Cat Kidney Disease

By: Talin Seta Shahinian

Your cat’s kidneys play a vital role in its body’s functioning and overall health. These bean-shaped organs are tasked with a host of jobs. Kidneys help regulate blood pressure, make hormones, and aid the creation of red blood cells by stimulating the bone marrow and removing waste from the blood.

As the kidney filters waste out of your kitty’s bloodstream, it creates urine to dispose of them. Urine is made up of this water-soluble waste. Kidneys assist endocrine function, help maintain electrolyte balance, and play a role in maintaining homeostasis, including temperature and fluid regulation, as well as overall bodily equilibrium.

There are two main types of kidney disease in cats, acute renal failure, and chronic kidney problems (CKD), each with its challenges, treatments, and prognosis.

Acute Renal Failure

Acute renal failure shows up suddenly, developing over mere days or weeks. It can affect cats of all ages, and the following culprits are usually to blame:

  • Poisons. Toxic house plants, household cleaning fluids, lawn pesticides, and car antifreeze are highly toxic to cats.
  • Human medications. One tablet of ibuprofen can trigger your cat’s kidneys to shut down. Vitamin D and psoriasis creams are also dangerous to cats.
  • Physical trauma. If your cat breaks their pelvis or suffers a burst bladder, that can bring on acute renal failure.
  • Health conditions. Your cat can go into shock due to significant blood loss, experience rapid dehydration, or overheat in hot weather.
  • Changes in behavior. A notable increase in activity, diarrhea, or vomiting can affect your cat’s kidneys and cause a dangerous drop in their fluids.
  • Cancer. Just like humans, cats can also develop cancers that can affect kidney function.
  • Kidney infection. While urinary tract infections (UTIs) are relatively uncommon in cats, if they occur, they usually involve your cat’s bladder and their urethra. This kind of condition is considered a lower urinary tract infection. Your cat can also have an upper urinary tract infection, also known as Pyelonephritis. This form of infection affects the upper urinary tract, consisting of the kidneys and the ureters.
  • Blockage. A blockage impedes the blood flow into the kidney, and the urine flow out of the kidney. Your cat can experience a urethral blockage that causes them not to pee, which spells trouble for their kidneys.
  • Heart conditions. Your cat’s kidneys can also be affected by heart failure accompanied by low blood pressure, as this will reduce vital blood flow to the kidneys.

The good news is that if acute renal failure is diagnosed in time, it can often be reversed. The important thing here is regular veterinary care and routine urinalysis. This is because signs of acute renal failure often don’t show up till later in the illness. Your cat may not show any signs of kidney failure until they’ve lost 75% of its kidney function. Cats are also adept at masking signs of illness, as a holdover from their history in the wild, where showing signs of weakness would have made them more vulnerable to predators.

Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) primarily affects middle-aged and older cats. CKD may develop over months, sometimes years. If your cat is seven years or older, take special care to monitor their health closely, and make sure to take them to the vet regularly for routine check-ups, blood tests, and urine tests. Unlike acute renal failure, it’s not possible to reverse chronic renal failure, but your vet can help slow the progression of your cat’s kidney disease through diet and medication.

Causes of Chronic Kidney Disease

Here are some of the possible causes of Chronic Kidney Disease:

  • Polycystic kidney disease (PKD). This is a genetically inherited disease usually only seen in Persian and related breed cats. It affects normal kidney tissue by gradually replacing it with multiple fluid-filled cysts.
  • Kidney tumors. Tumors such as lymphoma, which is a solid cancerous tumor of white blood cells.
  • Infections. A bacterial infection such as pyelonephritis can cause significant damage leading to CKD.
  • Toxins. Damaging toxins and drugs.
  • Glomerulonephritis. An inflammation of the glomeruli, individual units which act to filter the blood within the kidneys. If they’re inflamed for any reason over a prolonged period, it can lead to your cat developing CKD.

Symptoms of Kidney Disease

Here are some of the symptoms that may present with kidney disease:

  • Excessive drinking from increased thirst.
  • Increased urination.
  • Urinary urgency.
  • Incontinence, inability to hold urine long enough to make it to the litter box.
  • Urinating in inappropriate places.
  • Weight loss from decreased appetite
  • Changes in coat quality, fur that’s dull and thinning.
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or constipation.
  • Urine that’s bloody or cloudy.
  • Ulcers of the Mouth, especially affecting their gums and tongue.
  • Bad breath, with an odor like ammonia.
  • Tongue has developed a brownish color.
  • They appear weak, listless, and indifferent.
  • Bacterial infections of the bladder and kidney.

Diagnosis and Treatment

To determine your cat’s condition and make an accurate diagnosis, your vet may need to perform other diagnostic tests in addition to an exam and urine tests. Your cat may require an X-ray, an ultrasound, or a biopsy.

Depending on the type of kidney disease present, your cat may need surgery to remove blockages, IV fluids, a special diet, or medications. There’s also a possibility you’ll need to administer injected subcutaneous fluids to your cat at home after receiving proper guidance and instruction from your vet on the procedure. Diet also plays a large part in getting your kitty well or slowing the progression of kidney disease. A kidney-friendly diet is based on food enriched with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Kidney-healthy cat food is also low in protein and phosphorus.

Another essential part of treating acute renal failure or chronic kidney disease is maintaining your cat’s hydration. You’ll want to increase their water intake, which can be aided by getting them a cat water fountain, which encourages them to drink more by providing fresh flowing water. You can also supplement their water intake by providing them with tuna juice, low sodium chicken, or beef broth. You can also include prescription kidney diet wet food along with, or instead of feeding dry kibble to your kitty.

If you live in NW Wisconsin, Purple Cat Mobile Vet Clinic is here to help you keep your cat healthy and happy. We’re a high-quality, high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter clinic. We see cats exclusively. Find information for scheduling on our website. You can also look on our Facebook page for more helpful information on all things feline!


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