Chronic and acute kidney failure can both have devastating effects on your cat's kidneys, related organs and bodily functions. Below, our Charlotte vets explain the symptoms of kidney failure in cats, as well as possible causes and how this condition is treated.
What is kidney failure in cats?
Kidney failure (also known as renal failure) 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.
Are there different types of kidney failure in cats?
There are two types of kidney failure in cats, and they differ in causes, treatment options and prognosis.
Acute Renal Failure
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.
Acute renal failure can often be reversed if caught in time.
Chronic Kidney Failure
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 kidney failure in cats?
The filtering system in your cat’s kidneys consists of thousands of microscopic tubes (nephrons). While a kidney will still work if some nephrons are damaged, if too many nephrons stop working too suddenly for the good nephrons to compensate, the kidneys can 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)
- 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
- 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
- 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:
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- Bad breath
- Diarrhea (may contain blood)
- Vomiting (may contain blood)
- 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
What are the symptoms of end-stage kidney failure in cats?
In many cases, the signs of kidney failure in cats are not caught early enough and the disease progresses to its end stage. Symptoms of end-stage kidney failure in cats include general symptoms listed above, as well as dull, sunken eyes, inability to walk, body odor, incontinence in the bladder or bowels, 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.
How is kidney failure in cats treated?
The goal of treating kidney failure is to slow the progression of the disease and manage symptoms. Depending on the symptoms and their stages, treatment options may include intravenous fluids to correct dehydration, vitamin injections, medication to manage nausea, supplements to correct low potassium levels, and other measures.
Our Huntersville 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.