I have rescued and fostered many pets over the years. Keeping my pets healthy and happy is my number one priority.
One of the more common, fatal ailments in cats is kidney failure, otherwise known as renal failure or renal disease. The disease is progressive and early symptoms may not be super-evident. But as your cat's failure progresses, it will begin to show outward signs of the disease such as weight loss, excessive drinking and excessive urination. Here is one owner's perspective on taking care of a cat with kidney disease.
Why an Early Diagnosis Is Important
When my cat first came to us, he was abandoned on the steps of our apartment building, covered in his own urine out of fear and shaking from the cold. His owners, who had lived under us had abandoned him when they moved. He was one to two years old at the time.
After bringing the terrified, long-haired tabby in and taking him to the vet's office for shots and vaccinations, he became a part of the family. Always a bit skittish, he only began to truly relax and seek a lap for comfort and petting once he aged past 10. Last year, when he was around 14, we noticed that he had begun to lose a little weight (never a good sign but an especially ominous one if the cat is older). Some blood work from the vet's office revealed that he was in the early stages of kidney failure.
Having adopted an older cat a few years back who also had kidney failure and taking care of her for nine months, I realized the slow decline that we were facing with our beloved cat.
How You Can Help
You should work with your vet on a plan of action for caring for your cat. Some cats can respond well to treatment, and some tend to go down rather quickly regardless of what the owner does.
If your cat is in the early stages of kidney failure, speak with your vet about:
- Types of food
- Subcutaneous fluids
Creating a customized plan for your cat may help to make it feel better for longer.
Offer High-Moisture Food to Cats With Kidney Failure
A cat with failing kidneys needs extra moisture, more than they can usually take in just by drinking water. One way to help them get this is to give them canned food.
A cat's body is actually designed to acquire moisture and hydration from the food they eat. There is some evidence that feeding cats only dry food may contribute to urinary and kidney issues. With a cat in kidney failure, getting moisture from food is even more important.
Up until recently, vets recommended a low protein diet for cats in kidney failure. More recent research may be shifting away from this in some cases of kidney failure. It's a balance between getting your cat to eat, which keeps them stronger for longer and trying to get away from the intake of foods that are hard on the kidneys (which proteins are).
Each cat's situation is unique and it is important to work with your vet to determine what the best food plan is for your cat.
In my situation, the cat in kidney failure was not eating well. We found that he did like Friskies canned food but would stop eating if we fed him the same flavor every day. So we bought variety packs and would give him half a can in the morning and half at night with water and dry food (Science Diet) out all day.
A Vet Shows How to Give Your Cat Fluids
Subcutaneous Fluids and Hydration
Another way to get your cat extra moisture is by giving it fluids at home. While the process may seem intimidating, it is relatively simple, especially if you have two people. Your vet will demonstrate how to give the cat fluids and decide the frequency and amount needed.
For our cat, fluids every other day was the prescribed course. We would put the cat on the counter on a towel and hang the fluid bag via a coat hanger from the top of the cabinets.
After putting in a fresh needle, we would pinch up a bit of skin on the back near the base of the neck and insert the needle. Sometimes the cat may be jumpier and you may need to gently hold it by the loose skin near its neck or use another recommended form of fear-free restraint. I usually have the person help me when I insert the needle subcutaneously (SQ). We talk soothingly to him.
The SQ fluids usually take just a few minutes. This process may leave a pocket under the skin, but the body will absorb and use the fluids, usually within a few minutes to a few hours.
If you are looking for ways to help your cat but are nervous about giving the fluids, I encourage you to try it with the instruction of your veterinarian. It looks more intimidating than it actually is and your cat will often perk up and begin to feel better.
Medication for Kidney Failure in Cats
There may also be medications that help your cat to feel better and will slow the progression of kidney failure. Our vet prescribed a very cheap blood pressure medicine that we are giving our cat in conjunction with his fluids. It is a once-a-day pill that she believes may help alleviate the pressure on his kidneys and make him feel more like himself for longer.
Again, treatments are individualized based on the stage of kidney failure and your particular cat's tolerance and needs. Working with your vet and letting them know what you want and what you are willing to do will help you build the best action plan.
Many Owners Feel Overwhelmed
When your cat is diagnosed with a serious ailment, it can be a very stressful time for both the cat and the owner. While none of us want to lose our pets, realize that while your cat will ultimately get beyond treatment, some owners have been able to prolong their pets' lives by as much as three years. For others, it may only be a few weeks. For many owners, even a little bit of extra time is worth the effort.
Don't forget to give them lots of extra love and comfort during this time and don't be embarrassed about facing your own emotions of worry, fear and grief. It is all a natural part of our bond and a part of the process of caring for an aging or ill cat.
Questions & Answers
Question: Should you try to get a cat to eat by placing a tiny amount on its lips?
Answer: In some cases, I have gotten a cat to eat but mostly by opening their mouths and wiping the food on the ridged roof of their mouth. You can also water down the food and syringe feed them. There are high-calorie supplements that are easy to give them. I'd consult your vet about the best methods in your situation.
© 2013 L C David
Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on February 02, 2014:
I've had cats for a long time, anywhere from 8 to now 4 at a time. When I lose one, even having all the others, it leaves a void. It is important to note that a good vet who knows about cats is worth his weight in gold. There are many vets who treat dogs and other pets, but if you can find one that at least knows more about cats or even specializes in them, it's really a blessing. Cats are harder to diagnose than dogs because they are very good at hiding their symptoms. It is always helpful if you know your cat or cats very well so you can tell when they aren't acting right.
Good and useful article and I voted it up.
L C David (author) from Florida on December 03, 2013:
There's nothing like those companions knowing sometimes even before you do. We lost a cat to another disease and our kitten would not leave his side for the months he was declining.
Kidney disease is hard. Right now my 15 year old tabby is maintaining getting fluids every other day and getting blood pressure medicine. I know the day will come when these measures won't work any more and I'm already dreading it.
moonlake from America on December 03, 2013:
We have lost one cat from kidney failure and that was hard, he was very close to me. He was also a senior and it was time to let him go. The morning we knew he had to go back to the vet we laid him on his favorite rug and our dog laid down beside him and laid his head on the cat’s stomach. It was so sad. the dog knew his friend was dying.
Voted up on your hub.
L C David (author) from Florida on September 23, 2013:
I do. I think finding a vet that you trust is such an important part of pet ownership.
Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on September 23, 2013:
It sounds like you have a wonderful Vet to help you care for your cat and I hope all goes well. Voted up.
L C David (author) from Florida on September 22, 2013:
Thank you so much truthfornow. I do think that it can be overwhelming to try to figure it out. I'm so glad we have done this though as our boy perked back up and is eating and acting like his old self again.
Marie Hurt from New Orleans, LA on September 22, 2013:
Voted up and useful. It is tough when our feline friends get older and start to decline. However, we can make them more comfortable and work on a plan to give them the best care possible.
Is cooked chicken good for cats with kidney disease?
Yes, it can be consumed as long as it is done in moderation. Cooked chicken is a much lighter meat in comparison to other options including beef, which makes it a decent protein-based option for cats.
Remember, cats are still going to want to eat meat and it’s recommended to include chicken in their diet heading into the future. Taking this away may become harmful and not the way to go.
However, please make sure to focus on adding other foods to the cat’s diet. This includes the foods listed above.
For those who want a more straightforward solution, it’s best to go with a high-quality cat food brand that provides low-protein cat foods.
Kidney Failure in Cats
In this Article
In this Article
In this Article
Your cat’s kidneys do many important things. They help manage blood pressure, make hormones, stimulate the bone marrow to make more red blood cells, and remove waste from the blood.
Cats’ kidneys can begin to fail with age. Untreated, kidney disease can lead to a series of health problems. When it’s chronic, there’s no cure. But with early diagnosis and good care, you can help boost both the quality and length of your pet’s life.
Older cats aren’t the only ones at risk. Kittens can be born with kidney diseases. Trauma, toxins, and infection are also causes.
Kidney Disease in Cats: What Cat Owners Should Know
Perhaps the most important thing to know about kidney disease in cats is that way too many cats are affected by it. In fact, studies show that 1 in 3 cats suffer from kidney disease, reports Dr. Celeste Clements. Cats can get kidney disease for any number of underlying reasons, and even worse, it’s difficult to spot. Most cats show no outward signs of kidney disease until the problem is very advanced. Even when they do, the first signals of kidney disease in cats are easy to miss, including subtle weight loss, urinating/peeing more often and drinking more water. Therefore, if you notice your cat is peeing on the floor, soaking the litter box, or if your cat is always thirsty, it’s time to visit your veterinarian.
What is kidney disease in cats?
Kidney disease in cats is notoriously hard to catch early and can have devastating effects on our feline friends. In general, kidney disease (sometimes called “kidney failure”) happens when your cat’s kidneys stop doing their job as well as they should. (Learn more about what kidneys do for your cat.) This damage, once done, is usually permanent and can be caused by a variety of issues. (Learn more about 10 common causes of kidney disease in cats.)
Kidney disease in cats is classified in two primary ways, as:
- Chronic kidney disease in cats
- Acute kidney injury in cats
Learn more about kidney disease in cats:
Since kidney disease impacts so many cats and early detection is so critical, it’s a great idea for any cat parent to learn and know everything you can about the disease. We’ve included some in-depth articles about kidney disease in cats and additional tools below, as well as a quick quiz and tips for helping keep your cat’s kidneys as healthy as possible for the long-haul:
Kidney disease quick tips:
- Kidney disease is a leading cause of suffering and death in cats, 3 and has been so difficult to combat because it was often not detected until most of the damage was done and permanent.
- Certain factors like kidney stones, urinary tract infections, or hereditary conditions could make kidney disease more likely.
- Encouraging your cat to drink more water can help with kidney health
- As cats age, the likelihood of developing kidney disease increases. In fact, more than half of cats over age 15 are afflicted. 1
- The IDEXX SDMA™ Test is a breakthrough that not only screens for kidney disease, but can detect this devastating disease months to years earlier than previously possible. 3[Editor’s Note: IDEXX Laboratories is the parent company of Pet Health Network.]
There’s much more to learn about chronic kidney disease if you want to protect your cat, and having this knowledge is step one in the fight against a disease that has claimed far too many lives. Check out the resources above, and ask your veterinarian what you can be doing to keep your cat healthier, happier and in your life for longer.
A new test is available to help detect kidney disease earlier,
ask your veterinarian about the new IDEXX SDMA test.
More Kidney Disease Resources
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Caring for a cat whose kidneys have failed
After receiving chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer, Munchkin developed kidney failure. She lived for two and a half more years at home, however, thanks to her owner's treatment of the generally fatal condition. Dottie Zammetti
Feline kidney failure sickens and kills more older cats than any other condition. Because most of its causes are still unknown, prevention is almost impossible. Its symptoms are severe, and with few exceptions, it's incurable and ultimately fatal.
But despite that grim picture, feline kidney failure is a treatable disease. And while many animal diseases can be treated if the owner has enough money and is willing to spend it, what's usually needed to treat feline kidney failure is not huge amounts of money, but the willingness and ability to give the cat that care at home.
"I've seen even very sick cats, cats who needed hospitalization in the beginning, do really well on home care with an owner who was willing to give it a try," said Dr. Patty Khuly, a Miami veterinarian and noted animal health blogger. "What makes the difference in how well a cat with kidney failure does is not how sick they are, or how bad their kidney values are on a blood test. It's the attitude of the owner."
The fear and insecurity many owners feel arise because advanced stages of the disease can require frequent medication and daily injections of subcutaneous fluids -- fluids administered with a needle under the skin of the cat. There aren't many cat owners who have confidence in their ability to hold a cat in place for several minutes, slip a needle under her skin and inject between 100 and 200 milliliters of fluid, every single day for the rest of the cat's life.
After all, most of us find just giving a cat a pill extremely daunting.
But those fluids are critical to a cat in kidney failure. To understand why, it's helpful to know just what happens when a cat's kidneys fail.
Kidney failure basics
The kidneys are made up of structural units called "nephrons," which filter toxins out of the bloodstream and flush them from the body with the urine. Every cat is born with far more nephrons than she'll need for a normal lifetime, but when disease, toxic exposures, drugs or other causes damage the kidneys, nephrons are destroyed.
The body has no ability to make new nephrons, and as more and more of them go offline, the kidneys' ability to filter toxins from the blood is diminished. Fewer nephrons are doing more work, and like a toilet being used more often than before, the flushing process requires more water all the time.
The kidneys start signaling to the cat to drink more water, which in turn leads to more urine. At this stage, very observant owners will sometimes catch the disease early, but these symptoms are easy to miss, particularly with indoor/outdoor cats or those who live in multi-cat households, where just who is drinking and urinating in what quantities isn't clear.
That fact is particularly unfortunate because this stage can persist for months or years, and can often be prolonged with nothing more than a specially formulated diet and regular check-ups at the vet to monitor the progress of the disease.
In later stages, however, affected cats start to suffer from loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and weight loss. They can deteriorate rapidly, often sending their owners to the veterinarian in a panic with little hope that their pets can be saved. Simply giving the cat subcutaneous fluids to augment those she can drink on her own can add years to the life of a cat in kidney failure, so helping a cat owner overcome fear and uncertainty about the process can make a huge difference.
Getting through it, getting help
Dottie Zammetti, whose black cat, Munchkin, had recently been treated for cancer, feared the animal would not survive when chemotherapy drugs caused the cat's kidneys to fail.
"Munchkin went downhill very fast," Zammetti told me. "She needed intensive fluid therapy and drugs to lower her calcium levels, drugs for nausea and vomiting, and drugs to treat low red blood cells."
After Munchkin's veterinarian got her stabilized, the home care began. "I gave her subcutaneous fluids," Zammetti said. "It took a while for us to adjust to that process, but after around a week and a half, she just accepted it as part of our routine."
And as sick as Munchkin was at first, after two weeks of treatment, she settled into two years of feeling well.
Zammetti got help from an online support group for owners of cats in kidney failure. "They were a wealth of information," she said. "I found out where to get better needles that made administering the fluids much easier, and tips for making it less stressful on Munchkin, like giving her a treat after the fluids."
The group also steered Zammetti towards less expensive sources of necessary supplies, such as subcutaneous fluids.
"The people in the groups helped keep me going, because when I felt like I didn't see an end to it [the cat's illness], they would give me the helpful advice to get me through that rough period," she said.
Beyond home care
At the 2006 American Board of Veterinary Practitioner's Symposium, veterinary internal medicine specialist Dr. Alice Wolf told her audience that chronic, progressive kidney failure in cats "can be successfully managed for years if it is detected early and managed appropriately."
But at some point, those years are going to run out. What can you do then? And are there options beyond basic home care and veterinary monitoring that might give your cat an edge in fighting the disease?
There's no single big new therapy currently in use or even on the horizon. What is new is that many veterinarians are becoming more skilled at treating feline kidney failure, and they're using both new and old medications to manage symptoms and buy the cat more time.
"Nausea is a big problem in these cats, and a lot of people focus too much on the fluids and don't take on issues like the appetite," said Dr. Khuly. "There are many drugs that can treat nausea, control vomiting and stimulate the appetite."
There are drugs that can control other symptoms of kidney failure, including incorrect levels of calcium, phosphorus and potassium in the blood, low red blood cells and blood pressure problems, as well.
It's also possible to give a cat a kidney transplant, although the cost is exorbitant and it's the rare pet owner who will even consider it.
The cat must be in fairly good health to receive a kidney transplant, and so it's only worth considering in the early stages of disease. Additionally, all veterinary feline kidney transplant programs require the owner to adopt the donor cat, which means you come into the center with one cat and go home with two.
Nor is a transplant a panacea. Fewer than half the cats live another three years, and the cat will have to be on medication to prevent organ rejection, just like human transplant patients are.
For most cat owners, Khuly says, the takeaway message is that a diagnosis of kidney failure doesn't have to be a death sentence for your cat, and it isn't going to break the bank or require heroic measures.
"Many of these cats who are on the brink of death can be brought back with supportive care at home," she said. "Not only brought back for days or weeks or months, but years. You just don't know unless you try."
Additional resources on feline kidney failure