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Understanding Renal Failure In Cats

What Every Cat Owner Needs to Know

Acute renal failure and chronic renal failure are two health problems that 
commonly affect cats. Acute renal failure can affect cats at any age; 
emergency care is essential to treating this condition and saving a cat’s life. 
Chronic renal failure typically occurs in senior cats. According to the American 
Association of Feline Practitioners, 49% of all cats over the age of 15 are 
affected by chronic renal disease. With the diagnosis of kidney problems and 
renal failure in cats increasingly common, it is essential that cat owners learn 
the symptoms of this disease and how best to manage the disease.

Kidneys play a critical role in day-to-day functions. The kidneys remove 
metabolic waste from the blood stream, and produce vital hormones that 
help control blood pressure and stimulate red blood cell production.  The 
kidneys follow a complex system for managing and regulating waste; when 
this system breaks down, severe complications may occur to a cat’s other 
organs that can ultimately lead to death.

Acute Renal Failure

Acute renal failure is caused by a blockage in the blood flow to the kidneys 
or the urine away from the kidneys, or due to damage to the kidney tissue 
itself.  The most common cause for acute renal failure is the ingestion of 
toxic substances such as antifreeze, anti inflammatory drugs, or lilies.  When 
acute renal failure is detected and treated early, a full recovery is possible.  
Although many times the cat will have only a partial recovery from the acute 
crisis, and eventually go into chronic renal failure,

Chronic Renal Failure

Chronic renal failure is an incurable condition primarily affecting older cats. 
It is often the end-stage for other health problems, such as advanced dental 
disease or a kidney inflammation/obstruction. Thanks to veterinary care 
advancements, however, with early diagnosis and proper treatment, it is 
often possible to give the cat a good quality of life for many years.

Treatment for renal failure depends on the condition’s cause and severity. 
In the case of acute renal failure, if a kidney is blocked by an obstruction, it 
may be possible to surgically remove the blockage and correct the problem. 
For chronic renal failure, treatment focuses on diet, fluids, and medications 
to control secondary problems, such as high blood pressure and anemia that 
may occur.

There are many brands of diets made for kidney problems in the cat; all 
have a reduced amount of protein and phosphorus, and may have added 
potassium.  Talk to your veterinarian before changing your cat’s diet.

The main treatment for both kinds of kidney failure is fluids.  Hospitalization 
with intensive fluid therapy is required for acute kidney failure, and often also 
used for the more severe stage of chronic.  Once the cat is stabilized, many 
veterinarians will have you give fluids subcutaneously at home.  They will teach 
you how to give the special fluid under the skin.  Cats are surprisingly tolerant 
of this.

Other medications may include appetite stimulants, stomach acid reducers 
such as Pepcid, phosphate binders, potassium supplements, and injectable 
erythropoietin, which is used to stimulate red blood cell production in the 
anemic cat.  It is very common for cats with kidney problems to have high 
blood pressure, and therefore need hypertension medication. 

While kidney problems are very common in they cat, the disease can often 
be managed well for many years.

Sources: 
American Association of Feline Practitioners, “Feline Chronic Renal Disease.”
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, “Diagnosis: Kidney Disease.”



Could My Cat Have Kidney Failure?

Renal failure can occur in cats of any age, although senior cats are at 
increased risk for chronic renal failure. For both acute and chronic renal failure, 
early diagnosis can make a significant difference for a cat's long-term health 
prognosis.

As a cat owner, look out for the following symptoms of kidney problems in 
your cats:

•    Increased water consumption and urination, or greatly reduced water 
     consumption
•    Increased amount of urine in the litter box
•    Marked weight loss/loss of appetite
•    Vomiting

If you suspect that your pet is suffering from chronic or acute renal failure, 
contact your veterinarian. Your cat's life may depend upon it.

Veterinary Topics