What Causes Kidney Failure in Cats?



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Every cat owner wants their cat to live without pain – knowing what to look for is crucial in making that happen. Knowing how best to help your cat can give you years with them that you would not otherwise have.

What Causes Kidney Failure in Cats. Grey and white Persian cat with green eyes, lying on a white background.

Preparing for their passing, ensuring their care and comfort, and giving them the best chance at recovery is all an owner’s responsibility – and knowledge of kidney failure in cats will help you with that.

In this article, I’ll go over things you need to know about acute and chronic kidney failure in cats and what steps you need to take to prolong their longevity.

What Causes Kidney Failure in Cats

Let’s determine the causes of acute and chronicle kidney failures:

Acute Kidney Failure

Trauma, infections of certain kinds, blocked urethras, excessive dehydration, ingesting poisons such as pesticides, human medicine (such as Ibuprofen), and plants like lilies may cause acute renal failure in felines.

Acute renal failure differs from chronic kidney disease (CKD) because it leads to a build-up of toxins and waste in the bloodstream. It also causes disturbances in the acid-base balance of your cat’s blood. They can also have electrolyte imbalances. All of these need to be corrected as soon as they develop.

Chronic Kidney Failure

Chronic kidney failure is defined by its slower onset. It develops over months, or perhaps years, and is caused by repeated infections, kidney cysts, and sometimes genetics. Cancer, hidden medical conditions, or age can also cause it.

Some cat breeds are slightly more predisposed than others, but all cats can contract the disease.

Symptoms of Kidney Failure in Cats

The following signs do not guarantee that your cat is experiencing kidney failure, but if they increase in frequency or don’t subside, it’s time for a vet trip. Symptoms of acute kidney failure are:

  • Lethargy: Your cat will act as if it has no energy and will refuse to partake in daily activities, even the ones that once inspired joy.
  • Dehydration despite increased water intake.
  • Weakness.
  • Weight loss despite eating normally or stopping eating.
  • Urine smelling bad breath.
  • Low Blood Pressure can also play a significant role in acute kidney failure.

The biggest tell-tales are diarrhea and vomit containing blood. Any of these are a sign to take immediate action.

With chronic kidney disease, the signs are a lot more subtle and gradual. They can take years to develop, and it may be too late by the time you notice. For example, a cat with chronic kidney failure will bruise and bleed easier, along with frequent urination.

Signs To Look Out For in Kidney Failure in Cats

You will also notice that your cat might constantly keep arching their back. It is a typical posture for cats suffering from acute kidney failure because it aids in relieving physical pain.

A cat with acute or chronic kidney failure will urinate more than usual. This will be on top of drinking more water as well. In addition, it will generally be more unresponsive, slower, and moody. You may also notice it being colder than usual and having an unkempt, thinner coat. It’s not doing well if you see such drastic behavior changes.

You should also be aware of unusual ammonia-like body odor and these signs.

Changes in Your Cats Behavior

Your cat will be a lot more restless. They will withdraw from you, run and hide when they have no reason to, refuse food or drink, and may seem confused. Finally, it will be in pain and have sunken, teary eyes.

These are general responses, but cats react according to their personality. For example, some may react aggressively and be destructive such as tearing up the sofa, whereas some may panic and fear due to the pain.

Preventing Kidney Failure in Cats

You can take steps to catch the disease or prevent it from happening. To keep your cat healthy and safe, ensure it’s receiving a nutritional and well-balanced diet, toxic plants and human medication are kept out of its reach, and you’re following up with your vet regularly.

Get its blood work checked regularly by your vet to ensure that the blood does not contain any substances that might cause failure and that it is clean. Additionally, this will let you keep track of its blood levels.

Cats don’t respond well to stress. So if you have moved recently, brought another pet into the home, or introduced external stimuli into their environment, you need to give them extra attention and play time to aid them in dealing with the stress.

Dietary Changes for Your Cat

In most cases, your vet will come up with a specialized diet that will be centered around omega-3 fatty acids. It will also have less protein and sodium.

These special diets are formulated to help your cat fight against chronic kidney disease. You must ensure it receives the recommended portion daily alongside prescribed medication. In addition, all eating habits of your feline friend should be disclosed to the vet.

To help introduce a new diet, you should add in increments of 25%. For example, start with 25% of the kidney diet and 75% of the original diet for the first week, and keep increasing this as each week passes.

It would be best if you eliminated sodium from the diet where you can, and keeping treats and foods to less than 1mg per calorie is a good figure to start at. You can also look into dietary therapy for your cat, as it can help manage the anemia that comes with CKD.

Treatment for Kidney Failure in Cats

If your cat has become sick, treatment will start with IVs to alleviate dehydration. After that, it will need to get its energy back and will do so through supplements, medication, and vitamins.

If the cause of acute failure comes from a blockage, your cat must undergo surgery. Doctors may attach a feeding tube to help stabilize it in the case of acute failure. Going home for further care may be permitted if treatment goes well. However, changes to its diet will need to be made and maintained closely.

Hemodialysis for Cats

This method allows doctors to filter the cat’s blood, but you must find a vet clinic with the proper equipment. This does not cure kidney failure, but it works towards improving the cat’s quality of life.

In terms of experimental treatment, kidney transplants are the only option. However, such treatments are not widely practiced yet; you must find a specialist.

Hormone Therapy for Cats

If your cat’s red blood cells are low due to renal disease, your vet may suggest hormone therapy to stimulate erythropoietin. This hormone is responsible for producing RBCs, and if your cat experiences anemia, it may help boost its appetite.

You must work closely with your vet and maintain regular checkups to spot signs of failure before more intensive treatment options become necessary for your cat. Those that get access to proper hospitalization have increased chances of survival, and according to a study by the NCBI, the survival rate to discharge is 58%.

It would be best if you also worked with your vet to develop a euthanasia plan, as in their final days, cats will require a lot of professional and personal support to be at peace. Treating kidney failure is challenging but can grant your pet a peaceful life.

CKD’s Frequency in Cats

The likelihood of suffering from CKD increases by 30% to 40% in cats above the ages of 7 and 15, respectively. This is why it’s recommended that senior cats see the vet more often.

Changes in Mental Health in Cats

Regarding mental health, cats experience a lot of anxiety and depression when suffering from CKD. In addition, please pay attention to behavioral changes such as lethargy, changes in playing routines, and interest in foods, especially in their favorite treats.

If your cat is not responsive to the usual things and behaves dull and low, it may feel depressed.

A depressed cat will also not groom itself the same, and you will notice them looking much more unkempt. If your cat starts behaving out of the usual, it’s a sign its mental health is being affected.

The sudden onset of anxiety can also impact blood pressure. If left untreated, it can significantly advance CKD and decrease your cat’s life.

To manage blood pressure, get your cat examined by a veterinarian. If symptoms are present and medication isn’t working, it may need extra care. A low-sodium diet is recommended in such cases.

Life Expectancy and Factors Affecting Your Cat

Your cat’s life expectancy depends heavily on its responses to treatment and how soon in the disease’s progression you caught it. However, cats can live up to several years in best-case scenarios. In less fortunate cases, they can live anywhere between a week, a month, or a few months, depending on the severity of the disease.

A significant factor affecting life expectancy is the presence of other diseases or conditions within your cat. Senior cats with other conditions naturally do not live as long. But ultimately, the most significant factor is always the consistency of care. The ones who facilitated their CKD get the time they would never have otherwise.

Which Cat Breeds Are Most Vulnerable?

Some cat breeds are more vulnerable to kidney disease than others, and if your cat is one of these breeds, it is all the more reason for you to maintain regular checkups and closely monitor their internal health.

The cat breeds most prone to kidney diseases are Abyssinians, Persians, Domestic Shorthairs, Himalayans, Ragdolls, Maine Coons, Burmese, Russian Blues, and Siamese cats. However, this does not mean other cats require less observation and caution.

Certain genetic factors can predispose a feline toward chronic kidney failure. For example, Persians have a higher tendency for polycystic kidney disease. It’s when liquid-filled sacs occupy the tissue of their kidneys.

How Can You Help Your Cat?

Any renal failure is an incredibly stressful experience for your cat. During this time, you should find all possible sources of stimulation – chewable, toys, walks, companionship, new scenery, special dishes, and anything else that might stimulate your cat.

Catnip is one of the most effective ways to prevent it from becoming bored and frustrated because it helps it feel more energetic and happier. Invest in toys with some scent so it’ll enjoy playing with them even more.

Remember, depression and low moods also come with renal failure. So a mentally well-kept cat can combat the disease a lot better.

Final Thoughts on Kidney Failure in Cats

The result for cats with renal failure is one of the most challenging outcomes for an owner. Euthanasia is always recommended as passing due to kidney failure is very painful and violent, and a proper plan can give them happiness and comfort in what time they have.

While it may be hard to opt for euthanasia, it is always better than keeping an animal in pain, as cats spend all their energy in a condition like this and face mental health problems.

Any questions you might have about your cat’s quality of life or how early its longevity will give out can be answered by your vet.

Hopefully, this article has helped you understand the dangers and causes of chronic and acute kidney failure in cats.

Before you go, you might find these articles helpful:

How Much Water A Cat Should Drink

20 Flowers That Are Safe For Cats

How To Prevent UTI In Cats

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