Kidney Disease in Cats


Kidney Disease in Cats

Although kidney disease can develop in kittens, it is much more common in older cats and sadly is one of the most common problems seen in cats over the age of 9.  Chronic kidney disease is most often seen from the age of 9 or 10 but is sometimes seen in cats as young as 6 or 7 years old. We often refer to chronic kidney disease in cats as Chronic Renal Failure (CRF) which results in the progressive inability of the kidneys to correctly regulate the fluid balance in the body as well as some other essential functions.

What are the signs of CRF in cats?

The reduced ability of the kidneys to regulate the fluids in the body leads to the cat needing to urinate more and to drink more to replace the water lost in the dilute urine produced. Even though dilute this urine can be strong smelling and even dark coloured though this is very variable. As the illness progresses cats will tend to have a poor appetite as toxins build up and weight loss then develops. Some cats develop nausea, vomiting, excessive drooling and occasionally back pain and tenderness. In more advanced cases the toxins that have built up will be detectable as a strong unpleasant smell in the cats breath and from their mouth.

How is CRF diagnosed?

Laboratory tests are necessary both to confirm the problem exists and also to give us essential information on the stage of the disease and the treatment required to try to control it and to make your cat as content as possible. Urine tests can give an early indication of the disease when the urine is overly dilute and may contain protein as the kidneys become more 'leaky'. Blood tests will then give a good indicator of how the kidneys are functioning and if mineral levels such as phosphate are too high. Also due to the kidneys having an important role in stimulating production of red blood cells we will check to see if your cat is anaemic due to kidney problems.

How do we treat CRF in cats?

If the blood tests give an indication that treatment may improve the kidney functioning then this must start immediately to try to improve blood flow through scarred kidneys. This will involve intravenous fluids and drugs given during a stay in the surgery. We tend to find out quite quickly if this is helping the situation and if so we can move on to more involved longer term treatment.

This will include drugs to control the cat's blood pressure and to open up the blood vessels within the kidney to maximise kidney function. Other drugs we use may include antacids to help with gastritis and also phosphate binders to add to food to lower the intake of phosphate. Some cats during this period feel extremely unwell and feeding via a tube through the nose or gullet is required to 'kick start' the metabolism somewhat.

After a period of hospitalisation to bring the problem under control, responding cats often can go home but will require long term regular check ups and medication as well as specific diets to minimise the damage caused by some popular cat foods. Sadly it is very difficult to predict which cats will respond enough to go home and even then the period of respite can be weeks or months.

Some cats will require long term fluid therapy and sometimes this can be done at home by administration of sterile fluids under the skin of the cat. Understandably this can be difficult in some cases. Also if the cat is anaemic then specific hormones can be administered to increase red blood cell production.


With intensive diagnostics followed by highly involved treatment and constant careful follow up we can maximise the chances of your cat having a contented life living with chronic renal failure.