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What are the signs & symptoms of end stage kidney failure in elderly cats?

Kidney failure can have a devastating effect on your cat's kidneys, related organs, and bodily functions. Today, our Norristown vets list the symptoms of kidney failure in cats, as well as potential causes and treatment options. 

What is kidney failure in cats?

Kidney failure (also known as renal failure) can be caused by a number of conditions that affect the kidneys and related organs.

Healthy kidneys remove waste from the blood, maintain normal electrolyte balance, regulate hydration and calcium, control blood pressure, and stimulate red blood cell production. If your cat has kidney failure, the kidneys are no longer working properly.

Are there different types of kidney failure in cats?

There are two types of kidney failure in cats, and they differ in causes, treatment options, and prognosis.

Acute Renal Failure

This type of kidney failure happens quickly, within a few days or weeks. It can occur in cats of any age and is commonly caused by poisons, disorders, diseases, organ failure, medications, and other factors.

Acute renal failure can often be reversed if caught in time.

Chronic Kidney Failure

Chronic kidney failure causes the kidneys to gradually stop working over months or years as they lose their ability to filter toxins from the blood. This type of kidney failure has the potential to progress to total kidney failure.

What causes kidney failure in cats?

Thousands of microscopic tubes make up your cat's kidney filtering system (nephrons). While a damaged kidney will still function, if too many nephrons stop working too quickly for the good nephrons to compensate, the kidneys will fail.

The most immediate symptom of kidney failure is that they stop clearing the blood of dangerous toxins. Though cats’ kidneys may start to fail with age, they aren’t the only ones at risk (as noted above).

Here are some common causes of both acute and chronic kidney failure in cats:

  • Acute Kidney Failure
  • Ingestion of toxins or harmful substances (toxic plants, antifreeze, rat poison, human medications)
  • Dehydration
  • Bacterial infection (the urinary tract becomes infected with bacteria, which travel to the kidneys)
  • Illnesses such as cancer
  • Clotting disorders
  • Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Heart failure
  • Blockages
  • Specific medications (some chemotherapy drugs or antibiotics)
  • Trauma (ruptured bladder or broken pelvis)
  • Shock (from losing an excessive amount of blood quickly, overheating, vomiting, diarrhea, and more)

Chronic Kidney Failure

  • Genetics
  • Blockages
  • Autoimmune diseases (in which the immune system attacks the body’s organs)
  • Cysts (which grow and destroy tissues in the kidneys)

Symptoms of Kidney Failure

If your cat’s kidneys aren’t removing waste from his or her body, you may notice many signs. General symptoms of kidney failure in cats can include:

  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Depression
  • Bad breath
  • Diarrhea (may contain blood)
  • Vomiting (may contain blood)
  • Dehydration
  • Excess thirst

Additionally, indications of acute kidney failure include an arched back or stiff-legged gait (a symptom that your cat’s kidneys are causing pain), and either frequent or no urination.

Because chronic kidney failure may gradually progress over years, you may not notice it. By the time you see symptoms, the disease may already have advanced.

However, with appropriate treatment, some cats that have experienced chronic kidney failure live a good quality of life for years to come.

Symptoms of chronic kidney failure include easy bruising or bleeding, and increased urination.

What are the symptoms of end-stage kidney failure in cats?

Sometimes the signs of kidney failure in cats are missed and the disease progresses to the end stage. End-stage kidney failure symptoms in cats include the general symptoms listed above, as well as dull, sunken eyes, inability to walk, body odor, urinary or bowel incontinence, seizures, confusion, refusal to eat or drink, twitching, blindness, pacing, and restlessness, withdrawing, hiding, and running away.

Though more than one of these symptoms will be present, you may not see all of them. There may also be a sudden improvement in their symptoms, but do not let this fool you.

With kidney failure, there are no easy answers, as different symptoms may be present at different times. These symptoms can also be signs of other illnesses, which is why early diagnosis, disease management, and communication with your vet are critical.

When it comes to symptoms of kidney failure in cats, the stage is key to prognosis. While there is no cure for chronic kidney disease if it’s detected and treated early your cat’s longevity and quality of life can be improved.

How is kidney failure in cats treated?

The goal of treating kidney failure is to slow the disease's progression and manage symptoms. Depending on the symptoms and their stages, treatment options may include intravenous fluids to correct dehydration, vitamin injections, nausea medication, potassium supplements, and other measures.

Our Norristown vets are experienced in treating many conditions and diseases in cats, including co-occurring illnesses. Using advanced technology in our in-house lab, our veterinary team can provide same-day testing and results for efficient, effective care.

For cats with end-stage kidney failure, nursing them in their final days will mean keeping them warm and comfortable, with food, water, and a litter box nearby, as well as lots of quiet human companionship.

If your cat is in pain with seizures, regular vomiting, and soiling, you may want to discuss with your vet whether euthanization should be considered. Though this is probably the most difficult part of pet ownership, if all other measures have failed, it may be time.

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet. 

Is your cat showing signs of kidney disease or other serious illness? At Trooper Veterinary Hospital, our Norristown vets can diagnose and treat a wide range of conditions. Book an appointment today.

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