Donate Sponsor

Kidney disease is one of the most common problems in middle-aged and older cats. Although there is no cure for kidney damage, early detection is key, and various treatments can help slow the progression of your cat’s illness. Learn more about the symptoms, prevention and management of the disease.

What is kidney disease in cats?

The kidneys are responsible for filtering waste products out of the blood to form urine and play an important part in keeping your cat healthy. Feline kidney disease occurs when kidneys stop functioning properly impairing their ability to remove waste products from the blood. Generally, it’s categorised into two types:

  • chronic kidney disease (CKD). It comes on gradually and it’s a long-term disease of the kidneys. It’s often seen in cats over seven years old, or those with inherited defects especially in certain pedigree cats such as Persians or Abyssinians
  • acute kidney failure. It refers to sudden damage to the kidney or kidneys which can rapidly become fatal. Despite treatment, a cat with acute kidney disease may then go on to suffer from chronic kidney disease

Signs and symptoms of kidney disease in cats

Most cats do not show any symptoms of chronic kidney disease until their kidneys have already been severely damaged. Signs can vary through different stages of kidney disease, but the most common ones are:

A lot of the potential symptoms of kidney disease in cats could be caused by other conditions, so it’s important to get them checked out with the vet as soon as you notice something is wrong.

Causes of kidney disease in cats

In most cases of chronic kidney disease, it can be difficult to know what causes it as it can occur due to the natural ageing process or unknown underlying causes. Some of the potential causes can include:

Acute kidney disease in cats can often be caused by:

Diagnosing cat kidney disease

Your vet will test your cat’s blood and urine for high levels of waste products that should normally be kept within safe levels by healthy kidneys. 

Many vets will try to diagnose kidney disease in its early stages, before clinical signs develop, by offering cat owners the option of urine and blood tests for their older cats at routine check-ups or vaccinations. 

Early diagnosis and treatment may significantly extend an affected cat’s life expectancy and quality of life, so it’s important to take your cat to the vet as soon as you notice something is different, especially in older cats.

How kidney disease in cats is treated

Treatment depends on the stage of kidney disease your cat has and the signs shown, it may include:

  • fluid therapy. To help replace lost salts and water
  • medication. Such as long-term oral medication or injections to stimulate appetite and slow weight loss
  • renal diet. A prescribed diet to manage the disease and limit further kidney damage
  • increasing water intake. To support their kidneys and prevent dehydration
  • supplements. Your vet may prescribe a supplement to bind phosphate in your cat’s food
  • managing blood pressure. Kidneys are closely involved in regulating the body’s blood pressure, so your cat may need regular blood pressure checks and possibly medication to help manage their blood pressure

Following the initial treatment, your cat is likely to be prescribed a special kidney diet for the rest of their life and may also need medication. It’s important to get them used to their new diet gradually. If unsure of how to do it, ask your vet for advice and check out our guide about feeding your cat.

Your cat will also have to be observed for any changes in eating, drinking and urinating.

Regular check-ups with the vet and further blood, urine and blood pressure tests will be beneficial to monitor the progression of the disease.

Preventing kidney problems in cats

To help protect your cat from getting acute kidney failure, the best you can do is to limit your cat’s exposure to toxins (especially lilies that are extremely toxic to kidneys) and make regular vet check-up appointments once or twice a year. Find out more about toxic substances and how to spot the signs of poisoning in cats.

While it may not be possible to completely prevent your cat from getting chronic kidney disease, there are steps you can take to maintain the overall health of your cat's kidneys.

  • Increase water intake. Make sure to keep their water bowl filled with fresh water at all times. Read our tips on getting your cat to drink more water
  • Feed wet cat food. If your cat is fussy about drinking more water, give them moisture-rich food to ensure they take in more fluids. For cats that will only eat dry food, try adding a little water to it if your cat would accept this
  • Keep the litter box clean. Having a dirty litter box may discourage your cat from urinating in it, so it’s important to clean it regularly and have it placed in a quiet spot with litter comfortable for your cat
  • Maintain their healthy weight. Overweight cats are more prone to get diabetes which can potentially lead to kidney disease. Make sure your cat’s diet is balanced and that they get enough exercise. Read more about obesity in cats

Is kidney disease in cats painful?

As with many illnesses, including kidney disease, cats are good at hiding signs of pain and it may not be obvious to understand if they’re in pain or discomfort. However, the associated symptoms with the disease can cause your cat to experience overall discomfort. 

In acute kidney failure, they may cry constantly or collapse because of the significant pain caused by the swelling of the kidneys. At the end stage of kidney failure, you might notice your cat has an arched back or has weak back legs and trouble walking. 

Your vet should advise you on what you can do for your cat with kidney failure to make them more comfortable.

What’s the life expectancy for cats with chronic kidney disease?

Kidney disease can be a challenging disease for both cats and their owners to manage. But depending on the severity of the kidney damage, with regular monitoring, correct medication and treatment, many cats with kidney disease can go on to lead long and happy lives. 

Sadly, however, the health of cats with the condition deteriorates over time, but learning to spot the signs and early intervention are most important. 

How do you know when to put a cat down with kidney disease?

Determining when to euthanise a cat with kidney failure is a sensitive and difficult decision. 

In cases where kidney damage is extensive and treatment does not help, it is important to consider your cat's overall quality of life. Important considerations may include persistent discomfort, refusal to eat, severe weight loss, and inability to control basic bodily functions. 

Communicate regularly with your vet as they can assess your cat's condition and provide guidance.

Putting your cat to sleep is a very hard decision. If you feel you need support or someone to listen to your worries, our free Paws to Listen grief support service can provide you with a sympathetic ear at this difficult time. Find out more about our Paws to Listen service.

Find a Cat
About us