Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Cats

Acute or chronic kidney failure can have a huge impact on your cat's health. Our Middlesex vets explain causes, symptoms and potential treatments for kidney failure in our feline companions.  

What is kidney failure?

Kidney failure, also known as renal failure, can be caused by numerous factors that can impact the kidneys and related organs in cats.

In healthy cats, kidneys eliminate waste from the blood, regulate calcium and hydration, manage blood pressure, produce red blood cells and maintain a healthy electrolyte balance. Cats who are experiencing kidney failure no longer have functioning kidneys, therefore these internal processes become slowed or eliminated.

Different Types of Kidney Failure in Cats

There are two different types of kidney failure cats can experience. These types differ in causes, treatment options and prognosis.

Acute Renal Failure

Acute renal failure happens suddenly, typically within days or weeks. This branch of kidney failure is caused by diseases, disorders, poisons, medications, other organ failure or other occurrences or conditions. Acute renal failure can happen to cats of any age.

The good news is, if it is caught in time, acute renal failure can often be reversed.

Chronic Kidney Failure

In cats with chronic kidney failure, their kidneys gradually quit functioning over months or years as the ability to filter toxins from the blood is lost. This type of kidney failure may lead to total kidney failure.

What causes kidney failure in cats?

Your cat’s kidneys have a filter system made up of thousands of microscopic tubes, otherwise known as nephrons. A kidney can sometimes still function if some nephrons are damaged or dysfunctional. However, total failure can occur when too many nephrons stop working too suddenly for the rest of the operating nephrons to compensate.

The most immediate result of kidney failure is dangerous toxins not being filtered out of the blood. Instead, these potentially harmful toxins will continue to circulate through your cat's bloodstream until treated.

While your cat’s kidneys may fail with age, senior cats aren’t the only ones at risk. Here are some common causes of both acute and chronic kidney failure in cats of all ages and health conditions:

Acute Kidney Failure

  • Bacterial infection (when the urinary tract becomes infected with bacteria that then travel to the kidneys)
  • Blockages
  • Cancer and other illnesses
  • Clotting disorders
  • Dehydration
  • Heart failure
  • Ingestion of toxins or harmful substances (human medications, antifreeze, rat poison, toxic pants)
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Specific medications (antibiotics or some chemotherapy drugs)
  • Shock (as a result of losing an excessive amount of blood quickly, vomiting, diarrhea, overheating and more)
  • Trauma (broken pelvis or ruptured bladder)

Conversely, here are some causes of chronic kidney failure in cats:

Chronic Kidney Failure

  • Autoimmune diseases (in which the immune system attacks the body’s organs)
  • Blockages
  • Cysts
  • Genetics

Symptoms of Kidney Failure

If waste isn’t being removed from your cat’s body, you may notice some of these symptoms of kidney failure in cats:

  • Depression
  • Dehydration
  • Bad breath
  • Diarrhea (may contain blood)
  • Vomiting (may contain blood)
  • Lack of appetite
  • Excessive thirst
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss

Signs of chronic kidney failure in cats also include increased urination, and easily bleeding or bruising.

In addition, cats with acute kidney failure may have a stiff-legged gait or arched back (an indication that your cat is in pain due to failing kidneys), and either no urination or frequent trips to the litter box.

Because it can take years for chronic kidney failure to progress, it may go unnoticed. By the time you do notice symptoms, the disease may already have advanced in your cat’s body.

However, some cats that have undergone chronic kidney failure were able to live fulfilled lives for several more years - when treated in time, of course.

What are the symptoms of end stage kidney failure in cats?

Unfortunately, indications of kidney failure in cats are not always detected early enough. This is what allows the disease to progress to its end stage.

Symptoms of end stage kidney failure in cats include the general symptoms we listed above, as well as an inability to walk, body odor, sunken eyes, confusion, bowel seizures, running away, hiding, pacing, blindness, twitching, and refusal to eat or drink. Though your cat will have more than one of these symptoms, you may not see all of them. Their condition may also improve very suddenly, but do not let this fool you into thinking your furry friend is all better. Veterinary attention is still recommended if you see some or all of these symptoms at any point.

There are no easy answers with kidney failures, as different symptoms may appear at different times. These symptoms may also indicate other illnesses, which is why early diagnosis, disease management and clear communication with your vet are critical to prognosis.

When it comes to symptoms of kidney failure in cats, which stage they are in will factor heavily into his or her prognosis. While chronic kidney disease cannot be cured, your cat’s longevity and quality of life can improve with early detection, diagnosis and treatment.

How is kidney failure in cats treated?

When treating kidney failure in cats, our vets' goal is to slow the progression of the disease and manage their symptoms. Depending on the signs and stage of the disease, treatment options can include medication to manage nausea, supplements to correct low potassium levels, vitamin injections, IV fluids to correct dehydration, and more.

Beyond treatment to recover, cats with end stage kidney failure can be nursed in their final days. This will mean keeping them warm and comfortable with food, water and a litter box nearby, as well as lots of quiet human companionship to let them know you’re there.

If your cat is experiencing pain or having seizures, or is vomiting regularly and soiling itself, you may want to discuss with your vet whether to consider euthanization. Though this is understandably scary and difficult, if all other treatment methods have failed, it may be time.

Our Middlesex vets are experienced in treating many conditions and illnesses in cats. 

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.

Is your cat showing signs of kidney disease or other serious illness? Book an appointment with us to get them help as soon as possible.