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Kidney Disease in Cats

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The kidneys, the frequently forgotten but life-sustaining organs, remove waste from the bloodstream and regulate fluids in the body. If the kidneys are not able to do their job, the result could be life threatening for your cat.

What is kidney disease?

Kidneys are very important because they remove waste substances from the blood, and maintain the normal balance of fluid and minerals within the body. Any condition which damages the kidneys is referred to as kidney disease.

In some cases, cats may show early warning signs of disease. However, signs of serious illness only appear 75% of the kidneys’ function has already been lost. This is the reason why early detection is so important, especially for cats age 7 or older. A simple blood test and urinalysis are all that is required to detect the disease.

What causes kidney disease?

The kidneys can be damaged by a wide range of conditions including injury, infection, toxins and cancer. This damage is usually irreversible. Kidney disease is common in cats, but with early diagnosis and treatment, progression can be limited and many cats go on to live happily for years after diagnosis. Factors that can make cats more prone to kidney disease include the following:

Age: The chance of developing kidney problems in cats increases after the age of 7.

Food: Some cat foods high in phosphorus and cat foods with increased levels of protein can increase the progression of kidney disease.

Breed: Some breeds, such as Persians, are more likely to develop particular types of kidney disease.

Environment: Some chemicals, including certain disinfectants, antifreeze, lead paint and some human medications can damage the kidneys.

Does my cat have kidney disease?

The signs of kidney disease can be difficult to recognize because they are similar to those of other disorders like diabetes and hyperthyroidism. If you notice any of the following, it could mean your cat has a kidney problem. If you notice any of the following signs in your cat, contact your veterinarian for a complete examination.

  • Loss of appetite
  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination or no urination
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Poor coat appearance
  • Depression
  • Weight loss
  • Bad breath
  • Sore mouth
  • Weakness
  • Lack of energy and increased sleeping
Common signs of kidney disease

IMPORTANT: Early stages of kidney disease will show no signs or symptoms. An increase in thirst is the first sign of kidney failure — if you notice this, or any of the above signs, consult your veterinarian immediately.

If your cat is diagnosed with kidney disease, your veterinarian may describe it as either acute or chronic.

Acute Kidney Disease: Acute, or sudden, kidney disorders can be caused by:

  • Blood loss
  • Shock
  • Surgical stress
  • Trauma
  • Severe dehydration
  • Poisons
  • Drugs
  • Obstructed urine flow
  • Infection

Chronic, or long-term, kidney disease can result from the above factors, plus breed and hereditary tendencies, in coordination with nutritional factors and immune system defects.

Unfortunately, the signs of kidney disease usually do not appear until 75% of kidney function has been lost. Once chronic kidney failure develops, it cannot be reversed.

IMPORTANT: Early stages of kidney disease will show no signs or symptoms. An increase in thirst may be the first sign of kidney failure — if you notice this, or any of the above signs, consult your veterinarian immediately.

The importance of nutrition

The food your cat eats plays an important role in her overall health and well-being. If your cat is diagnosed with kidney or renal disease, modifying her food can help manage the disease by reducing the amounts of protein and phosphorus in her food. Phosphorus restriction seems especially important in lessening the severity of the clinical signs and progression of kidney damage. Reducing protein levels may also help restore normal acid-base levels. The appropriate therapeutic food plays a crucial role in reducing build-up of waste products normally removed by kidneys and slowing or reversing damage to the kidneys.

Balanced nutrition is an essential part of an active, healthy lifestyle. If your cat has kidney problems, the right nutrition can positively impact your cat’s quality of life. For accurate diagnosis and treatment options, always consult your veterinarian and ask them to recommend the best food for your cat’s kidney health.

Ask Your Veterinarian About Kidney Disease:

  1. Are there any foods I should avoid giving my cat because of her condition?
    • Ask how human food may affect your cat’s health.
  2. Would you recommend a Hill’s® Prescription Diet® cat food for my cat's kidney health?
    • Ask about special nutritional concerns for your cat
    • How much / how often you should feed the recommended food to your cat
    • Discuss which treats you can feed your cat with the recommended food
  3. How quickly should I expect to see signs of improvement in my cat’s condition?
  4. Can you provide me with written instructions or a booklet on kidney disease for my cat?
  5. What is the best way (email/phone) to reach you or your hospital if I have questions?
    • Ask if you need a follow-up appointment.
    • Ask if a reminder email or notice will be sent.