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Health & Wellness

These are the 4 main causes of kidney disease in cats

A prescription diet can help to prevent kidney disease in cats.

Old age can bring a new set of health challenges for cats, but there are things you can do to prepare (like the research you're doing now!) and prevent them from happening.

One age-related illness that cat parents should be aware of is kidney disease, which is when a cat's kidneys stop functioning properly. But luckily, there are ways to stall this condition from affecting your cat.

What’s kidney disease in cats? 

There are different types of kidney diseases, but the most common is chronic kidney disease (CKD), and old age is often the cause. Unfortunately, CKD’s symptoms worsen over time, and the disease itself is irreversible. 

“The kidneys are made up of many small units called nephrons that filter substances out of the blood and excrete them as urine,” Dr. Emily Singler, Fetch by The Dodo’s on-staff veterinarian, says. “Over time, some of these filtering units just stop working.”

Although the kidneys can still work when some nephrons become defunct, they can't filter blood adequately or conserve water when too many of them stop working. 

When the kidneys aren’t able to do their job, toxins can build up in the bloodstream, which makes cats feel sick, and even though they’re drinking large amounts of water, they’ll still be dehydrated. 

Another type of kidney disease is acute kidney disease, which might be reversible if it’s treated quickly and aggressively, Dr. Singler says. If left untreated, it can turn into CKD.

Believe it or not, cats can develop acute kidney disease after being exposed to lilies — and their kidneys can even be injured after being exposed to the pollen from lilies. So you’ll want to remove this flower from your home or keep it out of your curious cat’s reach. 

Exposure to rodent bait that includes vitamin D can also cause acute kidney disease. Certain drugs and infections, like urinary tract infections (UTIs) and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), can also be culprits behind this condition.

In rare cases, cats can genetically inherit congenital kidney disease and have symptoms as kittens.

RELATED: How to tell if blood in your cat’s stool is cause for concern

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Recommended by vet Dr. Evan Antin.

The stages of kidney disease

CKD extends over four stages, and as the disease progresses, the more noticeable symptoms become. Here’s a general breakdown of each period. 

Stage I: During this stage, cats usually act normal, as there aren’t any clinical signs — many times, nothing's alarming about a cat’s blood work, either. However, a symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA) blood test may indicate kidney disease. 

Other changes can be seen in lab work tracking for protein or low concentration in urine, which can also help monitor the disease.

Stage II: This stage is similar to the first, as there are no clinical signs, but kidney values can increase in tests.

Stage III: During the third stage, your cat might show symptoms (especially as the kidney values in their blood work increase). You may notice your pet drinking more water than usual and urinating frequently, as well as weight loss, decreased appetite, lethargy, bad breath and vomiting.

However, these symptoms can also be associated with other diseases, so it’s helpful to check in with your veterinarian to determine your cat's health issue. 

Stage IV: At this point, your cat’s symptoms will likely have worsened due to severe kidney value elevations in their bloodwork. 

There are other symptoms to be aware of, too. For example, sometimes cats with kidney disease can develop painful ulcers in their mouths, and feel sick, nauseous and weak, which can get worse as the stages progress. 

Treatment options for kidney disease in cats

Unfortunately, CKD is incurable. But if a cat isn’t showing symptoms yet, a prescription diet, which supports the kidneys and limits ingredients that are hard to process, can help stall the stages.

A hospital visit, where they’ll be administered IV fluids and other medications, might benefit cats who are lethargic, vomiting and have a decreased appetite, Dr. Singler shares. Then, when it’s time to come home, veterinarians will explain how to give subcutaneous fluids, which are fluids given under the skin instead of an IV, at home to help a cat stay hydrated. 

Cats with acute kidney disease should receive aggressive treatment, like IV fluids and supportive medication, in a hospital. If those methods are successful, a pet might not need any more ongoing therapies. 

How to prevent kidney disease in cats

According to Dr. Singler, kidney disease can’t always be prevented. However, vets usually recommend keeping cats healthy, which means helping them maintaining a healthy weight, offering a high-quality diet and following your vet’s instructions when administering medications. 

You can prevent risking acute kidney disease by keeping lilies out of your flower collection. Contact poison control if your cat’s exposed to lilies and visit your vet’s office ASAP (they’ll likely induce vomiting to remove any lily parts that your cat ate). Make sure to bathe your cat if they’re exposed to lily pollen, too. 

If your cat has a UTI, follow all recommendations from your vet regarding treatment and rechecks to ensure the condition is resolved. 

The Dig, Fetch's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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