How long can cats live with kidney failure?
Cat Health and Wellness

How Long Can Cats Live with Kidney Failure?

Kidney disease leads to renal failure, a leading cause of mortality in cats. It often begins to manifest in middle age, making older cats far more at risk. Any cat can suffer from acute kidney failure, which is usually caused by the consumption of poisons.

Acute renal failure can be reversed if treated early enough. Similarly, discovering chronic kidney disease at its very onset will prolong a cat’s life. With lifestyle changes and treatment, cats can live as long as a decade with kidney disease. Once the kidneys completely fail, unfortunately, the cat usually has months, not years, left to live.

If your cat has kidney disease, renal failure will eventually end its life. You can prolong your cat’s time with the right treatments. Identify the condition early by attending regular check-ups for blood and urine tests. If you wait for symptoms to manifest, it may be too late to save your cat.

Is Kidney Failure Common in Cats?

It is estimated that this condition ends the life of one in three cats.

The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery stated that kidney disease is among the most common health ailments in cats.

Senior cats are most at risk. By the time a cat reaches 10, its kidneys will start to struggle. It isn’t only older cats that can experience kidney failure, though. Kittens can be born with hereditary kidney issues.

There are two types of kidney failure that affect felines:

  • Acute renal failure comes on almost immediately
  • Chronic renal failure is a slow breakdown of the kidneys

These issues must be dealt with in different ways. The prognosis varies depending on the cause of the issue, and how quickly action is taken.

Acute Renal Failure

Acute renal failure sees your cat’s kidneys cease to function without warning. This can happen to any cat. Breed, age, and sex play no role in the risk. Common causes of acute renal failure include:

  • Consumption of toxins
  • Bites from toxic animals (i.e. snakes)
  • Trauma to the bladder or pelvis
  • Shock
  • Severe dehydration
  • Low blood pressure
  • Blockages to the kidneys
  • Low blood pressure caused by clots

If your cat has acute renal failure, it must be treated immediately. Captured early enough, the issue can be reversed and the kidneys will recover. If not acknowledged, acute kidney failure can end a cat’s life within days.

Chronic Renal Failure

Chronic kidney failure is a slower process. It is often caused by wear and tear on your cat’s organs. Minor kidney blockages can gradually take a toll.

A young, healthy cat in the prime of its life enjoys 100% kidney efficiency. Over time, kidney function will drop steadily.

A cat can function with as little as 25% renal efficiency. This why chronic kidney disease can be a slow, creeping concern.

Kidney failure can also be brought on by secondary medical concerns. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Hypertension
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Cancer
  • Advanced periodontal disease

It is rare for any cat beyond middle age to avoid some renal failure. Treating the issue early improves the chances of managing kidney disease.

Symptoms of Feline Kidney Failure

Be mindful of the symptoms of acute or chronic renal failure. The symptoms can also be confused with those of other illnesses. The warning signs include:

  • Constant urination, especially if outside the litter box
  • Regular urinary tract infections
  • Cloudy or blood-spotted urine
  • Loss of appetite and associated weight loss
  • Foul breath with an ammonia scent
  • Ulcers on the mouth, gums, and tongue
  • Discoloration on the tongue (usually brown)
  • Muscle weakness
  • Seizures

Early-onset chronic kidney disease can be difficult to spot. It does not always present symptoms. Take a senior cat for regular check-ups to ensure kidneys are functioning. Once your cat’s age reaches double figures, it should be reviewed twice-annually.

Vets will take urine and blood samples to test for kidney disease. Scans, including x-rays and ultrasounds, may also be run. If results are inconclusive, a vet will take a tissue sample and perform a biopsy.

caring for a cat with chronic kidney disease

How Long Does a Cat Live with Kidney Disease?

There is no cure for kidney disease. The best that any cat owner can do is manage the condition. This will increase a cat’s lifespan and improve its quality of life.

Prognosis of Acute Feline Kidney Failure

The Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine reviewed 132 cases of acute feline kidney failure. Of these 132 cats, just 55 survived. The remaining 77 died, either naturally or through necessary euthanasia.

The earlier acute kidney failure is captured, the better the chances of helping the cat. Unlike a chronic renal disease, acute kidney failure can be reversed. It is critical that help is found before the kidneys become irreversibly damaged.

Acute renal failure is addressed by flushing out the kidneys with intravenous fluids. This is known as diuresis. Diuresis removes any toxins and stimulates the kidney cells.

If successful, the kidneys will begin functioning again as standard. Think of diuresis as the kidney equivalent of restarting the heart with a defibrillator. The organs need encouragement to recommence their work.

There is no strict rule about how long a cat will live following acute kidney failure. Some cats will make a full, immediate recovery. This is likeliest if the issue is captured almost immediately.

If permanent damage has been caused to the kidneys, the prognosis will be more guarded. Your cat will need to undertake a range of lifestyle changes. With appropriate management and follow-up care, cats can live for several years after acute kidney failure.

Prognosis of Chronic Feline Kidney Failure

Chronic kidney disease is divided into four stages. Stages I and II are referred to as renal insufficiency.

At this stage, the concern is not life-threatening. If action is taken at this stage, progression to stages III and IV will be delayed. Stages III and IV are unfortunately terminal.

The Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine ran another study on cats with chronic kidney disease. In this case, the survival rates were:

  • Stage II renal failure – maximum 3,107 days, median 1,151 days
  • Stage III renal failure – maximum 2,100 days, median 778 days
  • Stage IV renal failure – maximum 1,920 days, median 103

Capturing chronic renal failure early can add several years to a cat’s life. Catch it at stage one and your cat could like a decade longer. You’ll just need to make some changes to diet and lifestyle.

Unfortunately, a cat will not display symptoms at the early phases of kidney disease. Only scans and health checks will reveal the warnings. By the time your cat is showing symptoms of kidney disease, you’ll need to prepare for the worst.

Survival is not only about chronology. You must also take your cat’s quality of life into consideration. When a cat is sick with kidney disease, it may begin to suffer. Your vet may recommend euthanasia as the kindest option in late-stage renal failure.

Stage I Renal Failure – Early Kidney Insufficiency

Stage I renal failure will display no symptoms. This sets in once a cat reaches middle age. Your cat’s kidneys could be functioning as low as 33%, or as high as 99%. The issue is impossible to spot with the naked eye.

Blood and urine tests will unveil the condition. This is why regular check-ups are so vital. The following are warning signs of Stage I renal failure:

  • A blood creatinine reading below 1.6
  • Low electrolytes, leading to dehydration
  • Excessive protein in the urine
  • Misshapen or shrunken kidneys (revealed in a scan)

A cat with stage I renal failure theoretically still has many years ahead of it. It can be years before the cat even reaches stage II. The process can be slowed even further by making some lifestyle changes.

Encourage your cat to stay hydrated. The more water your cat drinks, the less work the kidneys will have to do. This will slow down the deterioration of these pivotal organs. Most cats will happily lap from a water fountain. If not, add tuna juice or chicken broth to your cat’s water bowl.

You will also need to replace any lost electrolytes. You could try offering your cat Gatorade, which contains electrolytes. Many cats will reject the sweet taste of this drink, though. It can also cause tooth decay, potentially worsening your cat’s kidney issues.

Electrolyte supplements from a pet store are a safer option. Discuss which brand and dosage is best with a vet.

You will need to amend your cat’s diet. A vet may prescribe specialist food or recommend a particular brand. Cats with stage I renal failure need less protein and phosphorus in their diet. This will keep your cat’s kidneys healthier for longer.

stages of kidney failure in cats

Stage II Renal Failure – Late-Stage Kidney Insufficiency

When a cat reaches stage II, its kidneys are operating at a maximum efficiency of 33%.  Your cat is edging ever closer to the dangerous level of 25%. More changes will be needed to slow down this inevitability.

This level of renal failure displays limited physical symptoms. Your cat may drink a little more water and struggle to control its bladder.

The Journal of Veterinary Medical Science also links stage II renal failure to hypertension. Blood creatinine levels will read between 1.6 and 3.0.

A cat with stage II renal failure must eat a specialist diet. This will be engineered to sustain the life of damaged kidneys for as long as possible. The food will be low in protein and high in electrolytes and fatty acids.

There is one unfortunate side effect of kidney-specific diets. Some cats experience symptoms of nausea when eating this food. This can make the cat reluctant to eat. Speak to a vet about an anti-nausea medication to control this. Your cat needs to eat to stay healthy.

Sadly, no matter how many adjustments you make, stage I renal failure will eventually lead to stage II. If you reacted quickly to stage I, this could take years. Act with equal haste when addressing stage II. You could add several more happy years to your cat’s life.

Stage III Renal Failure – Early Kidney Failure

When a cat reaches stage III of renal failure, it is dying. Kidney performance has dropped below 25%. This does not necessarily mean the end is imminent. Some cats survive for two or three years with regular, aggressive treatment.

At stage III renal failure, kidneys are no longer performing their duties in a cat’s body. This is when you will start to notice unmistakable symptoms. Your cat’s health will visibly deteriorate, and increasingly urgent action will be required.

To survive and thrive, a cat with stage III renal failure will require regular diuresis treatment. This will see fluids injected between the cat’s shoulders every other day. The cat may also be prescribed steroids to improve blood flow around the kidneys.

A cat with stage III renal failure will also require a number of supplements. Protein binders, anti-nausea medications, and appetite stimulants may all be required to keep your cat alive for longer.

This is where you need to start making tough choices. Constant diuresis is costly and time-consuming. The steroids your vet prescribes will also have side effects. Many cats undergo personality changes, and the prescribed drugs can cause liver damage.

Stage IV Renal Failure – End-Stage Kidney Failure

By stage IV, all you can do is make your cat as comfortable as possible. The kidneys have almost completely failed.

The cat is unlikely to live longer than a few months, no matter how aggressive the treatment. Start preparing yourself for the end. It may be more humane to arrange for the cat to pass away with dignity.

Regular checks of an older cat’s blood and urine will reveal any signs of renal failure. Heed these warnings and make the necessary lifestyle changes. This will maximize the length of your cat’s life.