chronic kidney disease in cats

What is Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats?

What is it?

Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a progressive condition affecting the kidneys’ ability to function correctly. It occurs when the kidneys can no longer filter waste and excess fluids from the blood effectively. CKD can lead to various cat health problems, so early detection and management are crucial.

How is it Treated?

The treatment of CKD in cats typically involves prescription diets, medications, fluid therapy, monitoring, and management of complications. The goal is to slow the progression of the disease, manage symptoms, and maintain a good quality of life for the cat. Treatment is individualized and requires ongoing care and monitoring by a veterinarian.

Breed Predispositions

Persian Siamese Abyssinian Burmese Maine Coon Russian Blue Himalayan Devon Rex


When Sarah noticed her Siamese cat, Whiskers, displaying unusual symptoms like increased thirst, weight loss, and poor coat condition, she became increasingly worried about her feline friend’s health. Seeking answers, she brought Whiskers to the veterinarian for a thorough examination. After running several tests, the veterinarian diagnosed Whiskers with chronic kidney disease, a common and progressive illness in cats.

Kidneys filter waste products from the blood and produce urine. They also help regulate body temperature, maintain fluid balance, and control blood pressure. In addition, the kidneys work together with the liver and pancreas to remove toxins from the body.

If the kidneys fail to function correctly, wastes accumulate in the bloodstream, and fluids become too concentrated. This condition is called chronic kidney disease in cats. CKD causes serious health problems, including heart failure, stroke, and death.

There are many different types of CKD. Some cause no clinical signs until the advanced stages. Others may be diagnosed early when there are only mild signs or symptoms.

There are two types of kidney failure: acute and chronic. Acute CKD develops rapidly and is often fatal. Chronic CKD takes longer to progress and is generally much milder.

  • Acute kidney failure is a sudden loss of renal function, usually when critical kidney damage occurs. AKI is any condition characterized by rapid deterioration of kidney function resulting in increased creatinine levels in blood and urine. The most common causes of AKI include sepsis, shock, trauma, certain medications, and dehydration. It is estimated that around 1 million people develop AKI yearly in the United States alone.

The term “acute” refers to the short duration of the illness. In contrast, chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a long-term disorder of the kidneys. CKD is diagnosed when the glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which measures how well your kidneys filter waste from your blood, falls below 60 ml per minute. This means that you have less than 60% of normal kidney function.

  • Chronic Kidney Failure is a condition where your cat’s kidneys don’t work correctly. It happens when your cat has problems filtering waste products from your blood. Waste products include extra fluid, protein, and potassium. Your cat’s body doesn’t get rid of these wastes fast enough, so they build up inside the body. This buildup causes damage to your cat’s organs and tissues. Over time this damage can lead to serious health problems such as heart failure, stroke, and even death.

Causes of Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats

Cats develop chronic kidney disease (CKD) when their kidneys fail to filter waste properly out of their blood. This leads to the accumulation of toxins and fluid in the body. Veterinarians have estimated that 20%-50% of older cats may have some form of chronic kidney disease (CKD).

There are many reasons why cats develop CKD. Some common ones include:

  1. Cats’ most common cause of chronic kidney disease (CKD) is obesity. Obese cats may be prone to diabetes, hypertension, and heart problems. They also risk developing CKD because they eat too many calories.
  2. Another major factor contributing to CKD in cats isdiabetes mellitus. Diabetic cats often develop hyperglycemia, which leads to excessive urination and dehydration. Over time, this may lead to damage to the kidneys.
  3. High dietary sodium intake contributes to CKD in cats. Sodium is found naturally in table salt, processed foods, and canned cat foods. However, many commercial pet foods contain far too much sodium. Too much sodium can lead to water retention and hypertension.
  4. Consider switching brands if you feed your cat a diet containing excess sodium. Look for a brand with no added sodium and only fresh, whole foods for your cat.
  5. Another factor that causes chronic kidney disease (CKD) in cats is hypercholesterolemia. Hypercholesterolemia occurs when there is too much cholesterol circulating roughly in the blood. This excess cholesterol causes damage to the kidneys and eventually leads to CKD.
  6. High-cholesterol diets are associated with CKD in cats. However, not every cat fed a diet rich in cholesterol develops CKD. Some cats develop CKD because of genetic factors. Infection may be another factor, too. 

Symptoms of Feline Kidney Failure

Cats with chronic kidney disease (CKD) usually show symptoms early in life. These include vomiting, diarrhea, weight loss due to poor appetite, lethargy, and depression. The most common clinical sign is vomiting. Cats may repeatedly vomit throughout the day. They may also vomit blood.

Other signs include lack of appetite, weakness, and dehydration. Some cats develop kidney failure, which leads to death.

Symptoms of Feline Kidney Failure

Diagnosis of Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats

If your cat shows any of these symptoms, he should be checked out by his veterinarian. The vet will perform blood tests to determine any underlying cause for the problem.

Blood Testing

This is the most reliable and accurate way to diagnose Chronic Kidney Disease. The American Society of Veterinary Clinical Pathology recommends performing a complete blood count (CBC), serum biochemistry panel, urinalysis, and urine protein/creatinine ratio (UPC).

Your vet will use a needle to draw blood from your cat’s vein to perform these tests. Blood samples will be sent to a laboratory where technicians analyze them. Results usually take several days to return.

Once the results return, your vet will review them with you and discuss any treatment options.

Your vet may recommend additional testing, including urine analysis, x-rays, ultrasound, and biopsy.

Urine Analysis

The urine test is a simple test used to diagnose cat kidney disease. The test involves collecting urine samples from your cat and analyzing them for protein content and specific gravity. This information helps determine whether your cat has any kidney disease.

X-ray Imaging

It is a standard diagnostic tool used to detect diseases in animals. X-rays pass through body tissues and allow doctors to view internal structures.

Cats are no different than dogs when it comes to diagnosing kidney problems. They both require blood tests and urinalysis to determine whether there is any kidney damage.

However, cats’ kidneys are not visible during an ultrasound exam. Therefore, veterinarians use radiographs (x-rays) to examine them.

When performing a radiograph, the cat must be sedated. This allows the veterinarian to place the cat inside a machine that exposes the animal to radiation. The machine takes pictures of the cat’s organs, including its kidneys.

Ultrasound Technology

This is widely used to detect kidney problems in dogs and cats. Ultrasounds use sound waves to create pictures of internal organs. The technique is safe and painless, and there are no side effects.

However, ultrasounds aren’t perfect at detecting small tumors, cysts, and stones. So, when ultrasonography fails to reveal abnormalities, veterinarians may resort to other diagnostic tests, including blood work and urinalysis.


A biopsy is a medical procedure where tissue samples are removed from a patient for examination. Biopsies are commonly performed to determine whether cancerous cells exist within the body.

To confirm a diagnosis of CKD, veterinarians perform a renal biopsy, which involves removing a small piece of tissue from the cat’s kidney. This sample is examined under a microscope to detect signs of inflammation, infection, or neoplasia.

Treatment for Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats

Treatment for Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats

Treatment for CKD depends on the cause. Treatment may involve medications, dietary changes, surgery, dialysis, or transplantation.

  • Dietary Changes

Cats with CKD often have problems regulating their water balance. As a result, they drink too much and urinate frequently. To prevent dehydration, your cat should be fed a diet low in protein and sodium.

A commercial food formulated specifically for cats with CKD is available. Be sure to feed this diet for several days before beginning any treatment.

  • Medications

Medication is used to treat certain conditions associated with CKD. These include anti-inflammatory drugs, diuretics, antibiotics, and analgesics.

Anti-inflammatories are used to control pain and inflammation caused by CKD. Diuretics are prescribed to decrease urine output and prevent further accumulation of fluids in the body. Antibiotics are given to kill bacteria that may cause infections. Analgesics are used to relieve discomfort.

  • Dialysis

Dialysis is used to replace lost fluids and nutrients in the blood. It involves removing toxic materials from your cat’s blood using a hemodialyzer filter.

This procedure requires frequent visits to the veterinarian.

  • Surgery

Surgery is sometimes necessary to correct complications resulting from CKD. For example, surgical blockage removal may be required if your cat has developed urethral obstruction due to bladder swelling.

Other surgeries may correct spine, hips, knees, or feet abnormalities.

Prevention and Management of Kidney Diseases in Cats

There are several ways to prevent kidney disease in cats.

  • Limit your cat’s intake of red meats. Red meat causes kidney disease in cats. This is because the kidneys filter blood from toxins and waste products.

When there is too much protein in your cat’s diet, this extra protein can damage their kidneys. This damage can lead to chronic kidney failure.

  • Feed your cat a diet rich in antioxidants, including green vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids. A diet rich in antioxidants helps cats with kidney disease because they contain many essential nutrients for our health.

Antioxidants are molecules that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms or molecules that cause cell damage when they react with everyday body chemicals.

They are produced naturally during metabolism, and in some cases, such as exposure to radiation, tobacco smoke, pollution, or certain medications, they can increase in numbers.

  • You protect your cat from toxins, such as cleaning chemicals, household cleaners, and pesticides. However, toxins can accumulate in your cat’s system over time.

If you notice your cat licking himself excessively, vomiting, or having diarrhea, contact your vet immediately.

  • Give your cat plenty of exercises, especially during warm weather when he needs to cool down. Exercise helps his body eliminate toxins through urination. 
  • Make sure they get enough water. Cats should drink at least 1 cup (24 ounces) of water daily. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any changes in their behavior, such as drinking less than usual, vomiting, or losing weight. 
  • Avoid giving your cat foods containing high levels of phosphorus. Phosphorus is an essential mineral in your cat’s body’s bones, teeth, and other parts. Too much phosphorus can build up in your cat’s bloodstream and cause kidney stones.

Phosphorous also contributes to calcium buildup in soft tissues, which can result in bone spurs on your cat’s joints.

  • Be aware of signs of kidney disease in your cat. These include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, weight loss, excessive drinking, and urination outside the litter box. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your veterinarian right away.

Frequently Asked Questions

The average lifespan of cats is 12 years. The average life expectancy of a cat with CKD is ten years. Cats with CKD usually die from complications such as infection, renal failure, cardiovascular diseases, liver problems, bone disorders, and cancer.

The best food for cats with kidney problems contains low phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and protein levels. This type of diet is called a “low-protein” diet. It’s usually dry kibble, canned food, or raw meat. If your cat eats this food, he’ll do fine. But if you’re feeding him something else, ensure it doesn’t have too much phosphorus, potassium, sodium, or protein.

A cat with kidney disease cannot eat anything because its kidneys do not work correctly. Cats cannot eat food that contains any of these ingredients:

  • Bones (e.g., chicken bones)
  • Cheese
  • Egg yolk
  • Fish scales
  • Gelatin
  • Meat offal (liver, heart, lungs, etc.)

The best way to improve your cat鈥檚 kidney health is to prevent problems from occurring in the first place. This means ensuring your cat gets enough exercise, eats a balanced diet, and drinks plenty of clean water. Then, if your cat becomes ill, ensure she sees her veterinarian immediately.

If your cat is overweight, try to get them to lose weight slowly through proper nutrition and exercise. Your vet can give you advice on how to do this.

Cats who overeat can develop fatty liver disease, leading to severe complications such as jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin), vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and even death. To avoid these complications, feed your cat only small amounts of food at once, and offer fresh foods daily.

To ensure that your cat receives adequate nutrition, talk to your vet about feeding guidelines for your specific cat. Cats should always receive their recommended calories, protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

The normal range for creatinine in adults is 0.6 to 1.2 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). A creatinine level of 2 mg/dL or greater usually indicates serious kidney problems. Levels below this point could mean that you have some kidney disease. But even healthy people sometimes have slightly elevated levels of creatinine. For example, women often have higher levels of creatinine than men because of the difference in the size of their bodies.

The survival rate of cats with kidney disease will vary depending on the severity and type of kidney disease. So they are, generally speaking. However, most cats with mild to moderate renal failure can survive for several months or even years if they receive appropriate medical care. On the other hand, most severely ill cats with advanced renal failure will not stay past a few days or weeks.

The life expectancy of a cat with kidney disease can vary depending on the severity of the disease. However, most cats with moderate to severe renal failure will have shortened lives due to reduced quality of life and decreased weight. Some cats may live for as little as six months or up to a year if treated aggressively.

Chronic kidney disease is always uncomfortable for cats, resulting in reduced mobility and swollen joints.

Cats are prone to kidney disease because they lack a liver and filter their blood through their kidneys. When the kidneys can’t process all of the toxins, waste products, and water the cat drinks, these substances build up in the body and can lead to kidney failure.

Chronic kidney disease progresses quickly in cats. Many cats will experience significant weight loss and kidney failure within a few months.

There is always the potential for surgery in cats with kidney disease. However, this decision generally depends on various factors, including the severity of the disease and whether other options are available.

Some cats with kidney disease may tolerate buprenorphine well, while others may not. Speaking with a veterinarian if your cat has serious medical issues is always essential.

Cats with kidney disease may twitch because the disease is causing them to lose muscle control. As a result, the muscles in their body work harder and can cause involuntary movements.

Your veterinarian will do a urinalysis to measure how much urine is produced. A CBC (complete blood count) may also detect any signs of anemia or infection. In some cases, your veterinarian may also perform a vet EKG (electrocardiogram) to determine the severity and origin of the heart problem.

Cats’ typical symptoms of end-stage kidney failure include severe drinking and urination problems, weight loss, reluctance to eat, lethargy, and decreased activity. In some cases, your pet may also experience vomiting or diarrhea in cats..

The prognosis for cats with CKD is variable and depends on the severity of the condition, concurrent illnesses, treatment decisions made, and overall health of the cat. Many cats with CKD live long lives despite ongoing kidney impairment. However, there is a high mortality rate in cats with advanced stages of CKD due to heart failure, infection, or other complications.

Disclaimer: The information provided on this veterinary website is intended for general educational purposes only and should not be considered as a substitute for professional veterinary advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always consult a licensed veterinarian for any concerns or questions regarding the health and well-being of your pet. This website does not claim to cover every possible situation or provide exhaustive knowledge on the subjects presented. The owners and contributors of this website are not responsible for any harm or loss that may result from the use or misuse of the information provided herein.

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