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What Causes Kidney Failure in Cats?

Posted by Dr. Roth on March 11, 2022

Medical Advice
Wellness Care
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A cat’s kidneys function much like a human’s kidneys. They make hormones, filter waste from the blood, and play a role in the production of red blood cells. When the kidneys start to fail, a cat’s health can suffer significantly.

While kidney failure is most common in older cats, it can affect cats of any age. There are many causes, too. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital for boosting the cat’s quality of life. The thing is, the earliest signs of kidney failure aren’t always the most noticeable. Understanding what causes kidney failure in cats and what signs to watch for can help pet parents identify when a cat needs care.

Types of Kidney Failure In Cats

Cats can develop one of two types of kidney failure: acute or chronic.

Acute Kidney Failure

Acute kidney failure typically develops quickly, often over a few days or weeks. It can affect cats of all ages, and it may develop as a result of:

  • Poisons. The ingestion of toxic plants, antifreeze, or human medication can cause a cat’s kidneys to begin shutting down. Pet parents need to make sure that they keep harmful substances out of their cat’s reach. 

  • Infections. An infection in the kidneys (pyelonephritis) can ultimately lead to kidney failure.

  • Shock. Quick, significant blood loss, rapid dehydration, and overheating can all result in shock, which can impact the kidneys.

  • Blockages. A blockage, such as a urethral blockage, can alter the flow of blood to and from the kidneys. 

  • Heart failure. Heart failure can cause low blood pressure, which can affect blood flow to the kidneys. 

Chronic Kidney Failure

Chronic kidney failure is a disease that develops over several months to years. Vets and pet parents can often reverse acute kidney failure if they catch it early enough, but chronic failure is a bit more challenging. It occurs most frequently in older cats.

Causes of chronic kidney failure are also more difficult to pinpoint. In many cases, there is no apparent cause. Some potential causes may include:

  • Infections or blockages that wear down kidney function more slowly over months or years 

  • Congenital conditions such as polycystic kidney disease

  • Periodontal disease

  • Cancer, such as lymphosarcoma

  • Amyloidosis, a condition that occurs when amyloids (abnormal proteins) build up in the system and interfere with normal organ function

Symptoms of Kidney Failure

Early signs of kidney failure can be difficult to detect. All too often, by the time a pet parent notices anything wrong, the condition may no longer be treatable. Knowing what to look for is essential for early intervention. 

Some of the most common signs of kidney failure include:

  • Urinating more often

  • Urinating outside of the litter box

  • Weight loss

  • A decrease in appetite

  • Vomiting and diarrhea

  • Constipation

  • Ulcers on the tongue or gums

  • Tongue discoloration (it may appear brownish)

  • Bad, ammonia-like breath

  • Dry, dull fur

  • Weakness

  • Indifference

How Is Kidney Failure Diagnosed?

As soon as pet parents notice any of the above symptoms, they need to consult with a vet for guidance. 

The cat’s primary vet will perform a thorough physical exam, including lab tests such as a urinalysis, X-rays, ultrasound, or biopsy. Tests can help show the presence of kidney failure as well as the cause. 

Treatment of Kidney Failure

Treatment for kidney failure varies based on whether the disease is acute or chronic, as well as the cause. Depending on the situation, a vet may recommend:

  • Surgery to remove a blockage 

  • IV fluids for dehydration

  • Prescription medication

  • Dietary changes

While treatment may help to resolve acute kidney failure if pet parents catch it soon enough, there is no cure for chronic kidney failure. That doesn’t mean a cat can’t thrive. Pet parents can take steps to improve their cat’s health, helping her to live a longer, healthier, happier life. 

Managing kidney failure may involve dietary changes. For instance, a cat’s primary vet may recommend a diet low in protein and phosphorus but high in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Pet parents should make sure their cat has plenty of fresh water and schedule regular visits to the vet for checkups. Together, they can help to ensure the health and longevity of a cat with kidney failure.

If a Cat Shows Signs of Kidney Failure, Seek Advice Right Away

When left untreated, kidney failure can cause severe health complications. In instances of chronic kidney failure, there is no cure. That doesn’t mean a cat can’t continue to live a good life. Early detection and treatment can help pet parents ensure that their cat lives the best life possible. The Fuzzy veterinarian team is available 24/7 to provide expert guidance on cat health and wellness. 

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