Kidney Disease in Cats: Prevention is Key

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / December 10, 2018
kidney disease in cats

Your four-legged feline means the world to you. Trust us, we get it. Here at SimpleWag, we are all cat owners and animal lovers. Therefore, we understand how heart-wrenching it can be for your cat to experience any health issue, particularly one that affects a vital organ like the kidneys. Due to its prevalence amongst both cats and dogs, it is imperative that pet owners are able to recognize the telltale signs of early-stage kidney damage. Only then can cats receive the appropriate and necessary treatment that their life depends on.

In this article, we’ll cover everything you should know about kidney disease in cats. From the underlying causes to the clinical signs to how to proceed in treatment. Additionally, we’ll discuss important (and necessary) steps that cat owners should take in order to prevent damage from developing in the first place. Let’s get to it!

Important Facts About the Kidneys

Before we dive into the topic of kidney disease in cats, it is important for owners to understand a bit more about the vital organs. Once having a clear idea of what is truly at stake, pet owners tend to have a greater inclination to do all that they can to avoid potential kidney damage.

What Do the Kidneys Do

It may surprise some readers to learn that their cat’s kidneys function in a similar way as people’s kidneys do.

Eliminating Toxicity and Waste

One of the most important functions of the kidneys is their role in eliminating toxicity and waste from the blood. Excess fluids, as well as toxins and waste, are stored in the cat’s bladder. When the cat urinates, the kidneys work to rid the body of the accumulated toxins. However, when the kidneys aren’t functioning properly, a build-up of toxicity occurs and can cause severe damage to the cat’s entire body.

Furthermore, your feline is exposed to more toxins on a daily basis than many pet owners realize. If the kidneys aren’t functioning properly, the amount of toxicity can quickly become too much for the body to handle.

Managing Blood Pressure

Additionally, the cat’s kidneys are key players in making sure your feline’s blood pressure is regulated. The kidneys produce hormones that allow the blood vessels to contract. This action allows the body to either increase or decrease its blood pressure, depending on what the cat needs. Therefore, if the kidneys aren’t functioning and thus not producing necessary hormones, the cat’s blood pressure won’t be able to be regulated or properly controlled.

Producing Red Blood Cells

The kidneys are also responsible for the production of red blood cells. Most cat parents know that red blood cells are necessary for carrying oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. However, red blood cells have several other important roles. They are also critical for energy production. Without red blood cells, your cat wouldn’t be able to live out even the simplest day-to-day activities.

Kidney Location

A cat’s kidneys are located in the abdominal region, alongside the spine.

What is Kidney Disease | Renal Disease

Now, let’s get back on track and dive into the disease itself.

Kidney disease is one of the most dreaded diagnoses that a cat parent can receive. Unfortunately, the condition is quite common and is a leading cause of death in cats. The condition occurs when the kidneys lose function and, therefore, result in a number of life-threatening side effects. However, with early detection, your cat’s life can be made exponentially longer and better. In some cases, such as those of acute kidney disease, early (and often immediate) detection can truly save your cat’s life. Therefore, understanding the clinical signs of kidney damage is imperative for cat owners.

Kidney disease (also known as renal disease) is also often referred to as kidney failure. Most experts refer to early stages of kidney damage as kidney disease and later, more severe stages are referred to as kidney failure. However, we feel that it is important for cat owners to understand that the words are often used interchangeably. The more you know about the condition, the better equipped you will be moving forward.

Define Renal

The term renal is defined as relating to, involving, affecting, or located in the region of the kidneys. Therefore, you may also hear your vet use terms such as renal disease, renal failure, chronic renal disease, acute renal failure, etc. Again, taking out the ‘unknown’ element and making sure you know all there is to know about the disease will make the situation much less stressful for both you and your feline.

stages of kidney disease in cats

Types of Kidney Disease in Cats

There are two primary ‘types’ of kidney disease in cats: chronic kidney disease (CKD) and acute kidney disease (AKD). If your veterinarian diagnoses that your cat does, in fact, have kidney disease, they will next determine whether the condition is chronic or acute. The underlying causes, treatment, and prognosis will vary based on the results that your vet diagnoses.

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)

Chronic kidney disease refers to kidney damage that has developed slowly, over a period of time. The term ‘chronic’ can also refer to a condition that continues to occur throughout the cat’s life. Unfortunately, it can be extremely difficult (and sometimes not possible) for your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause of chronic renal disease. In some cases, a genetic predisposition is to blame. In other cases, the disease is simply brought on by age. However, in all cases of chronic kidney disease, early detection is paramount.

Acute Kidney Disease (AKD)

The second form of kidney disease in cats is referred to as acute kidney disease (AKD). Cats with kidney disease that is diagnosed as ‘acute’ often experience kidney damage due to poisoning (although there are several other causes to know, all which we will cover shortly!). Acute kidney disease occurs when there is a sudden, severe decline in kidney function. It causes the vital organs to lose their ability to perform tasks essential for the cat’s life. Acute kidney disease not only develops extremely quickly, but also progresses rapidly. Therefore, understanding the clinical signs of acute renal disease (or acute renal failure) is absolutely imperative.

What Causes Kidney Disease in Cats

There are a number of causes linked to kidney disease in cats. The underlying causes will not only dictate the necessary treatment, but also the overall prognosis. Additionally, while some causes of kidney disease are unavoidable, others can (and must) be avoided at all costs. Preventing many forms of kidney disease is possible once pet owners understand how to do so.

Causes of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)

First, let’s discuss the most prominent causes of chronic renal disease in cats. Again, chronic kidney disease develops over time. Therefore, the causes typically do not cause immediate symptoms or suddenly noticeable changes in your cat’s health condition. For this reason, pet owners must make sure they are implicitly aware of all associated symptoms (more on that soon).

Exposure to Environmental Toxins

Experts have drawn close correlations between chronic kidney disease and exposure to environmental toxins. Your cat is exposed to toxins on an everyday basis. From herbicides and pesticides to many household cleaners, toxicity is everywhere. When the amount of toxins your feline encounters is at a heightened level, the kidneys are not able to rid the body of the toxicity fast enough to prevent an accumulation. The build-up results in kidney damage. When the accumulation of toxins continues, kidney disease develops.

Medication Toxicity

Additionally, conventional medications flood your cat’s body with high levels of toxicity. These toxins not only affect the kidneys, but also the liver and several other vital organs. Now, we are not trying to downplay the incredible importance of conventional medicine. It is absolutely necessary for countless reasons. However, we want our readers to understand that not all medication and vaccinations are mandatory, even if they may be recommended. Furthermore, in many cases, these medications and vaccinations can truly cause your feline more harm than good.

When it comes to conventional drugs and vaccines, we recommend talking to your holistic veterinarian regarding all natural alternatives. There are so many effective substitutions for countless medications. Furthermore, knowing all there is to know about a new drug is an important part of being a responsible pet owner. Once cat parents understand the possible risks, they can then make an educated decision as to whether it’s best for their feline. If possible, do your best to limit your cat’s medication intake. It will, in turn, decrease their body’s level of toxicity and help to prevent organ damage.


Additionally, there is a direct correlation between kidney conditions and age. The older the feline is, the higher the risk of a number of ailments, including kidney disease. In fact, up to 1/3 of all older cats (over the age of seven) will develop kidney damage and associated problems. Sadly, we don’t have a magic pill that can stop time and prevent age from causing chronic renal failure. However, we do have the necessary tools to help prevent the kidneys from being impacted as significantly. Don’t worry, we’ll cover all the ways cat owners can help take these necessary steps.

Breed Predisposition

Interestingly enough, studies have found that certain cat breeds are at a higher risk of developing chronic kidney siamese cats are prone to kidney disease in catsdisease. These breeds include:

  • Maine coon
  • Abyssinian
  • Persian
  • Siamese
  • Russian blue
  • Burmese

With that being said, just because you have one of the aforementioned breeds doesn’t mean they will definitely have kidney issues. Moreover, it is possible for cats of any breed to develop chronic renal failure. However, it is always important for cat owners (and dog owners) to have a solid understanding of whether their pet is genetically predisposed to any disease. Being aware of your feline’s health risks is key to early detection as well as necessary prevention.


Speaking of genetics, certain conditions that your feline may be born with can ultimately lead to renal disease. For instance, malformation of the kidneys at birth causes kidney problems from the beginning of the cat’s life. Additionally, congenital polycystic kidney disease (PKD) is an inherited disorder that can lead to kidney failure in cats.

Again, while these conditions may not be able to be completely prevented, routine check-ups will inform your veterinarian of your kitten’s kidney function.

Chronic Bacterial Infections

Additionally, chronic bacterial infections of the kidneys can also lead to chronic renal failure in cats.

Other Causes of Chronic Kidney Failure CKD

Additional causes of chronic kidney failure in cats include:

  • Chronic urinary tract obstruction
  • Infectious disease like FIV and feline leukemia
  • Heavy metal exposure
  • Diabetes
  • Trauma (particularly to the abdominal region)
  • Systemic lupus
  • An acute kidney episode
  • High blood pressure
  • Immune system disorders
  • Many NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • Kidney stones
  • Damage to the kidney filters (glomerular disease)

As you can see, there are quite a few possible underlying causes for why your cat is experiencing chronic kidney disease. Yet, even with advanced testing, the exact cause is often difficult to pinpoint.

Causes of Acute Kidney Disease (AKD)

The causes of acute kidney disease are typically more clear as symptoms of AKD appear suddenly.

Accidental Poisoning

One of the most prominent causes of acute kidney disease in cats is accidental poisoning. Ingesting harsh toxins such as antifreeze (ethylene glycol toxicity) can cause an immediate and severe decline in kidney function, thus resulting in acute renal failure. Additionally, consuming toxins such as toxic plants (especially lilies) or ingesting rodenticides (i.e. rat poison) can also cause acute renal failure in cats. If you have a cat who loves exploring, it is extremely important that you ensure they are unable to get into these toxic substances. Accidental poisoning can cause irreversible damage and even death.

Furthermore, heavy metals like lead, mercury, thallium, and arsenic can also lead to accidental poisoning and result in acute renal disease.

Untreated Diseases and Infections

If certain health conditions, diseases, and infections are left untreated, they can ultimately cause kidney damage and associated acute renal disease. More specifically, the following conditions are directly linked to AKD in cats:

  • Pyelonephritis or bacterial infection of the kidney
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis
  • Ureteral or urethral obstruction
  • Heart failure
  • Clotting disorders
  • Low blood pressure
  • Systemic shock

Medication Toxicity

Finally, like chronic kidney failure, medication toxicity can also lead to acute renal failure in cats. Many conventional medications, particularly NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and antibiotics are directly tied to the development of AKD.

Kidney Disease Symptoms

As we previously mentioned, early detection of kidney disease in cats is extremely important.

Chronic Kidney Disease Symptoms

The most common clinical signs of chronic kidney disease include:

  • Increased thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Changes in urine quality
  • Decreased appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Anemia
  • Lethargy and overall weakness

In some cases, oral ulcers develop as a result of chronic kidney disease. This can lead to bad breath and mouth sensitivities.

Less common symptoms of chronic renal failure include:

  • Fractures caused by weakened bones
  • Blindness
  • Itchy skin
  • Bruising of the skin
  • Bleeding into the stomach

Acute Kidney Disease Symptoms

Clinical signs of acute kidney disease will appear quite suddenly and will be severe in nature. The symptoms of acute renal failure include:

  • Vomiting (with or without the presence of blood)
  • Diarrhea (with or without the presence of blood)
  • Sudden anorexia
  • Listlessness (lack of desire or interest to do anything)
  • Lethargy
  • Overall weakness
  • Seizures

By the time cats with acute kidney disease make it to the hospital they are often in shock. Again, if for any reason you believe your feline may be suffering from either chronic kidney disease or acute kidney disease, do not delay in getting them the medical attention that they need.

What Causes Kidney Failure | Renal Failure

To reiterate, kidney disease and kidney failure (also known as renal failure) are terms that are used interchangeably. Therefore, the causes of kidney failure are those which we previously discussed.

With that said, many vets may use the term kidney disease to refer to conditions that are in their early stages whereas kidney failure has progressed into a more severe stage.

Kidney Failure Symptoms

In the same breath, kidney failure symptoms are those of kidney disease as the terms are one and the same. Keeping that in mind, it is important to understand how progressed your cat’s kidney damage is. This will ultimately dictate the necessary treatment and their predicted prognosis.

Diagnosing Kidney Disease in Cats

Your vet will diagnose kidney disease through a series of blood tests and medical examinations such as x-rays and biopsies. During this phase, it is important to tell your veterinarian as much information as you can regarding your cat’s condition. Take note of when their symptoms started and if there is any possibility of poisoning. The more information your vet has, the quicker they will be able to make an accurate diagnosis.

diagnosing kidney disease in dogs

Treatment for Kidney Problems in Cats

Kidney disease treatment will ultimately depend on whether the condition is chronic or acute as well as what caused its development.

Treating Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease treatment may also vary depending on the stage of the condition and your cat’s overall health. One of the most important parts of CKD treatment is diet modification. Talk to your vet regarding appropriate dietary changes that can help prolong your cat’s life and improve their kidney function.

Treating Acute Kidney Disease

Treating acute kidney disease often involves fluid therapy to stabilize the cat and help flush out the toxicity. Administering intravenous fluids will also help restore electrolyte balance. In some cases, administering activated charcoal will be necessary to flush out the stomach contents and prevent any further absorption of toxins.

Kidney Disease Prevention

As we previously mentioned, not all kidney disease in cats is preventable. Some cat breeds are at a higher risk of developing kidney disease simply based on their genetics. With that being said, there are a number of ways that cat owners can ensure that their feline’s condition doesn’t drastically worsen as well as ways to prevent damage from developing in the first place.

Limit Exposure to Toxins

One of the most important ways to prevent kidney disease in cats is by limiting their exposure to toxins. This includes both environmental toxins and medication toxicity. As we previously mentioned, there are an incredible amount of all natural substitutes for many conventional medications. For instance, CBD oil for cats is a powerful pain relief supplement and an effective substitute for many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Talk to your holistic vet regarding how these alternatives can benefit your feline.


Next, diet! Your cat’s diet is beyond important. Diet can be used to prevent a slew of ailments, including kidney disease. Cat owners should make sure that their feline is being fed a well-balanced, species-appropriate food source that is full of all the vitamins and minerals that they feed. Furthermore, steer clear of processed foods as these also contain high levels of damaging toxins.

Additionally, if your cat has kidney issues, talk to your vet about a ‘renal diet’ which can help support kidney function.

Routine Check-Ups

Finally, pet owners should make sure that they are scheduling routine check-ups, even if they believe their cat is in good health. Many times, symptoms of kidney disease don’t develop until the condition has substantially progressed. Regular vet visits are a crucial part of early detection when your cat may not yet be showing physical symptoms of the disease.

Kidney Disease in Cats: A Final Thought

A kidney disease diagnosis can be an incredibly difficult time for not only cats, but for their owners as well. We are sincerely so sorry that you are currently facing this news. Here at SimpleWag, we know far too well how devastating it can be to hear that your four-legged companion’s health isn’t at its best. During this time, it is extremely important to stay on top of your cat’s routine check-ups and any mandatory medication that your veterinarian prescribes. Additionally, we recommend implementing a supplement such as CBD for cats in order to help relieve any accumulating inflammation and its associated discomfort. Also, talk to your holistic veterinarian regarding any recommended dietary changes that they may suggest. Diet can truly make a world of difference for both dogs and cats suffering from kidney damage.

Moreover, if you, for absolutely any reason, feel that your feline may be experiencing kidney problems, do not delay. Call your veterinarian today. Early detection can lead to early treatment which can be the difference between life and death for your cat. When it comes to your cat’s health and well-being, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

From all of us at SimpleWag, we hope your furry friend feels better soon.



About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Chelsea Rivera is a Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for