Kidney Failure in Cats

Kidney failure in cats is a grim diagnosis that is incurable, but the concerned pet owner can help make life more comfortable for his or her cat as it copes with the disease. Cats can live months or even years after diagnosis, so owners facing the reality of a cat with renal (kidney) failure should understand the reasons behind and treatment of the disease.

Symptoms of Kidney Failure

When owners suspect kidney failure, the cat should be taken to the vet. The symptoms of kidney failure include:

  • Excessive thirst/drinking
  • Excessive urination
  • Loss of energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Excessive licking of lips
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Excessive drooling
  • Dry, coarse coat of fur
  • Oral ulcers

Chronic versus Acute

Cats may be diagnosed with either acute renal failure or chronic renal failure. Chronic kidney failure in cats is a long-term, progressive shut down of the kidneys, while acute kidney failure is abrupt and more quickly fatal. Chronic kidney failure is more often seen in older cats and may be attributed to a poor diet or a lifelong diet of only dry food (which lacks sufficient moisture to keep the cat properly hydrated over its lifespan). It may also be related to genetics, environmental stresses, high blood pressure, dental disease and low potassium levels. Acute kidney failure can occur at any age and can be due to a blockage in the urinary tract, trauma, infection or ingestion of poison.

Chronic kidney failure offers more hope for longer survival, but immediate medical intervention may be able to save cats with acute kidney failure and, unlike with chronic kidney failure, restore full function of the kidneys. However, the chances for survival are often slim.


There is no cure for chronic kidney failure in cats, but some acute kidney failure cases can be cured. The best course of action for the concerned owner to take is to ensure that the cat's remaining days are as pleasant as possible. Fresh water should always be available; the owner of a cat with kidney failure may have to refill the bowl more than once a day. Keeping the cat's weight up is essential to keeping the disease from progressing quickly; owners should feed their cats a specially formulated food with extra potassium. A vet may also recommend medication.

Unless the vet recommends otherwise, regular shots and inoculations are no longer necessary in cats with kidney failure. The side effects that are harsh on those with kidney failure outweigh the potential benefits of the shots, which will no longer be as effective. The cat, who should be kept indoors for the remainder of its life, will not be as likely to endanger itself or others.

There are steps that responsible owners can take to ensure that their cats' remaining days are as comfortable possible. As treatment is not complicated or expensive, and survival may extend for months or years, kidney failure is one diagnosis that doesn't always necessitate putting the cat to sleep on discovery.