Is Kidney Failure Painful for Cats? The Symptoms You Need to Know

What is Kidney Failure in Cats?

Kidney failure, also known as renal failure, occurs when the kidneys can no longer properly filter waste products from the blood. This causes a buildup of toxic substances in the body that leads to a range of symptoms (1).

There are two main types of kidney failure in cats:

  • Acute kidney failure – comes on suddenly and rapidly gets worse over a few days. Common causes include ingesting toxins, urinary obstruction, and decreased blood flow to the kidneys.
  • Chronic kidney disease – develops gradually over months or years. The kidneys slowly lose function due to age, genetics, dental disease, high blood pressure, or damage from underlying illness (2).

Chronic kidney disease has 4 stages:

  1. Non-azotemic – no clinical signs, kidney damage is undetected
  2. Mild renal azotemia – lab tests show elevated kidney values but no symptoms
  3. Moderate renal azotemia – some clinical signs appear like increased thirst and urination
  4. Severe renal azotemia – obvious symptoms and kidney failure (3)

Without treatment, chronic kidney disease progresses until the kidneys can no longer function, leading to end-stage kidney failure.

Signs of Kidney Failure in Cats

there are several common signs of kidney failure in cats

There are several common signs of kidney failure in cats to look out for. These include:

Increased thirst and urination – Cats with kidney disease will start to drink more water and urinate larger volumes as their kidneys struggle to concentrate urine. You may notice your cat drinking more frequently or having larger clumps in the litter box 1.

Loss of appetite – Appetite loss is one of the most common symptoms of kidney failure in cats. Your cat may eat less food at meals or start refusing their favorite treats as kidney function declines 2.

Weight loss – Cats with kidney disease often lose weight as their appetite decreases. Weight loss may be gradual at first but can become rapid as the disease progresses.

Bad breath – Kidney failure can cause ulcers in a cat’s mouth that lead to a foul, ammonia-like odor on the breath.

Lethargy – Sick cats tend to sleep more and become less active. Lethargy is a common symptom as toxins build up in the blood due to declining kidney function.

Vomiting – Nausea and vomiting are common in kidney failure as waste products accumulate. Vomit may be clear or yellow bile.

Is Kidney Failure Painful for Cats?

yes, kidney failure can be very painful for cats

Yes, kidney failure can be very painful for cats. As the kidneys fail, toxins build up in the bloodstream. This buildup of toxins can cause nausea, lack of appetite, and oral ulcers or sores in the mouth 1. The toxins irritate the lining of the digestive tract, making cats feel unwell. They may vomit frequently as their body tries to eliminate the toxins. The ulcers and sores in their mouth can make eating uncomfortable. Kidney failure is often compared to having chronic pain similar to a lower backache 1.

In acute kidney failure, the kidneys may become swollen and inflamed, which leads to pain and discomfort 2. As the disease progresses to end-stage kidney failure, the pain may lessen as the kidneys shrink and lose function. But cats are still likely to experience some pain from the buildup of toxins throughout their body.

Why Kidney Failure is Painful

Kidney failure is painful for cats because the buildup of toxins in the bloodstream leads to several issues that cause discomfort. As toxins accumulate, they can irritate the stomach lining, causing nausea and loss of appetite 1. The toxins can also lead to mouth ulcers, making eating uncomfortable. Another source of pain is hypertension, or high blood pressure, which is a common consequence of untreated kidney disease. Hypertension can cause severe headaches in cats.

Additionally, kidney failure often leads to abnormally high parathyroid hormone levels (hyperparathyroidism). This causes the bones to release calcium into the bloodstream, resulting in achy, tender bones 2. The combination of nausea, oral ulcers, headaches, and bone pain makes kidney failure an extremely uncomfortable condition for cats.

Treatment for Pain

There are several ways vets treat pain associated with kidney failure in cats:

there are several ways vets treat pain with kidney failure

Treat the underlying kidney condition. Medications like ACE inhibitors can help improve kidney function and reduce pain. According to PetMD, “Dietary therapy is considered the cornerstone for managing cats with kidney disease.” Special kidney diets provide the right nutrients while reducing strain on the kidneys.

Provide pain medication. Drugs like buprenorphine or meloxicam can relieve discomfort from kidney issues. Hydration therapy with IV or subcutaneous fluids can also ease pain and support kidney function.

Consider dialysis. For advanced kidney failure, dialysis filters the blood and removes waste. This can reduce symptoms like nausea and discomfort. As PetMD states, “Several forms of this therapy exist for cats, including intermittent hemodialysis, continuous renal replacement therapy, and peritoneal dialysis.”

Work closely with your vet to develop an integrated treatment plan to manage kidney disease while keeping your cat as comfortable as possible.

Providing Comfort at Home

One of the best things you can do for a cat with kidney failure is help them feel as comfortable as possible at home. This includes encouraging eating, supporting hydration, providing soft bedding, and ensuring litter box accessibility.

Since cats with kidney disease often have poor appetites, you can tempt them to eat by warming their food to bring out the aroma, hand feeding them, or adding broths or tuna juice to their meals. Feed smaller, frequent meals rather than one large serving. Patience and persistence with getting your cat to eat is key.

Dehydration is a major concern with kidney disease. Provide plenty of fresh, clean water around the house. You can also supplement with subcutaneous fluids under the skin, as prescribed by your vet. Ice chips and cystitis relief foods that have high moisture content can also encourage hydration.

Since cats with kidney failure may have sore joints or muscles, provide soft, comfortable bedding around your home so they can rest peacefully. Wash bedding frequently as accidents may occur.

Ensure litter boxes are easily accessible on each level of the home. Scoop waste frequently to encourage use. Place pads around boxes to absorb any urine that falls outside.

When to See the Vet

If your cat is showing signs of kidney failure, it’s important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible. Some signs that warrant an urgent vet visit include:

  • Persistent decreased appetite – Cats with kidney disease often have reduced appetites, but it’s concerning if they stop eating altogether for more than a day or two.
  • Signs of pain or discomfort – Cats who are vocalizing, hiding, restless, or showing other body language indicating they are in pain need to be seen right away.
  • Lethargy or depression – Extreme lethargy, lack of interest in usual activities, or other personality changes can signal your cat is not feeling well and needs medical attention.
  • Vomiting or diarrhea – Any episodes of vomiting or diarrhea, especially if recurrent or containing blood, warrant an immediate vet visit.

Bringing your cat to the vet at the first signs of illness allows early diagnosis and treatment, which can greatly improve the prognosis. Kidney disease is progressive, so catching it early and managing it is key. Your vet will run tests like bloodwork, urinalysis, and potentially ultrasound or x-rays to determine the cause and extent of kidney dysfunction. They can then advise on the best treatment options to slow disease progression and help your cat feel their best.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, the initial prognosis is guarded for all cases of acute kidney injury. With prompt veterinary treatment though, many cats can recover or at least be stabilized. Don’t wait to bring your cat in if you notice potential signs of kidney trouble – the sooner it’s addressed, the better their chances of treatment success.

Prognosis for Kidney Failure

the prognosis depends on the stage of kidney disease

The prognosis for a cat with kidney failure depends on the stage of the disease. Kidney failure is very manageable if caught early before it progresses to more advanced stages. There are treatments available that can help prolong and improve a cat’s quality of life.

If kidney disease is diagnosed in stages 1 or 2, the prognosis is good with appropriate treatment and management. In early stages, kidney function can be improved and damage slowed with medications, diet changes, and subcutaneous fluids. Cats with early stage kidney disease often respond well to treatment and can live for many more months or years.

However, the prognosis worsens as the disease progresses to stage 3 or 4. At end-stage kidney failure, the kidneys have lost about 70-90% of function. Treatment focuses on managing symptoms and slowing further damage, but kidney function cannot be reversed. Even with aggressive treatment, cats with advanced kidney failure typically live weeks to months. With supportive care and veterinary guidance, quality of life can still be maintained.

Overall, detecting and managing kidney disease early is key. While kidney failure shortens lifespan and eventually leads to end-of-life decisions, timely diagnosis and treatment in the initial stages can prolong a cat’s life by years. Consult a veterinarian regularly to monitor kidney health.

Caring for a Cat with Kidney Disease

Caring for a cat with kidney disease involves managing symptoms and slowing the progression of the disease. Some key aspects of care include:

Special diet – Feeding a veterinary prescription kidney diet helps reduce strain on the kidneys by limiting protein and phosphorus. Cats with kidney disease often have poor appetites so making food appealing is important.

Plenty of water – Encouraging water intake helps flush toxins from the body. Strategies include feeding wet food, adding water to food, and providing multiple fresh water sources.

Regular vet checkups – Routine blood and urine tests allow vets to monitor kidney values and make adjustments to care. Blood pressure checks are also important.

Pain control – Kidney disease can be painful so pain medication may be prescribed. Signs of pain include decreased appetite and activity levels.

Quality of life focus – Managing symptoms and slowing disease progression help cats live comfortably. Euthanasia may be considered when quality of life declines despite treatment.

Takeaway on Kidney Failure Pain

Kidney failure can be extremely painful for cats in the later stages as toxins build up and the kidneys struggle to function properly. While kidney disease itself may not be painful, the side effects often are. Fluid buildup, nausea, ulcers, and nerve damage can all significantly impact a cat’s quality of life.

It’s important to monitor your cat closely and provide whatever relief possible – soft bedding, heating pads, gentle massages, medication, and appetite stimulants. Work closely with your vet to alleviate pain and make your cat comfortable. However, euthanasia may eventually need to be considered if your cat’s pain cannot be controlled.

While kidney failure cannot be cured, proper treatment and palliative care from your vet can often prolong and improve your cat’s quality of life. Providing the best care involves carefully balancing your cat’s pain management with their remaining enjoyment of life. With love and care, many cats can still have several good months or years before the disease progresses too far.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top