Warning Signs Of Kidney Failure In Cats Serious Symptoms To Look Out For

A Sick Cat Laying Down

Kidney failure is a serious condition that can potentially be fatal if not diagnosed quickly. Learn what important warning signs to keep an eye out for in order to get your cat the vital help they need. Learn more here.

The kidneys are vital for cats, responsible for producing crucial hormones and enzymes, aiding the development of red blood cells, regulating blood pressure, removing wastes from the bloodstream, and more essential functions. When this organ fails, there are warning signs.

Depending on the type of kidney disease, however, the warning signs of kidney failure in cats may appear right away or not for a long period of time.

  • With acute renal or kidney failure; most commonly caused by ingesting toxins like antifreeze, pesticides, or medications intended for people; signs appear within a week or a month, and the organ and its functions shut down very rapidly.

  • With chronic renal or kidney failure, the more common form of kidney failure that is usually found in older cats, the functions fail over time, and signs of the disease may not be apparent for a long time, often due to aging.

Signs of Acute Kidney Failure in Cats

These quick-to-appear symptoms may cause affected pets to go into shock. If these symptoms seem familiar, head to the vet. The vet will likely discover that the cat has swollen kidneys that are causing discomfort. Emergency treatment will probably be required. The good news is that this form of kidney disease is not always fatal if it is detected and treated early. If treated immediately, the disease should not affect your cat’s life expectancy.

Signs of Chronic Kidney Failure in Cats

What causes this form of kidney failure is not known, but many other health issues are linked to this disease. Cats with chronic kidney failure may also show signs of the following:

Some cat breeds, including the Maine Coon, Abyssinian, Persian, Siamese, Russian Blue, and Burmese, may be more prone to the condition.

Since the disease is gradual, when and how severe the signs appear varies from cat to cat. They include:

  • Excessive drinking and urination
  • Urinary incontinence; your cat may not be able to sleep through the night without needing to relieve herself or himself
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Appetite loss
  • Depression
  • Anemia, as indicated by pale gums and lethargy
  • Weakness
  • Weak bones or bone fractures
  • Sudden blindness
  • Irritated skin
  • Bruising
  • Dehydration
  • Weight loss
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Thinning hair
  • Change in body posture and movements
  • Constipation
  • Drooling
  • Grooming less often
  • Seizures
  • Coma

If you suspect your cat may be suffering from chronic kidney disease, consult with a veterinarian. Hospitalization may be required. The life expectancy for affected cats can be months to years.

The 4 Most Common Causes Of Cat Renal Failure

Cats’ kidneys, just like ours, are filters. They remove metabolic waste and other toxic substances from the blood, creating urine. They also produce a number of important hormones. Without properly functioning kidneys, a cat develops a whole range of health problems and can eventually die from a buildup of toxins in the blood. Read on to learn to most common causes for cat renal failure.

Acute vs. Chronic Renal Failure

Acute renal failure means the kidneys stop working suddenly. In these cases, you’ll be acting quickly in order to prevent issues and get your pet’s kidneys working again.

Chronic renal failure comes on slowly, and with proper treatment a cat can live with badly damaged kidneys for months, occasionally longer. Still, if treatment begins before the kidneys actually fail, that is much better; these are the cats who typically live on for years and don’t seem to know they’re sick.


1. Poisoning

Antifreeze and some plants are common poisons for cats. Cats can ingest antifreeze by drinking from puddles in the street. As little as one teaspoon of antifreeze can lead to renal failure. Once antifreeze poisoning reaches the kidneys, it is probably too late. If your cat drinks antifreeze, get to a vet within a few hours. Otherwise your cat’s kidneys could be irreparably damaged.

Signs of antifreeze poisoning:

  • At first, due to the alcohol in antifreeze, your cat will act as if they’re a bit drunk.

  • The tipsiness will pass, and in a couple of hours, your cat may begin to strain while trying to urinate. This is because the tiny passages between the kidneys and urethra have become plugged.

Also, get to know which house plants, like lillies, can be toxic to pets and keep them out of the home, as they can end up causing kidney failure as well.

2. A Blocked Urinary Tract

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, or FLUTD, is a description of a number of conditions with one thing in common -- they all cause blockage to the urethra. Bladder stones are the most common cause of FLUTD, followed by poor diet. Vets may recommend a special diet or recommend specific prescription food such as the Royal Canin Feline Renal Support S Dry Cat Food. Less common causes include infections and injury to another part of the body, like a broken bone or pelvic fracture, that might obstruct the urinary pathways.

Signs of FLUTD and Blocked Urinary Tract:

  • You’ll have to notice that your cat is straining at the litter box and call the vet before the urine starts to back up and poison the kidneys or the blood.

3. Overuse of Medications

Long-term use of medication can cause serious kidney problems, especially in already weakened cats. Discuss with your vet the use of NSAIDs, in particular, if their use proceeds beyond normal amounts of time.

4. Congenital or Developmental Kidney Problems

In these cases, cats either inherit kidney problems from one of their parents, or have a malformation of some part of the kidney. There are a number of forms of feline kidney disease, some of which appear to be genetic, but there are many uncertainties regarding feline kidney failure. Many cases of feline renal failure can’t be traced to any one cause.

Symptoms of Congential Kidney Problems

  • Unlike the two scenarios mentioned above, excessive urination and excessive thirst are early signs of congentinal kidney problems in cats.
  • These symptoms may be combined with low energy and weight loss.

In these cases, treatment is more about treating the symptoms rather than curing the cause.

5.  Reduced Blood Flow to the Kidneys Due to Another Ailment

Here things can get a big complicated. For example, cats with high blood pressure often have kidney problems, but it’s unknown if high blood pressure causes kidney damage in cats or the other way around. Gum disease is also common in kidney patients, but again the cause and effect relationship isn’t clear. Hyperthyroidism might cause kidney damage, and the two diseases often go together, but the symptoms of hyperthyroidism mask the symptoms of kidney failure, making it much harder to diagnose.

Recognizing Renal Failure

Besides keeping your cat away from toxins, your best bet is to know your cat well enough to notice abnormal behavior. Take any changes, especially those relating to litter box behavior, seriously. Remember, renal failure can present as straining to urinate or urinating excessively.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the 3 early warning signs of kidney disease?

Kidney disease can be difficult to detect in its early stages as it often presents with few or no symptoms. However, there are some warning signs that may indicate kidney disease.One of the early signs of kidney disease is changes in urination. You may need to urinate more often, have difficulty urinating, or experience pain or burning while urinating. You may also notice that your urine is foamy or bubbly or that it has a dark color or a strong odor. Another early sign of kidney disease is swelling, especially in the legs, ankles, feet, and around the eyes. This occurs because the kidneys are not able to remove excess fluid from the body, leading to fluid retention. As the kidneys become damaged and are not able to function properly, you may experience fatigue and weakness. This occurs because the kidneys play a key role in producing a hormone called erythropoietin, which helps to stimulate the production of red blood cells. When the kidneys are not functioning properly, you may become anemic, which can lead to feelings of fatigue and weakness.

How long can a cat with kidney failure live?

Cats with kidney failure generally have a guarded prognosis, and the condition is considered chronic and progressive. However, with proper treatment and management, many cats can live for several months to several years after diagnosis. Cats in the early stages of kidney failure can often be managed with a combination of dietary changes, medications, and supportive care. As the condition progresses, more intensive treatments such as fluid therapy, dialysis, or kidney transplantation may be necessary to manage symptoms and improve quality of life.

What is the most common cause of kidney failure in cats?

While chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a common cause of kidney failure in cats, there are also other causes, including toxins, infections, and diseases that impair kidney blood flow. Toxicity from substances such as antifreeze, lilies, and certain medications can cause acute kidney injury, which can progress to kidney failure if left untreated. Infections, such as feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), can also cause kidney damage and lead to kidney failure. Diseases that affect blood flow to the kidneys, such as hypertension and thromboembolic disease, can also lead to kidney failure. Additionally, certain congenital or inherited conditions, such as polycystic kidney disease (PKD), can cause kidney failure in cats.

What can be mistaken for kidney problem?

There are several health conditions that can share symptoms with kidney problems, and can be mistaken for kidney disease. UTIs can cause symptoms such as frequent urination, painful urination, and blood in the urine, which can also occur in cats with kidney problems. Hyperthyroidism is a common condition in older cats that can cause weight loss, increased appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea. These symptoms can be mistaken for those of kidney disease. Diabetes can cause increased thirst, increased urination, and weight loss, which can be similar to the symptoms of kidney disease. Liver disease can cause symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, and lethargy, which can be mistaken for those of kidney disease. Some types of cancer, such as lymphoma, can cause symptoms such as weight loss, vomiting, and diarrhea, which can be similar to the symptoms of kidney disease.

When is it time to put a cat down with kidney failure?

Deciding when to euthanize a cat with kidney failure is a deeply personal and difficult decision that should be made in consultation with your veterinarian. Your veterinarian can provide you with information about your cat's condition and help you assess your cat's quality of life. In general, the decision to euthanize a cat with kidney failure is often based on the cat's quality of life. If your cat is experiencing significant pain, discomfort, or distress that cannot be managed with medication or other treatments, euthanasia may be considered to prevent further suffering. Other factors that may be considered when deciding whether to euthanize a cat with kidney failure include the cat's appetite and weight, ability to move around comfortably, and ability to participate in activities that they enjoy. If your cat has lost interest in food or is losing weight, is unable to move around easily, or is no longer able to engage in activities they once enjoyed, it may be an indication that their quality of life is declining.

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