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Health & Wellness

Kidney failure in cats

We break down the causes, signs and treatment options of kidney failure in cats.

Humans actually have quite a lot in common with their feline friends: an affinity for tuna, an appreciation for affection and a fondness for personal space. Unfortunately, there’s also the shared potential of kidney failure, especially with age. 

In both species, the kidneys perform vital bodily functions, such as managing blood pressure, filtering waste and producing hormones, which in and of themselves go on to affect other organs in the body. So, naturally, when something goes awry with the kidneys, serious problems can ensue. 

Whether acute or chronic, kidney failure in our best friends is something to keep an eye on, especially once they get older.

What are the symptoms of kidney failure in cats? 

According to Dr. Brett Shorenstein, the owner and head-vet at Abingdon Square Veterinary Clinic in New York City, some of the more common symptoms of acute kidney disease (the kind of abrupt kidney failure that can occur from an accident, as opposed to something congenital that develops over time) include severe lethargy, vomiting, dehydration and loss of appetite. Chronic ailments often entail more pronounced weight loss, depression, bad breath and diminished hair quality.

What causes kidney failure?

Many causes can trigger kidney disease in cats. As Dr. Shorenstein explains, the reasons differ between chronic and acute conditions. While the former causes the kidneys to lessen over time, the latter is a whole different story. “There can be an acute insult to the kidney, such as kidney infection, which often starts as a urinary tract infection in the bladder and travels to the kidney, making them very sick.” Far and away, this is the number one cause for acute kidney failure, he notes. “That’s a large majority of the cases.” 

Other causes, he says, could be hypertension, high blood pressure and protein-losing properties — i.e., when the kidneys are not filtering waste from the bloodstream appropriately, proteins can go through the kidneys and damage them. “Any sort of blood loss or low blood pressure during anesthesia can cause that,” Dr. Shorenstein says. 

Toxins are another big risk factor for kidneys, including some many folks probably didn’t even realize. “Lilies are toxic to cats, that’s a big one,” he says, highlighting the importance of ensuring your home is lily-free, especially with spring around the corner and floral arrangements taking shape for Easter. “It’s very important that all cat owners are aware that they’re toxic to cats, even just the dust from the lily. If people put lilies above their fridge in a water bowl, that can be fatal.” According to Dr. Shorenstein, antifreeze and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also cause kidney injury. 

RELATED: Are essential oils safe for cats? 

How to prevent kidney disease in cats

As Dr. Shorenstein explains, water is a crucial preventative measure for protecting our feline friends. “Encouraging water intake that starts as a kitten,” he says, is an important way to get your pet in the healthiest habit. “We recommend feeding a mix of wet and dry food. As cats age, if their kidneys are starting to trend toward kidney disease, we want to increase their water intake, and if they’re not used to wet food, it’s hard to do that at that time.” 

Other tips are water-related as well, such as installing a circulating water fountain at home (“many cats like those,” he says). 

If you are worried about your kitten or cat developing kidney disease, always reach out to your vet. They can provide a prevention plan that’s personalized to your pet. 

How to treat kidney disease

“Once diagnosed with kidney disease, one of the things would be going on a phosphorus-restrictive diet, aka a kidney diet,” the vet says, noting that reducing the intake of things like dairy and meat has proven to prolong the progression of chronic kidney disease. “It’s a balanced diet, but most importantly, it’s phosphorus-restrictive and easier on the kidneys. Other things, like adding more Omega-3 fatty acids, are also good for kidney health. 

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance'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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