Nine Lives Lost? Can Cats Bounce Back from Kidney Failure?

What is kidney failure in cats?

Kidney failure, also known as renal failure, is a condition where the kidneys stop functioning properly. There are two main types of kidney failure in cats:

  • Acute kidney failure happens suddenly, over a period of days or weeks. It is usually caused by ingesting toxins, an infection, or low blood flow to the kidneys. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, and increased thirst and urination. Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats – VCA Animal Hospitals
  • Chronic kidney failure develops gradually over months or years. The kidneys slowly lose function due to age, genetics, or damage from underlying illness. Symptoms may not appear until up to 70% of kidney function has been lost. What are the symptoms of end stage kidney failure in cats?

Common symptoms of kidney failure in cats include increased thirst and urination, weight loss, poor appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, and bad breath. As the kidneys fail, toxins build up in the blood causing ulcers in the mouth, nausea, and a metallic taste. Fluid may also build up in the body causing swelling and lack of energy. Cat Kidney (Renal) Failure Symptoms and Causes

Kidney failure is most often caused by old age, infections, toxins, kidney stones, or cancer. Underlying illnesses like high blood pressure, arthritis, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism can also contribute to kidney damage over time.

Diagnosing kidney failure

There are several tests veterinarians use to diagnose kidney failure in cats:

Blood and urine tests: Blood tests look at levels of waste products like blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine to assess kidney function. A high BUN and creatinine indicates the kidneys are not adequately filtering waste from the blood. Urinalysis looks at urine concentration, protein levels, and sediment to evaluate kidney health.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, “Renal disease is usually diagnosed by looking at the level of two biochemical by-products in the bloodstream, blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine.”1

Imaging tests: X-rays, ultrasound, or CT scans of the kidneys can check for stones, tumors, cysts, or other abnormalities. These images help identify underlying causes of kidney disease.

Biopsy: A kidney biopsy involves surgically removing a small sample of kidney tissue for examination under a microscope. This definitively diagnoses the type and severity of kidney disease.

Treating kidney failure

There are several ways vets treat kidney failure in cats to help manage the condition and improve quality of life. Some of the main treatments include:

Fluid therapy: One of the most common treatments for kidney failure is administration of intravenous (IV) fluids, which helps flush toxins from the body and prevent dehydration. Fluids can be given at the vet’s office or at home under the skin (subcutaneously).

Diet changes: Special renal diets are formulated to be gentle on the kidneys by restricting protein, phosphorus, and sodium. Increased omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants may also slow disease progression. Cats with kidney disease should avoid processed and high phosphorus foods.

Medications: Drugs like ACE inhibitors help control blood pressure and reduce strain on the kidneys. Antacids treat ulcers and vomiting. Phosphate binders prevent mineral buildup. Antioxidants and supplements support kidney function. Other medications can treat anemia or secondary infections.

In addition to conventional treatments, complementary therapies like fluid therapy, antioxidants, and nutritional supplements can support kidney function and may slow progression of kidney disease (Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats – VCA Animal Hospitals). With proper management, cats can live comfortably with chronic kidney failure for months to years.

Managing kidney failure

Managing kidney failure in cats requires following the treatment plan prescribed by your veterinarian, which may include medications, dietary changes, and fluid therapy. Providing supportive care at home is also important for cats with kidney disease.

Work closely with your vet to monitor your cat’s condition and make adjustments to the treatment plan as needed. Sticking to the prescribed medications and dietary changes can help slow the progression of kidney failure. Your vet may recommend feeding a special renal diet to limit waste buildup and provide balanced nutrition.

At-home care like encouraging your cat to drink more fluids, assisting with grooming if needed, and providing soft bedding can help them stay comfortable. Monitor for any new symptoms and let your vet know if your cat seems lethargic, loses their appetite, or has other concerning signs. With dedicated care and treatment from you and your vet team, cats can cope well with kidney disease for months or years.


The prognosis for cats with kidney failure depends on the underlying cause and severity of the disease. With aggressive treatment, cats in the early stages of kidney disease can live for many more years. However, the prognosis worsens as the disease progresses.

For cats with acute kidney injury, the prognosis varies dramatically based on the cause. If the kidneys are affected temporarily by a toxin or obstruction, the prognosis may be good once the underlying issue is resolved. However, severe acute injury that leads to significant loss of kidney function often has a grave prognosis.

In cases of chronic kidney disease, prognosis depends on the stage. According to the VCA Animal Hospitals, cats in early stage kidney disease (stage 1 and 2) have a good prognosis and may live for years with proper treatment and management. However, cats in stage 3 have a guarded prognosis with survival times of months to a few years. Stage 4 kidney failure is eventually fatal, with average survival times of months once clinical signs develop.

Overall, many cats with chronic kidney disease can live full, good quality lives for years with aggressive therapy. But regular veterinary monitoring, medications, dietary changes, and owner dedication are required. Sadly, the disease will eventually progress and become fatal.

Preventing kidney failure

There are some important steps cat owners can take to help prevent kidney failure in their feline companions.

Getting annual checkups with your veterinarian is crucial for detecting early signs of kidney issues like increased thirst or weight loss (Petfinder). Early detection allows for earlier treatment intervention.

Providing proper dental care through annual cleanings can prevent periodontal disease, which has been linked to kidney disease (BluePearl).

Feeding an appropriate kidney diet is important. Your vet may recommend a food formulated for kidney health, with moderate protein and phosphorus content (ASPCA).

Making sure your cat stays well-hydrated can help flush toxins through the kidneys. Provide fresh, clean water daily and consider adding broth or water to food (Petfinder).

Caring for a cat with kidney failure

If your cat has been diagnosed with kidney failure, there are some steps you can take to help support them and potentially slow the progression of the disease. One of the most important things is to give any medications prescribed by your veterinarian as directed. These may include phosphorus binders, potassium supplements, anti-nausea medication, and more. Giving medications on schedule and as prescribed can help manage symptoms and complications (VCA).

You should also encourage your cat to eat as much as possible. Kidney failure often decreases appetite, but maintaining good nutrition is essential. Feed smaller, more frequent meals of a prescription kidney diet. Warming the food to enhance aroma and flavor can help stimulate appetite. Avoid giving high phosphorus foods like dairy, organ meats, egg yolks, etc. (iCatCare).

Providing easy access to fresh water is also very important. Place multiple water bowls around the house and consider getting a cat water fountain if your cat prefers moving water. Cats with kidney disease need to stay well-hydrated. You can also add some water or broth to their food to increase fluid intake.

When to euthanize

There may come a point in time when euthanasia is the most humane option for a cat with kidney disease. According to PetMD, the decision to euthanize is very personal, but some signs it may be time include:

Severe symptoms: Once a cat is no longer responding to treatments and medications, their condition will continue declining. Severe symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, seizures and coma indicate the disease has progressed too far.

Poor quality of life: A cat with advanced kidney disease often experiences severe lethargy, inappetence, weight loss and other effects that impact their quality of life. If a cat seems to have little enjoyment left, euthanasia may be the most compassionate choice.

Advanced or end-stage disease: Once a cat reaches end-stage kidney failure where the kidneys have almost complete loss of function, there are no treatments left to try. At this point, a peaceful passing with euthanasia may prevent further suffering.

According to PetTao, assessing bloodwork trends over time rather than a one-time sample can help determine if your cat’s condition is declining. Partnering closely with your vet can help evaluate when quality of life is irretrievable. While the choice is difficult, euthanasia may provide the most gentle passing for a beloved feline family member.

Coping with loss

Losing a beloved pet can be extremely difficult. It’s important to give yourself time and space to grieve the loss. Some things that may help include:

Seek out grief support. Consider attending a pet loss support group or talking to a counselor. Don’t feel ashamed about needing help – pet loss can be just as devastating as losing a human loved one.

Find ways to celebrate your pet’s life. Make a photo album or memory book, or plant a tree in their honor. Doing things to memorialize them can help with the grieving process.

When you’re ready, consider opening your heart and home to adopt another pet. Getting a new animal companion won’t replace the one you lost, but can provide comfort. Adopting a pet in need of a home can also be very healing.

Be patient with yourself as you adapt to everyday life without your furry friend. With time and support, the pain will lessen.

The takeaway

Kidney failure is unfortunately very common in older cats. As cats age, their kidneys naturally become less efficient at removing toxins from the blood. However, with early detection from regular veterinary checkups and proper treatment, many cats with kidney disease can live a good quality of life for years.

Treatment focuses on supporting kidney function through diet, fluids, and medication. Cats in kidney failure need high protein, low phosphorus diets. Vets often prescribe kidney-supportive prescription diets. Providing extra fluids, either through injection or encouraging drinking, is also key. Medications help control blood pressure, anemia, and acidity levels. With this comprehensive management approach, cats can bounce back from kidney disease and continue enjoying life.

While kidney failure shortens lifespan, the extent depends on the stage and how well the cat responds to treatment. For owners, focus on maximizing quality time through attentive everyday care. Monitor for any changes and maintain veterinary checkups. However, when your cat’s quality of life declines, it may be time to discuss euthanasia. Saying goodbye is always hard, but take comfort in knowing you provided the best life possible.

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