This responsibility extends to understanding potential health issues that may affect your pet, one of which is kidney disease. 

Chronic kidney disease (CKD), in particular, can be a common issue in older cats. It may affect their quality of life if not detected and managed early. In this article, we delve into the world of feline kidney health, exploring the symptoms of kidney disease and why early diagnosis can make a world of difference in managing this condition.

How Severe Is Kidney Disease in Cats?

Before discussing kidney disease symptoms, let’s understand what this condition means for our feline friends. Chronic kidney disease (CKD), also known as chronic renal failure, is a long-term condition where the cat’s kidneys gradually lose their ability to function correctly.

The kidneys play a vital role in a cat’s overall health. They filter waste products from the bloodstream, regulate the body’s water and electrolyte balance, produce hormones that stimulate red blood cell production, and help control blood pressure. 

When these crucial organs aren’t working as they should, it can lead to a host of health problems, affecting everything from your cat’s blood pressure to their red blood cell count. It’s also important to note the difference between chronic kidney disease and acute renal failure. 

While both conditions involve the kidneys, acute renal failure is a sudden, often severe condition often triggered by poisoning, trauma, or a severe infection. On the other hand, CKD is a progressive disease that develops over time. 

Unfortunately, by the time symptoms become evident, significant damage to the kidneys may have already occurred. This fact underlines the importance of regular check-ups, particularly in older cats, for early detection and diagnosis of kidney disease.

What Causes Kidney Disease in Cats?

Kidney disease in cats can be due to several causes and risk factors. Although this condition can occur in cats of all ages, older cats are generally more susceptible. 

As cats age, their organs naturally wear down, including the kidneys. In fact, chronic kidney disease is most commonly diagnosed in cats over 10 years of age.

Exposure to toxins can also cause kidney damage, including substances like antifreeze, which is highly toxic to cats, even in small amounts. Some cats may develop kidney disease due to a bacterial infection in the kidneys. 

Other possible causes include genetic predisposition, cancer, certain medications, and underlying diseases like high blood pressure. However, it’s important to note that in many cases, the exact cause of chronic kidney disease in cats is often unknown.

Given these risk factors, regular veterinary check-ups are crucial. Routine check-ups can help detect early signs of kidney disease before your cat starts showing symptoms, improving the chances of managing the disease effectively and extending your cat’s quality of life.

What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Disease?

If your feline friend has kidney disease, you may notice a variety of clinical signs. Some of these subtle symptoms can be easily overlooked or mistaken for general aging. However, understanding what to look for can potentially save your cat’s life.

One of the most common symptoms of kidney disease in cats is weight loss. This is often coupled with a loss of appetite and increased thirst. Changes in your cat’s litter box habits, such as urinating more frequently or producing larger amounts of urine, can also indicate kidney trouble.

Another symptom to look out for is bad breath with a chemical odor, as a buildup of waste products in the bloodstream (a condition known as uremia) can cause this. Your cat may also show signs of hypertension, or high blood pressure, which dilated pupils, bloodshot eyes, or sudden blindness can sometimes show.

Recognizing these symptoms can be crucial for early detection of kidney disease. If you notice any of these changes in your cat, it’s essential to consult your veterinarian as soon as possible.

How Do They Test My Cat for Kidney Disease?

If your DVM (Doctor of Veterinary Medicine) suspects your cat may be suffering from kidney disease, a variety of diagnostic tools can be utilized. The diagnostic process typically begins with a comprehensive physical examination and review of your cat’s medical history.

Blood tests are often performed to assess the levels of certain substances in the blood, including blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine. High levels of these substances can indicate impaired kidney function. A test for SDMA (Symmetric dimethylarginine), a biomarker specific for kidney function, may also be used to detect kidney disease at an early stage.

Urinalysis is another crucial diagnostic tool in detecting kidney disease. A urine sample can be analyzed to determine its specific gravity — a measure of urine concentration. 

Low specific gravity can be a sign of kidney disease. The urine can also be checked for protein, glucose, or signs of a urinary tract infection, which could contribute to kidney disease.

In addition to these tests, your veterinarian may also suggest X-rays or an ultrasound to visualize the shape and size of the kidneys or even a biopsy to examine a small sample of kidney tissue under a microscope. Each of these diagnostic tools can provide valuable insights into your cat’s health, aiding in a precise diagnosis.

How Can I Treat My Cat’s Kidney Disease?

While chronic kidney disease is not curable, numerous treatment options are available to manage the condition and improve your cat’s quality of life. Treatment aims to slow the progression of the disease, manage symptoms, and address any underlying or related conditions.

Dietary management is often a key component of treatment for kidney disease. This might involve a diet low in phosphorus and high in fatty acids, which can help slow disease progression and improve your cat’s overall health. 

Supplements may also be recommended to manage conditions associated with kidney diseases, such as anemia or low potassium levels. Potassium supplementation can help combat hypokalemia (low potassium), which is common in cats with kidney disease.

Medications can also be used to treat symptoms or associated conditions. For example, phosphate binders may be used to control high phosphorus levels in the blood, and medications to control high blood pressure may also be prescribed.

If your cat is severely dehydrated, your veterinarian may recommend subcutaneous fluid therapy. This involves injecting fluids under the cat’s skin to ensure proper hydration.

More intensive treatments such as dialysis or kidney transplants could be considered in end-stage kidney disease. However, these options are not widely available and can be expensive.

Your vet will work with you to develop a treatment plan tailored to your cat’s specific needs, ensuring the best possible quality of life.

How Important Is Early Testing for Kidney Disease?

Catching kidney disease early is crucial for managing the condition and extending your cat’s lifespan. An early diagnosis can make a significant difference in your cat’s quality of life, as many of the treatments for kidney disease are most effective when the disease is in its initial stages.

Regular veterinary check-ups are essential for early detection, especially for older cats. As part of these check-ups, your vet might conduct routine blood tests and urinalysis to check for early signs of kidney disease. In some cases, your vet might also suggest more specific tests, like measuring SDMA levels, which can provide even earlier detection of kidney disease.

Early diagnosis allows for immediate treatments such as dietary modifications, supplements, and medications which can slow down the progression of the disease and alleviate symptoms.

As a cat owner, being vigilant about your cat’s health and behavior can also help with early detection. Be attentive to any changes in eating or drinking habits, litter box use, or overall behavior.

Can I Prevent Kidney Disease?

While not all cases of kidney disease can be prevented, there are steps cat owners can take to reduce their cat’s risk.

Firstly, maintaining your cat’s overall health is crucial. Regular veterinary visits, a balanced diet, and keeping your cat hydrated can all contribute to overall kidney health.

Avoid exposing your cat to harmful substances. For example, antifreeze is extremely toxic to cats and can cause acute kidney failure. Even in small amounts, it can be deadly. Therefore, it’s essential to ensure your cat cannot access areas where antifreeze or other toxic substances are stored.

Keeping your cat’s urinary tract healthy can also help prevent kidney disease. This can be achieved by providing plenty of fresh water to encourage urination and, thus, prevent the build-up of crystals or stones that could cause urinary tract blockages.

Cats at high risk, such as older cats or those with a history of kidney problems, should be monitored more closely for signs of kidney disease. Regular veterinary check-ups will be key in these cases.

Remember, while kidney disease is more prevalent in older cats, it can affect cats of all ages. Being proactive about your cat’s health can help ensure they live long and healthy lives.

Being the Best Cat Parent

Like caring for a small child, since your cat cannot vocalize their issues to you, it takes attention and knowing your cat to realize something could be wrong. 

Understanding the symptoms of kidney disease in cats is an important aspect of responsible cat ownership. The chronic nature of kidney disease and its potential impact on your cat’s quality of life make early detection crucial. Regular check-ups and attentive eyes on any changes in behavior or habits can lead to an early diagnosis.

Remember, kidney disease is a manageable condition, especially when detected early. You can greatly enhance your feline friend’s quality of life through diet modifications, medications, and necessary supplements.

Caring for a cat with kidney disease may require a lot of patience and love, but the rewards of seeing them live a comfortable life are immeasurable. When it comes to your cat’s health, it is always better to be proactive and take preventative measures. After all, our furry friends rely on us to look after their well-being.

Stay vigilant, stay informed, and remember that your veterinarian is your greatest ally in maintaining your cat’s health. For more information on your pet’s health, flip through the electronic pages of our ever-growing library with ElleVet. 


Chronic kidney disease – Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Kidneys | Better Health Channel

The Importance of Taking Your Cat to Your Vet

Do You Know the Difference Between a Dvm and a Vmd Degree in Veterinarians? | Bernville Vet