Cats experience more health issues as they advance in years. Many senior felines lose the full use of internal organs. The most concerning problem is renal failure (kidney failure in cats.)
If captured early and treated appropriately, cats can live an additional five years or more. If the problem isn’t treated, kidney failure can be fatal within months. Take senior cats for regular veterinary check-ups.
We will be exploring the warning signs of kidney failure in cats, and the stages of the disease. The sooner your pet is diagnosed, the better their prognosis. While kidney failure is a terminal disease, medication and lifestyle changes can extend a cat’s life by several years.
What is Kidney Failure in Cats?
Kidney failure is a condition that causes your pet’s kidneys to cease to function appropriately. This is a severe problem, as the kidneys are critical to your cat’s health. The functions performed by a cat’s kidneys include:
- Removing waste from the body in the form of urine.
- Balancing electrolytes in the body.
- Absorbing nutrients from the blood and redistributing them around the body.
- Regulating blood pressure.
This means that, when cats experience kidney failure, their entire body starts to break down. Cats can be struck down with two different types of kidney failure. These are referred to as acute and chronic.
Acute kidney failure could happen to any cat, at any time. This condition involves the kidneys shutting down and failing without warning. This may happen over weeks, days, or even hours.
Acute kidney failure can be reversed if caught early enough. This is because acute kidney failure is usually the result of a particular incident.
Chronic kidney failure is harder to manage, and more common. This condition frequently affects senior cats, as the aging process takes its toll. Chronic kidney failure cannot be cured, or reversed.
When this condition takes hold, a vet will prescribe medications to slow it down where possible. All you can do is make your cat as comfortable as possible during their remaining time.
What are the Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Cats?
There are various symptoms associated with feline kidney failure. These include:
- Increased urination, especially outside the litter box. This suggests that your cat is struggling to hold water in their body.
- Increased, seemingly excessive, thirst. Your cat will be looking to replace the fluids they keep passing as urine.
- Loss of appetite, leading to sudden and chronic weight loss.
- General lethargy and muscle weakness.
- Regular, seemingly inexplicable, vomiting.
- Foul breath, particularly with an odor akin to ammonia.
- Ulcers in the mouth and on the tongue.
- Constant urinary tract infections.
- Unkempt and poorly-maintained fur.
- High blood pressure. Bloodshot eyes, a staggering gait, and bleeding from the nose are common symptoms of hypertension.
- Low body temperature. Anything below 100OF is considered low in felines.
We cannot stress enough that you must see a vet. Kidney disease will not clear itself up. Left untreated, it will rapidly worsen. With the help of medication, you can slow down the process.
What are the Stages of Chronic Kidney Failure in Cats?
Kidney failure in felines is divided into four core stages. All Feline Hospital offers insight into the progression of chronic kidney disease, but let’s summarize:
Stage 1 kidney failure is referred to as the loss of renal reserve. This is when the kidneys first start to struggle to perform. Your pet’s kidneys could be operating at anywhere from 33-99% at this stage.
Unfortunately, the warning signs of stage 1 kidney disease can be subtle and tricky to spot. This complication is magnified by the cat’s tendency to hide any signs of ill health.
Also, a cat’s kidneys only need to be operating at around 25% functionality to appear fine. This is why regular check-ups are essential for senior felines.
When a cat’s kidney disease reaches stage 2, their organs are struggling. This is referred to as renal failure and insufficiency.
Typically, kidneys operate at 15-25% functionality during stage 2 of the disease. This means that you will start to notice more of the symptoms. It can take several years for your cat to progress from stage 1 to stage 2.
The younger your cat is, the faster their kidney disease will progress. However, if the condition is captured at stage 2, life expectancy can be extended through medication. This could be months or years. It depends on how far into stage 2 the disease is.
Stage 3 is known as early kidney failure. By now, your cat will be exhibiting many of the previously profiled symptoms of kidney disease. You will have some crucial decisions to make at this point, as treatment will be aggressive.
Your vet will recommend treatments and medications, and side effects will be inevitable. As with stage 2, these will be designed to prolong your cat’s life. Again, the prognosis will vary between months and years. It depends on your cat’s general health.
Stage 4 is known as end-stage renal failure. By now, your cat’s kidneys will be functioning below 15%, and their condition will be terminal. Treatments may still be an option, but they’ll buy your cat months left at most.
Heartbreaking though the idea is, you may need to decide if it’s worth continuing treatment. Take professional advice at this juncture. A vet may suggest that it’s kinder to have your cat put to sleep. As difficult a decision as this is, you need to consider your pet’s quality of life.
What Causes Kidney Failure in Cats?
There are two types of kidney failure, and they each have different causes.
Acute kidney failure can usually be attributed to:
- Consumption of toxins or poisons.
- Internal body trauma, such as a burst pelvis or bladder.
- Shock leading to dramatic blood loss.
- Sudden dehydration, such as sunstroke.
- Infection to the kidneys through other illnesses or diseases.
- Blockages to the urethra, preventing the elimination of urine.
- Heart failure, usually as a result of high blood pressure (hypertension).
Acute kidney failure can strike any cat, or any age. As you will see from the causes listed, sickness or injury can be to blame. If you believe that your cat is suffering acute kidney failure, rush them to a vet. The earlier the diagnosis, the higher the probability of a successful outcome.
Chronic kidney failure, meanwhile, is usually a result of old age. This condition tends to appear in cats aged 7 years and over. Most often, kidney failure occurs through general wear-and-tear on your cat’s body.
As your cat lives their life, they’ll experience many health ailments and infections. These will be dealt with upon onset, but eventually, they take their toll on the kidneys. Eventually, these organs will not be able to perform their duties at the appropriate level.
Your senior cat’s general health will also determine the likelihood of chronic kidney disease. If your cat endures advanced, untreated dental problems, such as periodontal disease, the kidneys are impacted. High blood pressure, aka hypertension, also places a considerable burden on the kidneys.
If your pet is diagnosed with cancer, this will also attack their entire body. This will leave the kidneys working overtime, and take a toll on their performance.
As with acute kidney failure, any warning signs of chronic kidney disease must be immediately reviewed. Sadly, there is no cure. A vet will, however, be able to slow it down if caught early enough. Critically, this will make your pet more comfortable and extend their lifespan.
How is Kidney Failure in Cats Diagnosed?
When you take your cat to a vet with suspected kidney failure, a number of tests will be administered. They will perform a full physical examination.
This will be based upon the symptoms that we previously discussed. A professional, however, may recognize other conditions on sight that these can be attributed to.
A vet will run numerous other tests. These include:
- Blood tests. These will determine if your cat is anemic, or experience an excess of white blood cells. Blood tests can also determine hypertension, or the presence of any infectious diseases.
- Electrolyte testing. This will determine if your cat’s body has an appropriate balance of electrolytes.
- Urine tests. As the kidneys are closely linked with elimination, a lot can be determined from urine samples.
- X-rays and Ultrasounds. These will show the vet the shape and condition of your pet’s kidneys. The organs shrink and shrivel during chronic kidney failure. Your vet may also spot a blockage here, causing acute kidney failure.
- Thyroid tests. An overactive thyroid can lead to many symptoms that mirror those of kidney failure. Like chronic kidney failure, this ailment tends to impact upon senior felines.
It is advisable to have these tests conducted regularly. It may be expensive, but it’s cheaper than treating chronic kidney failure. A vet should examine cats aged 7 or over no less than twice a year.
How is Kidney Failure in Cats Treated?
Acute kidney disease must be treated promptly, and decisively. This is usually surgical. If the condition has been brought on by a blockage, this must be removed.
If your cat ate something toxic, an antidote would be administered. Dialysis can also reverse the condition, if caught early enough. There are risks involved with any of these treatments.
The final result, however, has a better prognosis. It’s also essential. If left untreated, acute kidney disease could end a cat’s life within 48 hours.
Treatments for cats with chronic kidney failure vary, depending on how advanced the disease is.
Stage 1 is typically treated at home. Try to encourage your cat to drink more water. This will reduce the burden on the kidneys.
Any lost electrolytes should also be replaced. This can be done through supplements. Concentrate on potassium, calcium and phosphorous at this stage.
Seek the advice of a vet before offering your cat supplements, though. Any of these minerals can be consumed to excess, and have adverse health connotations.
Stage 2 is also primarily treated at home, but this involves a change in diet. Kidney diets are designed to protect the compromised organ.
This means they are easily digestible and lower in protein. Your cat may be reluctant to eat during stage 2 kidney failure, though. This is because they will be feeling nauseous, and will potentially struggle to keep food down. An anti-nausea medication prescribed by a vet will help with this.
When your cat reaches stage 3, veterinary treatment is essential. This will involve the addition of intravenous fluids, usually every other day.
This dilutes your pet’s blood, reducing the workload of the kidneys. Also, several medications will be potentially available to your pet.
The most impactful of these is Stanozolol, a steroid that increases blood flow. This drug, available as a capsule or liquid, can years to a cat’s life. However, not all cats can tolerate it.
Stanozolol can impact on the liver, and the side effects sometimes include personality changes. Other drugs may also be used to prolong your cat’s life.
These include appetite stimulants to ensure appropriate eating, and protein binders to reduce the kidneys’ workload.
By the time a cat reaches stage 4, little more can be done. A vet will discuss your options for you. Your cat may have another month or two left. This means that the advice will focus on the quality of life, not quantity.
Allow your cat to eat whatever they like, and maybe misbehave a little. Stage 4 is about making your cat as comfortable as possible toward the end.
How Much Does Kidney Failure in Cats Cost to Treat?
Kidney disease can be a very expensive condition to treat. The cost could run as high as $35,000. When we consider the treatments, this is hardly surprising. Fees for consultations, tests, IV drips, surgery, and medication prescriptions create a very high price tag.
Pet insurance cannot be recommended highly enough for senior cats. If you notify your insurer of your cat’s condition, they will significantly reduce your financial burden.
If you do not have pet insurance and your cat has kidney disease, you’ll struggle. Veterinarians will do what they can, but treating the condition pro bono won’t be an option.
The Humane Society of America lists charities that may be able to help. Insurance, however, will remove any of the risks involved.
How Long Can a Cat Live with Untreated Kidney Failure?
A cat with acute kidney failure left untreated could die within 48 hours. Chronic kidney failure takes considerably longer. Your cat’s quality of life will drastically diminish during this time, though.
Stage 1 of renal failure can last for several years. There is little treatment required during this period. Even when a cat reaches stage 2, they may have a few years ahead of them.
By the time stage 3 arrives, however, medication is necessary. Failing to treat kidney failure at this point means that you may pass on within months.
It is inadvisable to allow kidney failure to continue untreated at stage 3 and beyond. Not only does stage 4 denote terminal illness, but your cat will be in significant pain.
It is not something that anybody likes to think about, but choices must be made. If your cat doesn’t respond to medication, or you cannot provide it, euthanasia may be necessary.
Can Cats Have Kidney Transplants?
In theory, felines are capable of undergoing kidney transplants. Most cats have Type A blood, so compatible donors are comparatively easy to find. Cats can also function perfectly well with one working kidney.
The founder of the feline transplant program at PennVet claims that 93% of transplants are successful. What’s more, 70% of cats live for at least another year. There are many restrictions and caveats to this process, though.
- It’s very expensive. The cost of the surgery is typically around $18,000 – more if there are complications.
- The recipient of the kidney will need to remain on lifelong anti-rejection medications. These may have side effects, and can be very costly. Expect to pay upwards of $100 per month.
- The donor cat must be adopted or permanently rehomed. This is an ASPCA-approved policy, designed to prevent healthy cats from being euthanized for their organs.
If you have the means, kidney donation could be an avenue worth exploring for your pet. Some insurers may even cover the cost of the operation. Just ensure that your expectations are managed appropriately. A transplant operation is a lot for any cat to go through.
What is the Best Food for Cats with Kidney Disease?
Cats with kidney disease will need to follow a specific diet. This becomes critical in caring for a cat with chronic kidney disease from stage 2 onward.
There are three main components to a kidney diet, as the Feline Nutrition Foundation explains:
- Hydration. Drinking water helps replace fluid lost through kidney dysfunction. Your cat should also seek hydration through their food, though.
- Digestible Protein. Large amounts of protein can be hard for a cat with kidney failure to digest. Protein remains essential, but should be delivered in manageable amounts. Fat should replace some of this protein.
- Low Phosphorous Content. Phosphorous is an essential mineral, but to much make cats sick. If kidneys are not functioning appropriately, they cannot filter out excess phosphorous as urine.
The safest way to manage a cat’s kidney diet is to purchase a special, renal-friendly food. Most reputable brands have kidney-friendly cat food, available in any good pet store.
Some of the most popular options include:
- Hill’s Prescription Diet Feline K/D
- Royal Canin Veterinary Diet Feline Renal
- Purina Veterinary Diet Feline NF
- Eukanuba Cat Veterinary Diet Renal Formula
Just because a cat is on a kidney diet, it doesn’t need to be plain. Renal-friendly foods are available with the same choices as other, traditional cat food.
Kibble and wet food will be available, though wet food is preferable. Your pet is more likely to gain hydration from such a source. Your cat will also have a range of flavors available to suit their palate.
As no two cats are the same, there is no such thing as a ‘best food’ for your pet, however. The ideal food for your cat depends upon how far their kidney failure has progressed.
Your vet will also be able to advise on any necessary supplements. Essential fats, such as Omega-3 and Omega-6, may be beneficial to your cat’s health.
A cat living with kidney disease is a cat with a severe health concern. In many respects, as soon as a diagnosis is made, the clock starts ticking. How long your cat has left depends on how you proceed.
You don’t need to panic immediately. Always monitor a senior cat’s health. A check-up could be the difference between five years of life and five months.
If kidney failure is captured early, and cats respond to treatment, they can live for several years. Perhaps more importantly, they can live several good years. Caring for a cat with kidney disease requires a little more effort. Your cat will repay this by staying with you for longer.