Renal Failure in Cats

Persian cat lounging on wooden bench.
Persian cats are at a higher risk of developing renal failure.

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Renal failure is a fatal problem that unfortunately can affect your cat. This disease can happen suddenly or slowly over time. Knowing the signs of renal failure and how it may be treated can help keep your cat comfortable.

What Is Renal Failure in Cats?

Renal failure occurs when a cat's kidneys stop functioning. It's sometimes referred to as kidney failure. The kidneys do many important things in the body, including filtering waste from the blood, producing red blood cells, balancing electrolytes, maintaining hydration, and producing urine. If renal failure occurs, the kidneys can no longer do these vital jobs for the body.

Acute renal failure is a very sudden development, while chronic renal failure occurs due to the presence of a longer-lasting conditions, such as polycystic kidney disease, cancer, or chronic kidney damage. Regardless of the cause of renal failure in your cat, there is unfortunately no cure for it, only treatment to manage it.

Signs of Renal Failure in Cats

Signs of Renal Failure in Cats

  • Weight loss
  • Excessive urination
  • Vomiting
  • Anorexia
  • Increased thirst
  • Lethargy

A cat with renal failure will feel very sick. Vomiting, a lack of appetite, and lethargy are common in any cat that isn't feeling well, but these symptoms are especially common in a cat with renal failure. Your cat will drink more and urinate more if it has a kidney problem, and weight loss will occur as it takes in less food.

Causes of Renal Failure in Cats

There are a number of things that can cause acute or chronic renal failure in a cat. Anything that affects a cat's kidney function or any type of kidney disease could result in renal failure. The following list contains some of the most common reasons for renal failure in cats.

  • Ingestion of a toxin - Antifreeze, various plants like lilies, and even some human foods like grapes and raisins can cause renal failure in cats.
  • Urinary blockage - If a cat is unable to urinate, damage to the kidneys can occur which can lead to renal failure.
  • Systemic shock - If a cat's blood flow is disrupted due to shock, kidney damage and ultimately renal failure can happen.
  • Heart failure - Heart failure can lead to kidney damage due to increased pressure in blood vessels.
  • Low or high blood pressure - If left untreated, abnormal blood pressure in cats can lead to renal failure.
  • Medications - Various medications may have side effects that cause kidney damage. This can eventually lead to renal failure.
  • Pyelonephritis - Like other forms of kidney disease, pyelonephritis can lead to renal failure.
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis - This disease can cause severe inflammation in the kidneys leading to renal failure.
  • Diabetes - High blood sugar levels can cause kidney damage resulting in renal failure.

Diagnosing Renal Failure in Cats

If you suspect your cat has developed renal failure or kidney disease, a veterinarian examination is warranted. Both urine and blood tests are likely to be run to look for signs of disease and kidney damage. Your cat's blood pressure may be taken. Your vet will ask you questions to try to discern if there was any potential exposure to toxins or medications. If there is evidence of kidney damage or a problem with your cat's kidney's ability to function normally, X-rays and/or an ultrasound may be recommended.

Treatment of Renal Failure in Cats

Depending on the cause of the renal failure, fluid therapy and medications to manage the symptoms are typically used. Some causes of renal failure may warrant hospitalization in order to stabilize your cat, but there is no way to reverse or cure the disease. Management of symptoms and delaying the onset of complete renal failure and ultimately death are the goals. Once your cat's quality of life is no longer good, euthanasia will be recommended.

How to Prevent Renal Failure in Cats

Since renal failure can occur due to kidney damage, the best way to prevent renal failure in your cat is to keep its kidneys healthy. Encourage water intake through the use of water fountains, and monitor urine output to ensure your cat is urinating normally and regularly. Additionally, ask your vet if feeding canned food is the best option for your cat and if kidney supplements should be added to your cat's diet. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, probiotics, B vitamins, and a variety of antioxidants may benefit your cat by supporting its kidneys. Regular yearly blood screenings including monitoring kidney enzyme levels can also help prevent renal failure.

Risk Factors for Developing Renal Failure

Some cat breeds are thought to be at a higher risk of developing renal failure than others. These include Persians, Abyssinians, Siamese, Ragdolls, Burmese, Russian Blues, and Maine Coons. These breeds may benefit from regular evaluation of kidney function alongside kidney support supplements.

Article Sources
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  1. Littman MP. Genetic basis for urinary tract diseases. In: Elliott J, Grauer GF and Westropp JL (eds). BSAVA Manual of canine and feline nephrology and urology. 3rd ed, BSAVA 2017: 172-184.