Renal Disease

Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats

Kidney disease, often called kidney failure, is very common in older cats. In most cases, the kidneys have irreversible aging changes, more scientifically “chronic interstitial nephritis”. In short, the kidneys lose function as they age. Luckily, many cats with kidney disease can live and maintain a good quality of life for months if not years.

What are the symptoms?
Most cats with kidney disease have a slow, insidious onset of poor appetite, decreased energy level and weight loss. Increased thirst and urination are common as well.

Is it painful?

How is it diagnosed?

Bloodwork will show increased kidney values (BUN and creatinine), electrolyte changes (increased phosphorus and decreased potassium) and anemia (low red blood cell count). A urinalysis often shows a decreased specific gravity (ability to concentrate) and sometimes excessive protein loss.

Xrays and ultrasound, if done will show small, firm kidneys.

What is the prognosis?
Although ususally not curable, many cats with chronic kidney disease can live for a year or more with supportive care.

What treatments are available?

Fluid therapy (intravenous or subcutaneous) and nutritional management (decreased and highly available protein) are the mainstays of treatment.

Acupuncture, laser treatment and massage are often helpful adjunctive treatments, especially to help increase blood flow to kidneys and improve appetite and well being.

What should I expect?

In the early stages, decreased appetite and weight loss are noted. Many cats will drink large amounts of water and urinate frequently.

As the disease progresses, appetite typically decreases and weight loss becomes more significant. Energy level is diminished and cats may stop grooming themselves. Many owners choose euthanasia at this time, especially if their cats are not responding to the treatments mentioned above.

In the late stages of kidney failure, cats may stop eating and drinking altogether. They may vomit or have ulcers (sores) in their mouth. In very severe cases, cats may have bloody diarrhea or even seizures.

In short, chronic kidney disease is one of the most common ailments of geriatric cats. In many cases, simple treatments administered at home can improve and maintain their quality of life for many months if not years. As the disease progresses, more intensive treatments, quality of life assessments and possibly pain medications will become important to keep these patients comfortable.