By Courtney Prue | August 10, 2023

Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats

Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Life Expectancy and Home Management

As cat owners, we want our furry friends to live happy and healthy lives (ideally forever!). Unfortunately, many cats over seven years old develop chronic kidney disease (CKD), a progressive and irreversible condition that can affect their quality of life. We understand that every pet is unique, and our goal is to help pet owners make informed decisions about their pet's health and wellbeing. In this resource, we'll explore the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for kidney disease in cats and offer some helpful tips for managing this condition. We will also touch on pain assessments, quality of life and the value of palliative care to keep your beloved pet comfortable for as long as possible.

What is Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) in cats?

CKD is a progressive disease that affects the kidneys’ ability to function correctly. The kidneys play a vital role in removing waste products from the body, regulating fluid balance, including proteins and producing hormones that regulate blood pressure and red blood cell production. In cats with CKD, the kidneys gradually lose their ability to perform these functions, leading to a buildup of waste products in the body and other complications.  

What causes kidney disease in cats? How did my cat get kidney disease?

The exact cause of kidney disease in cats is often unknown, but several factors can increase the risk of developing the condition. These factors include:
      • Age: CKD is more common in older cats.
      • Breed: Some breeds of cats, such as Persian, Ragdoll, Burmese, Siamese, Abyssinian, and Maine Coone, are more prone to developing CKD.
      • Dehydration: Cats who do not drink enough water are at higher risk of developing CKD.
      • Toxins: Exposure to certain toxins, such as antifreeze, can damage the kidneys and lead to CKD.
      • Other illnesses: Other diseases such as cancer, infection or inflammation can also put the kidneys at risk of damage, potentially leading to CKD.

What are the early warning signs of kidney disease in cats? What are the common symptoms of kidney disease in cats?

Kidney disease symptoms can vary depending on the severity of the disease. Early signs may be subtle and easy to miss, while intermediate to advanced signs can be more severe.

Common signs include:

      • Increased thirst and urination
      • Weight loss
      • Loss or change of appetite
      • Vomiting and diarrhoea
      • Bad breath
      • Poor coat condition
      • Lethargy
      • Weakness and wobbliness
      • General symptoms of pain such as hunched posture

An emergency:

While there are various symptoms of chronic kidney disease (CKD) in cats, some may require urgent medical attention. These include:
      • Difficulty breathing: Cats with CKD can develop fluid buildup in their lungs, making it difficult for them to breathe.
      • Seizures: CKD can cause electrolyte imbalances in the body, leading to seizures.
      • Severe weakness and lethargy: CKD can cause anaemia, making cats feel weak and lethargic.
      • Complete lack of appetite: Cats with CKD may refuse to eat, leading to malnutrition and other health complications.
      • Constant vomiting and diarrhoea: These symptoms can indicate severe systemic compromise and quickly lead to dehydration, which can be fatal if left untreated. 
If you observe any of these symptoms, seeking immediate veterinary attention is essential. Time is critical in emergencies, and a delay in treatment can have severe consequences for your cat’s health. Don’t hesitate to call your veterinarian, our team or an emergency veterinary clinic for guidance on how to proceed.

How do you diagnose kidney disease in cats? How will the cat investigate my cat’s kidneys?

If you suspect your cat may have CKD, taking them to a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis is essential. Your vet will perform a physical exam, review your cat’s medical history, and run tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests may include:
      • Blood tests to evaluate kidney function
      • Urinalysis to check the concentration of the urine, the presence of protein and other abnormalities, including infection or crystals 
      • Imaging tests such as ultrasound to assess the kidneys’ size and shape
Your veterinarian should perform these tests regularly to monitor treatment response and ensure any decline is identified ASAP and addressed. 

What happens to the body with kidney disease? What are some complications of kidney disease in cats?

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) can lead to various complications throughout the body due to poor kidney function. These complications can vary in severity and significantly impact a cat’s quality of life. Some of the most common complications associated with CKD include:

      • High blood pressure: CKD can cause high blood pressure, further damaging the kidneys and leading to other complications such as heart disease and stroke.
      • Anaemia: The kidneys play an essential role in producing a hormone called erythropoietin, which stimulates the production of red blood cells. In cats with CKD, the kidneys may not produce enough erythropoietin, leading to anemia, which can cause weakness, fatigue, and other symptoms.
      • Metabolic acidosis: The kidneys help regulate the body’s pH balance, and when they are not functioning correctly, the body can become too acidic, leading to metabolic acidosis. This metabolic disturbance can cause many symptoms, including lethargy, vomiting, and poor appetite.
      • Electrolyte imbalances: The kidneys also play a crucial role in regulating electrolyte levels in the body. When the kidneys are not functioning correctly, electrolyte imbalances can occur, leading to weakness, muscle cramps, and irregular heartbeats.
      • Mineral imbalances: Cats with CKD may also develop imbalances in minerals such as calcium and phosphorus, which can lead to bone disease and other complications.
      • Uraemic syndrome: In severe cases of CKD, a condition known as uraemic syndrome can occur. This syndrome is a collection of symptoms resulting from high levels of waste products in the blood, which can lead to symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, seizures, and even coma.

The medical management and monitoring of kidney disease can be confusing and overwhelming. Get in touch with our team today for a personalised discussion. 

How will my cat’s kidney disease be treated? What is the treatment for kidney disease in cats?

While there is no cure for CKD in cats, several ways exist to manage the condition and improve your cat’s quality of life. Such treatment options include:

      • Fluid therapy: to help hydrate your cat and flush out toxins from their body. If your cat is severely dehydrated, they may require a hospital stay for an intravenous fluid drip. Your veterinarian may also teach you to give fluid under the skin for at-home maintenance. 
      • Diet changes: to reduce the workload on the kidneys and provide the necessary nutrients for your cat’s health, consider changing to a renal-specific prescription diet.
      • Medications: to manage symptoms and slow disease progression. Depending on your cat’s symptoms, these may include appetite stimulants, anti-nausea medications, ACE inhibitors for blood pressure and protein loss in the urine, phosphate binders, and more.
      • Regular monitoring and check-ups: to assess your cat’s kidney function and adjust treatment as needed

How do I manage my cat’s kidney disease at home? How can I help my kidney disease cat at home?

In addition to medical treatments, there are some things you can do at home to help your cat manage CKD. These include:
      • Providing plenty of fresh water and encouraging your cat to drink, including adding water to their food
      • Feeding a high-quality, kidney-friendly diet
      • Keeping your cat’s environment clean and stress-free
      • Administering medications as directed by your vet
      • Regular monitoring of your cat’s weight and appetite
An in-home veterinary assessment can also help identify any other areas of improvement that can help your beloved pet stay comfortable for as long as possible.  

How long can cats live after being diagnosed with kidney disease?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is not curable or reversible. The prognosis for cats with CKD can vary, depending on the stage of the disease and the individual cat’s response to treatment. While CKD is a progressive disease, early diagnosis and treatment can help slow the progression and improve your cat’s quality of life. Some cats may respond well to treatment and live for several years with the condition, while others may have a more limited lifespan. Your vet can help you understand your cat’s prognosis and develop a treatment plan best suited for your cat’s needs.  

End-of-Life Care Tips:

If your beloved cat’s CKD has progressed to a point where treatment is no longer effective, you may need to consider end-of-life care or even putting your cat to sleep (cat euthanasia). Rest Your Paws is here to support you and provide compassionate care for your beloved pet throughout their journey. This decision can be difficult, but there are several ways to provide comfort and support for your cat during this time, including:

Please know that we are here to support you every step of the way. We understand this is a challenging time for you and your family, and we are committed to providing you with the guidance and care you and your furry friend deserve. If you want to learn more about putting your pet to sleep, cat euthanasia at home, options to put your pet down at home, costs of euthanasia at home or what it looks like to put your pet to sleep at home, call us on 0422 157 675 or visit our website.

CKD is a common condition in cats that can significantly impact their quality of life. It’s essential to remember that every cat is different, and the progression of CKD can vary widely. With proper care and management, many cats with CKD can live comfortable and happy lives. At Rest Your Paws, we support you and your cat through every stage of their life, providing compassionate and knowledgeable care at every step.  Please do not hesitate to contact us with any questions or concerns – we are here to help.


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