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Kidney Disease in Cats

By Colleen Williams
published: January 18, 2017 - updated: April 10, 2024 • 3 min. read
orange cat sleeping on couch

Your cat’s kidneys are little janitors for your kitty’s bloodstream, pushing blood around the body and sending waste through the urine. They help regulate blood pressure, filter metabolic waste, and produce hormones and blood cells. Unfortunately, chronic kidney disease is a common ailment in older cats, and cats are naturally very susceptible to conditions that can later affect the kidneys if they have a history of urinary tract infections or kidney stones. This issue is more common in cats as they have more frequent bladder infections that can spread to the kidneys.

Kidney disease in cats

When the kidneys and their complex filtering system break down, waste products can trickle into the bloodstream, which can cause systemic complications.

There are two broad categories:

Acute kidney failure (or injury)

Acute kidney injury is a severe condition with a relatively sudden onset, while chronic kidney disease develops over a period of time. Acute kidney failure can be caused by ingesting poisonous or toxic substances (pesticides, antifreeze, certain plants like lilies, cleaning fluids, ibuprofen), as well as physical blockages to the kidney that prevent blood flow. If caught early and treated immediately, kidney damage resulting from acute kidney injury is potentially reversible, although the prognosis for cats with major kidney issues varies greatly.

Chronic kidney disease

This type of kidney disease must be managed daily and may have no cure.

Protect your pet

Symptoms of kidney disease in cats

Acute kidney failure signs include:

  • Seizure
  • Vomiting
  • Bad breath
  • Weakness
  • Loss of coordination

Cats rarely have visible signs of kidney disease early on, which is why early diagnosis can be challenging. In later stages, signs of kidney disease may include increased thirst, increased urination, weight loss, decreased appetite, lethargy, and, in some cases, vomiting. If these signs are observed, a pet parent should seek veterinary consultation as soon as possible.

Diagnosis and treatment for cat kidney disease

If kidney disease is suspected, a veterinarian will run blood tests and a urinalysis to confirm function and damage of the kidneys. Depending on the results, treatment is either immediate (for acute kidney failure) or scheduled, progressive therapies (for chronic kidney disease). Some cats are rehydrated through IVs and sent home with instructions for maintaining a special diet that helps support kidney function, whereas cats that have undergone transplants or injury undergo dialysis at feline veterinarian specialty centers.

Bladder infections and kidney disease

Bladder infections can turn into kidney problems very quickly. Preventing UTIs is the first step toward healthy kidneys for cats, so remember to always have fresh water for your cat, make sure they have a clean litter box, and keep them at a healthy weight. It is also possible that what you think are UTI symptoms could be kidney stones, so a trip to the vet isn’t a bad idea!

Kidney disease and conditions are manageable in cats if the diagnosis isn’t life-threatening. However, it is a serious ailment that can have dire consequences. However, since kidney complications are prevalent in cats, especially seniors, your knowledge of the symptoms and the proper diagnostics would be your cat’s lifesaver.

New diagnostics

Lithotripsy (ultrasound shock waves to break apart kidney stones or bladder stones): $3,000

Kidney disease and conditions are manageable in cats if the diagnosis isn’t life-threatening, however it is a serious ailment that can have dire consequences.

The Healthy Paws pet insurance plan offers coverage for the lifetime of your policy. The cat insurance plan pays on your actual veterinary bill and covers injuries, illnesses, emergencies, genetic conditions, and much more. Get your quote today.

The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinarian advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical diagnosis, condition, or treatment options.

For more information on kidney disease in cats, as well as other conditions that may become of note throughout your cat’s life, please see our Cost of Pet Care report.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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