What is kidney failure in cats?
When your cat's kidneys are healthy they work to remove toxins, manage blood pressure, maintain a normal electrolyte balance, regulate hydration and calcium, and produce hormones that stimulate the production of red blood cells.
If your cat is diagnosed with kidney failure - also known as renal failure - the kidneys are no longer functioning efficiently. This can be caused by a number of factors and conditions, such as infections, tumors or ingesting something toxic.
The immediate risk of failing kidneys in cats is that they cannot clear the blood of dangerous toxins.
Types of Kidney Failure Seen in Cats
There are two types of kidney failure in cats. Each type differs in causes, treatment options and prognosis.
Acute Renal Failure
If your cat is suffering from acute kidney failure, it means that their kidneys are suddenly unable to function properly. This type of kidney failure occurs suddenly, within days or weeks. If diagnosed in time, acute renal failure can often be reversed.
It can happen in cats of any age and typically results from poisons, trauma, infection, organ failure, urethral blockages, dehydration and other causes. Poisons, such as toxic plants, pesticides, cleaning fluids and human medications, are the most common cause of acute renal failure.
Chronic Kidney Failure
Chronic kidney failure in cats is a gradual condition that typically develops over several months or even years. This type of kidney failure is typically caused by autoimmune diseases, cysts in the kidneys, and genetics.
Chronic kidney failure is a progressive illness that can lead to total kidney failure, where the kidneys gradually stop working as they lose the ability to filter toxins out of the blood.
Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Cats
If your cat’s kidneys aren’t removing waste from his or her body, you may notice that your cat is drinking more water and attempting to urinate more. Because the toxins build up in the cat's body, they may feel nauseous and stop eating their food. In general, your cat will appear to be lethargic and not very happy.
General symptoms of kidney failure in cats can include:
- Excess thirst
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- Diarrhea (may contain blood)
- Vomiting (may contain blood)
- Bad breath
If your cat is suffering from acute kidney failure you may also notice an arched back or stiff-legged gait, symptoms that your cat’s kidneys are causing pain.
Chronic kidney failure gradually progresses over years, and the signs may not be noticeable. By the time you do see symptoms, the disease may already be leading to total kidney failure.
While there is no cure for chronic kidney disease, if it’s detected and treated early your cat’s longevity and quality of life can be improved.
Symptoms of End Stage Kidney Failure in Cats
Symptoms of end stage kidney failure in cats include dull sunken eyes, inability to walk, body odour, incontinence in bladder or bowels, refusal to eat or drink, seizures, confusion, pacing and restlessness, withdrawing, hiding and running away.
Though more than one of these symptoms will be present, you may not see all of them in your cat. With kidney failure, there are no easy answers, as different symptoms may be present at different times.
These symptoms can also be signs of other illnesses, which is why early diagnosis, disease management and communication with your vet is critical.
How is Kidney Failure in Cats is Diagnosed & Treated
Your vet will do a comprehensive examination of your cat, including blood and urine tests, X-rays, and possibly an ultrasound. A kidney biopsy might also be required.
If kidney disease is found, treatments could include intravenous fluids to correct dehydration, vitamin injections, supplements, medications, and possibly surgery to remove blockages. When treating kidney failure the goal is to manage the symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease.
You can support your cat’s treatment with a carefully managed diet and plenty of clean fresh water. Your vet will recommend that you gradually transition your cat to a kidney diet that is low in both phosphorus and protein and is enriched with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids.
For cats with end stage kidney failure palliative care will be required in their final days. This will include keeping them warm and comfortable, with food, water and a litter box nearby, as well as lots of loving human companionship.
Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.
If your cat is exhibiting symptoms of kidney failure contact our Greensboro Vets right away or visit your nearest animal emergency hospital.
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