Chronic Kidney Failure in Cats


Chronic kidney failure (or chronic renal failure) is usually found in older cats and is not due to disease but a general and progressive loss of function in the kidneys. It is occasionally found on cats under ten, but this is due to a congenital condition usually and will be apparent from birth or young kitten-hood. There is no cure, but treatment can be given in the early stages to give the cat a little longer with a reasonable quality of life, but if it is advanced it is usually kinder to have the cat put to sleep humanely. This is usually the outcome of chronic kidney failure, although some cats do go away somewhere quiet and may die a natural death.

Signs Your Cat has Chronic Kidney Failure

The main sign of chronic renal failure is that your cat will be drinking more and also passing more urine. This is not the same as may be seen in the case of a cat with cystitis, which while passing urine more frequently will only produce a small amount each time. The cat with chronic renal failure will produce large amounts, as might be expected from the increased amount of drinking. The excess drinking will be easy to spot; most cats don’t drink much, especially if they are fed moist food, but cats with chronic kidney failure will be constantly looking for water and will lap it up wherever they can find it.


The cat may also vomit, will have no appetite and may get dehydrated – this is also easy to spot as the coat will look rough and the eyes will look sunken. There may be mouth ulcers as well, so the cat may paw at its mouth and cry. It is unlikely with reasonable care from the owner that all of these symptoms will be present as the cat will almost certainly have been taken to the vet before it reaches this state.

Diagnosis of Chronic Renal Failure

The vet will be able to take blood and the tests are usually quite clear cut, with elevated urea and electrolytes showing that the kidneys are functioning poorly. An ultrasound is sometimes carried out, but is usually not necessary as the diagnosis in an older cat is rarely in doubt. The vet will then guide you as to the options as to how you can manage the condition to the cat’s best advantage. 

Caring for your Cat with Chronic Kidney Failure

Chronic kidney failure cannot be cured, only managed to give your cat a better quality of life. The first priority is to provide palatable water for the animal and this can be done easily by putting a glass bottle filled with water in the fridge every night to allow the chemical smell to go off; cats don’t like the taste of tap water at the best of times and when it is feeling ill it will dislike it all the more. Some people give mineral water to their cat and this is fine as long as it does not have too many additional minerals which may challenge the kidneys unnecessarily.

Bottled Water

Evian is the ‘mildest’ and would be acceptable. Some cats with chronic kidney failure prefer running water and drinking fountains for pets are available at not too high a cost, as long as your cat can manage it. A dribbling tap accessible to the cat might suffice as long as your tap water isn’t too pre-treated. As far as feeding goes, there are many brands on the market for cats with renal problems and as long as the diet is low on protein and minerals (within limits of course) that will be fine. The protein that the cat is fed should be of high quality and so basic dry cat food is not really suitable – wet food is best because of the thirst problems.

Vitamin B and Steroids

Some vets recommend vitamin B and also anabolic steroids may help your cat. The bottom line is how well the cat is from day to day and constant vigilance. It would be unkind to keep alive an animal which is being kept alive only by artificial intervention when it is known there is no hope of cure. Some vets in the USA are performing kidney transplants on cats, on the condition that the recipient’s family adopt the donor, but ethically this is very difficult ground and at present it is not something which vets in the UK are offering.

Causes of Chronic Renal Failure

Chronic kidney failure is not a disease and there is no causative agent or any treatment by the owner which can bring it on. It is degeneration in the kidneys in an older cat and will happen or not pretty much whatever treatment the cat has been subject to in its life. Some cats which have been pampered and cosseted all their lives will get it and some won’t; some cats which have been by many parameters ignored by their owners and given the cheapest food and minimal care will get it and some won’t. It is not any more or less common in pure bred cats or cross breeds.

The main thing with chronic kidney failure is to keep a close eye on your cat if it is over about ten. Although it cannot be cured, if the cat is still in reasonable health when chronic kidney failure is diagnosed, it will stand a better chance of having a better quality of life for longer when put on the dietary and drug regimes which have been proven to help kidney function.


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