Turn Back the Clock. How to Reverse Kidney Damage in Cats


Kidney disease is a common condition affecting cats, especially older cats over 10 years old. Studies show the prevalence of kidney disease in cats seen at veterinary hospitals ranges from 1.18% to 3.05% (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4414065/). Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is characterized by gradual, irreversible deterioration of kidney function over time. While kidney disease cannot be cured, early detection and treatment is key to slowing the progression of CKD and improving quality of life.

Kidney disease often goes undetected in the early stages, as cats are adept at hiding signs of illness. Annual senior wellness exams and screening blood and urine tests can catch kidney problems before they become advanced. With early diagnosis and appropriate management, many cats can live happily with CKD for months or years.

Causes and Types of Kidney Damage

Kidney damage in cats can be acute or chronic. Acute kidney damage comes on suddenly, while chronic kidney disease develops more gradually over time. Some common causes of kidney damage include:

Toxins: Exposure to toxins like antifreeze, lilies, grapes/raisins, many human medications, and heavy metals can damage a cat’s kidneys. This often causes acute kidney injury.[1]

Infections: Bacterial, viral or fungal kidney infections can cause inflammation and damage. Pyelonephritis, a kidney infection, frequently causes acute kidney injury.[2]

Cancer: Lymphosarcoma, a type of cancer, can develop in the kidneys and impair their function. This tends to cause gradual, chronic kidney disease.[3]

Kidney stones: Mineral deposits forming in the kidneys can block urine flow and cause damage over time, resulting in chronic kidney disease.[4]

Congenital disorders: Some cats are born with abnormal kidney development that impairs function over time.

High blood pressure: Untreated high blood pressure can damage the small blood vessels in the kidneys leading to chronic kidney disease.

Regardless of the initial cause, chronic kidney disease is generally irreversible. However, progression can often be slowed with prompt treatment and good care.

Symptoms of Kidney Damage

There are several common symptoms of kidney disease in cats to look out for. As the kidneys fail, they are unable to concentrate urine effectively. This leads to increased thirst and urination as the body tries to flush out waste products (1). Excessive drinking and urinating are some of the earliest signs of kidney problems.

Kidney disease often leads to a poor appetite, weight loss, and muscle wasting. Toxins build up in the bloodstream which causes nausea. Vomiting and diarrhea can occur as the digestive system is disrupted (1, 2).

Later symptoms include dehydration, mouth ulcers, foul breath, lethargy, and depression. As the kidneys fail, they produce fewer hormones and can no longer regulate vitamins, minerals, and fluid. Eventually this leads to ulcerations, anemia, high blood pressure, and heart disease (2).

Diagnosing Kidney Damage

There are several tests veterinarians use to diagnose kidney damage and disease in cats:

Blood and urine tests: These are some of the most common tests used to check for signs of kidney problems. A blood chemistry panel can detect elevated levels of waste products like creatinine and BUN (blood urea nitrogen) that indicate reduced kidney function. A complete blood count may show anemia, which is common with chronic kidney disease. Urinalysis can reveal important information about kidney health and function based on the concentration of urine, protein levels, and presence of cells or crystals.

Imaging tests like x-rays and ultrasound: X-rays allow veterinarians to view the size, shape and position of the kidneys. This can detect abnormalities like small, shrunken kidneys or obstruction of urine flow. Ultrasound uses sound waves to create images of the kidneys and surrounding structures. It provides valuable information about kidney size, shape, texture and any cysts, masses or stones present. Ultrasound can also evaluate blood flow to the kidneys.

Other advanced tests like kidney biopsies may be recommended in some cases to evaluate kidney tissue and determine the underlying cause of disease. But bloodwork, urinalysis and imaging provide key information to diagnose kidney problems in most cats.

Can Kidney Damage be Reversed?

Whether kidney damage can be reversed depends on the underlying cause and severity of the damage. In some cases, the kidneys have the ability to heal and regain function if the cause of the injury is removed early. However, significant or long-standing damage can lead to permanent scarring that cannot be undone.

For cats with mild to moderate chronic kidney disease that is caught early, there is often potential for managing and reversing some of the damage. According to veterinarians, making dietary and lifestyle changes, controlling blood pressure, and treating the underlying condition can help improve kidney function and slow further deterioration in many cats. With prompt veterinary treatment, some cats may regain substantial kidney function.

For advanced kidney disease or failure, damage cannot be fully reversed. But supportive treatment and management can still greatly improve quality of life and longevity for cats. Though the kidneys will not heal back to normal function, progression of the disease can often be significantly slowed.

The takeaway is that while severe or end-stage kidney disease is irreversible, mild to moderate kidney impairment has the potential to be successfully managed and reversed in many cases. Consult a veterinarian as soon as any signs of kidney disease appear to halt progression and preserve kidney function.

Treatment Options

There are several treatments that can help manage kidney disease and slow its progression in cats. Some of the main treatment options include:

IV Fluids – One of the most common treatments for kidney disease is intravenous (IV) fluid therapy. IV fluids help flush toxins from the kidneys and rehydrate the cat. This helps improve kidney function and makes the cat feel better. IV fluids are typically given regularly at the vet clinic or hospital. Source

Anti-Nausea Medication – Kidney disease often causes nausea and vomiting. Anti-nausea medications like maropitant help control these symptoms, allowing the cat to eat and take medicines more easily. Source

Diet Changes – Special kidney diets are formulated to be gentle on the kidneys. They typically have reduced protein, phosphorus, and sodium levels. Phosphorus binders may also be prescribed to further limit phosphorus absorption. These dietary changes help reduce strain on the kidneys. Source

Blood Pressure Medication – High blood pressure damages kidneys further. Medications like amlodipine help control blood pressure, protecting the kidneys from added stress. Monitoring blood pressure is an important part of managing kidney disease. Source

At-home Care

There are several things cat owners can do at home to help care for a cat with kidney disease:

First, it is very important to encourage water intake. Cats with kidney disease are prone to dehydration, so providing fresh, clean water at all times is essential. Many vets recommend feeding a wet food diet, as the moisture content helps increase water consumption. You can also try adding a bit of tuna juice, low-sodium broth, or water to your cat’s food to increase palatability and hydration.

It is also helpful to reduce stress for a cat with kidney disease, as stress can worsen kidney problems. Providing soft, comfortable bedding in quiet areas your cat likes can help them relax. Using pheromone diffusers or plugins may also reduce anxiety.

Taking your cat to the vet for regular checkups and labwork is also an important part of at-home care. Your vet can monitor your cat’s kidney values and make adjustments to their treatment plan as needed. They can also provide subcutaneous fluids if your cat is dehydrated.

With attentive at-home care and working closely with your veterinarian, you can provide the best care possible for a cat with kidney disease. Monitoring their water intake, reducing stress, and getting regular vet checkups are all small but important ways cat owners can help support kidney health.



Helping Your Senior Cat with Kidney Disease

Outlook and Prognosis

The prognosis for cats with kidney disease depends greatly on the cause and severity of the damage. However, many cats can live for years with proper management and treatment. According to Chronic kidney disease in cats, life expectancy varies widely based on the stage of kidney disease.

Cats with mild, early-stage kidney disease often have a good long-term prognosis when treated. As the disease progresses to moderate or severe damage, the prognosis worsens. However, cats with advanced kidney disease can still live for months or years with dedicated care and treatment. According to Kitty’s Kidneys – The Cat Care Clinic, long standing kidney problems tend to have less favorable outcomes.

The key is to catch kidney disease early through regular veterinary checkups and bloodwork. Early detection and treatment are crucial for preserving kidney function and prolonging life. Work closely with your veterinarian to monitor your cat’s kidney values and customize the treatment plan.


There are steps you can take to help prevent kidney damage in your cat. Getting annual vet checkups is important to catch any early signs of kidney issues. Blood and urine tests allow the vet to monitor your cat’s kidney values and function over time. According to www.bluepearlvet.com/pet-blog/five-ways-to-prevent-kidney-disease-in-cats/, annual vet exams are critical for early detection and monitoring of kidney health.

It’s also important to keep toxins out of your cat’s environment and diet. Exposure to toxins like antifreeze, chemicals, medication, plants, and other harmful substances can damage your cat’s kidneys over time. Make sure to keep these items safely out of paw’s reach. Maintaining proper hydration is another key factor. Provide fresh, clean water daily and consider adding moisture to your cat’s diet with canned food or broths.

Feeding an age-appropriate diet is recommended by vets to support kidney health. As cats get older, switching to a renal-supportive food with reduced protein and phosphorus can help reduce kidney stress. Look for foods promoted for kidney health and consult your vet on the best options for your cat’s needs and age. With proactive care, you can help support your cat’s kidney function and hopefully avoid kidney disease down the road.

When to See a Vet

If your cat is exhibiting any signs of kidney disease, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian right away. Some key signs that warrant an urgent vet visit include:

  • Increased thirst or urination – One of the first signs of kidney disease in cats is increased water consumption and urination. If your cat is suddenly drinking and peeing a lot more than usual, contact your vet.
  • Signs of pain or discomfort – Cats with kidney disease may show signs of abdominal pain or discomfort, such as crying out, restlessness, or sensitivity around the stomach area. These are red flags for kidney issues.
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss, vomiting – Kidney disease often leads to gastrointestinal symptoms like loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, and vomiting. Rapid weight loss or persistent vomiting are reasons to see the vet promptly.

Bringing your cat to the veterinarian as soon as you notice any of these symptoms can help with early diagnosis and treatment. The sooner kidney disease is caught, the better the long-term prognosis. If you have any concerns about changes in your cat’s health, don’t hesitate to call the vet. Early detection and treatment is key to successfully managing kidney disease in cats.


Kidney Disease In Cats: Symptoms And Treatments

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