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Kidney Disease in Cats

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Kidneys are important organs. They are most famous for filtering out waste from the bloodstream to make urine, but they also help produce hormones, manage fluid and salt levels in the body, control blood pressure, and develop red blood cells. Because of all these important jobs, it can be critical if your cat’s kidneys begin to fail. Kidney problems in cats can appear in any breed, size, and age, so it’s essential to keep an eye out for possible complications.

Cats and Kidney Disease

Kidney disease is a common kidney issue in cats and one of the top causes of death. There are two types of kidney disease, which are identified as chronic and acute. So, what causes kidney disease in cats?

Chronic Kidney Disease

As the name suggests, this type of kidney disease occurs because of a chronic or long-standing issue with the kidneys that interferes with their ability to function correctly. There are a number of potential causes for chronic kidney disease, including:

  • Kidney tumors
  • Viral or bacterial infections
  • Prolonged inflammation of parts of the kidneys
  • Exposure to toxins or certain drugs
  • Birth defects that affect the kidneys
  • Trauma to the kidneys

While any cat can develop chronic kidney disease, it’s more common in older cats—especially seven years of age or older. There are also some veterinary experts who believe it is more prevalent in Persian and Abyssinian cats. Chronic kidney disease can’t be reversed or cured, but treatment can slow or halt its progression and extend the cat’s life.

Acute Kidney Disease

The acute form of kidney failure is a severe condition with a more sudden onset than the chronic type. It’s often due to a blockage of blood or urine flow to or from the kidney. Another common cause is ingesting a toxic substance that affects the kidneys, such as human medication, a harmful plant, or antifreeze.

Younger cats are more likely to have acute rather than chronic kidney failure. Unlike the chronic type, it can potentially be cured, and damage to the kidneys might be reversed if caught early and treated quickly.

Symptoms of Kidney Disease in Cats

It can be challenging to detect kidney disease in its initial stages, particularly since cats tend to hide or mask their symptoms (learn more by reading 5 Signs Your Cat is Sick). However, you can look out for these signs of kidney disease in cats to help detect kidney issues:

  • Drinking more than usual
  • Increased urination, which can be recognized by more frequent trips to the litter box or the need to scoop the litter box more often
  • Loss of appetite, which can result in weight loss
  • Bad breath
  • Poor grooming
  • Vomiting

Some of these signs can point to other health issues, like diabetes, so it’s essential to visit your veterinarian for an accurate diagnosis. And remember that early intervention can help your cat live a longer life.

American shorthair cat sleeping on the floor

Diagnosis and Cat Kidney Disease Treatment

To diagnose kidney disease, your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and likely order blood work and a urinalysis. These diagnostic tests can help determine if your cat does indeed have kidney disease and how far it has progressed. They may also be used to help uncover the cause of kidney disease, which may not always be detectable.

In cases where it is caught early and the specific cause is determined, treatment may be able to halt the progression of the disease. Your veterinarian will determine what’s suitable for your cat’s situation. Still, treatment for kidney disease in cats can include antibiotics if there is an underlying infection and intravenous fluid therapy for rehydration to help balance electrolytes.

Medications may be prescribed, although it can be tough to administer them to a finicky feline (see tips to get your cat to take a pill). In addition, a restricted diet may be recommended, not to cure the kidney disease but to slow it down and improve the cat’s quality of life. Cats with kidney disease should also be monitored regularly by their veterinarians to treat symptoms or complications as they come up.

Another form of treatment for this disease is a transplant. Kidney transplants have been successfully performed in some countries, but this surgery is controversial. There are ethical questions over where and how donor’s kidneys are found. It’s also not known if a cat with a new kidney will survive longer than one who is given good supportive medical care.

8 Tips to Prevent Kidney Disease in Cats

There is no surefire way to prevent kidney disease, but there are some things you can do to help reduce the chance that your feline friend will be afflicted. For example:

  1. Remove potentially toxic plants.
    Make sure your cat can’t get at any plants that could damage the kidneys. You can find a searchable list of dangerous flora at the website of the ASPCA® Animal Poison Control Center (APCC). Lilies, in particular, can be very harmful if ingested by a cat. Make sure you check any flower arrangements that arrive at your house for Lilies before displaying them.
  2. Keep medications out of paw’s reach.
    Unfortunately, ingesting human medications is a common problem for pets. The APCC reported that nearly 20% of the calls they received were related to over-the-counter medicine in 2020. This category topped their list for the most common pet toxins, with human prescription medications coming in second. Store any medication securely and avoid leaving pill bottles on countertops where your cat can get at them or knock them over.
  3. Monitor the use of prescribed medication.
    Prescription medications can take a toll on your cat’s kidneys. If your cat is taking medication prescribed by your veterinarian, ask about the potential effects on the kidneys. Your veterinarian may recommend regular testing to monitor kidney health.
  4. Switch to pet-friendly antifreeze.
    Antifreeze can have a sweet and tempting taste to cats and other animals. Use a pet-friendly propylene glycol-based antifreeze rather than more toxic ethylene glycol antifreeze. Also, be sure to clean up any spills right away.
  5. Be careful with pesticides and rodenticides.
    If you are using these products to eliminate bugs or rodents in or around your home, be sure to read and follow the directions carefully. You should also consider not using them anywhere your cat spends time.
  6. Keep your cat indoors.
    Cats who roam freely outside can get into all sorts of trouble, including ingesting toxins that could cause kidney failure. Our strategic partner The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ® (ASPCA®) strongly recommends that all cats stay indoors to help them live longer and healthier lives.
  7. Visit the veterinarian regularly.
    Annual check-ups can help your veterinarian track your cat’s health and detect kidney issues or other illnesses that could affect the kidneys in the early stages.
  8. Maintain your cat’s weight.
    Obesity can have a negative impact on the kidneys. If your cat is obese or overweight, talk to your veterinarian about a healthy diet and weight loss plan.

While these tips can be useful, you can’t completely protect your cat from kidney disease or other illnesses. However, by taking some preventive steps and staying aware of the causes and symptoms of this common disease, you can help keep your feline friend as healthy as possible.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian

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