Easing Your Cat’s Pain. What to Give a Feline Friend with Kidney Failure

Understanding Kidney Failure in Cats

Kidney failure, also known as chronic kidney disease (CKD), is unfortunately a common condition in cats, especially geriatric cats over 10 years old. It occurs when the kidneys become damaged and can no longer effectively filter waste products from the blood. This allows waste to build up in the body and cause illness.

There are several potential causes of kidney failure in cats. These include:

  • Chronic interstitial nephritis – inflammation and scarring of the kidneys
  • Kidney stones or crystals
  • Bacterial infections
  • Lymphoma or other cancers
  • Congenital kidney defects
  • Toxins, like antifreeze

Common symptoms of kidney failure include:

  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Weight loss and poor appetite
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Bad breath
  • Lethargy and depression

As kidney function declines, cats may develop ulcers in the mouth, anemia, high blood pressure, brittle bones, poor skin and coat health, and eventually kidney failure can become fatal. That’s why early detection and treatment is so important for cats with kidney disease.

Pain Management Options for Cats with Kidney Failure

Pain management is extremely important for cats with kidney failure. Cats often mask signs of pain, so it can be easy to miss. However, letting a cat’s pain go untreated can lead to reduced appetite, activity levels, grooming and overall quality of life. Therefore, properly managing your cat’s pain is essential.

Treating pain in cats with kidney issues can be challenging. Many common pain medications like NSAIDs can be hard on the kidneys, so alternatives may be needed. Your vet will help determine the best options for your individual cat. Some choices may include:

  • Gabapentin – An anticonvulsant that can help relieve neuropathic pain.
  • Amantadine – Used to treat Parkinson’s in humans, it also has analgesic effects in cats.
  • Buprenorphine – An opioid partial agonist that can provide pain relief with less risk of side effects.
  • Fentanyl – A fast-acting opioid analgesic that may be used for short-term pain management.
  • Tramadol – A pain medication that has less impact on kidney function compared to other options.

Your vet may start with lower dosages and shorter treatment durations when first prescribing pain medications for a cat with kidney issues. Close monitoring for side effects is also important. With the right balance, pain medicines can greatly improve comfort and quality of life.

Non-Medication Pain Relief

There are several steps cat owners can take to help relieve their cat’s pain from kidney failure without medication. Focusing on diet, enrichment, and gentle exercise can go a long way in keeping your cat comfortable.

Diet Changes: Changing your cat’s diet can help reduce strain on the kidneys. Feed high-quality protein sources like chicken, turkey, or fish. Avoid dry food and only feed wet food, as the extra fluids help the kidneys. Restrict sodium, phosphorus, and potassium which tax the kidneys. Consult your vet on the best diet.

Environmental Enrichment: Make your cat’s environment calming and soothing. Provide soft, warm beds in quiet areas without loud noises or children disturbing them. Place water bowls around the house. Use pheromone diffusers and toys. Keep the litter box clean. All of this reduces stress and discomfort.

Physical Therapy: Gentle exercises like stretching and range of motion movements can ease muscle tension and stiffness from inactivity. Massage helps relaxation. Always go slowly and stop if your cat seems distressed. Physical therapy should never cause pain, just gentle comfort.

Medications for Pain Control

There are several types of medications that can help manage pain in cats with kidney failure. Some of the most common options include:


Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like meloxicam or carprofen can provide pain relief by reducing inflammation. However, NSAIDs need to be used very cautiously in cats with kidney disease, as they can potentially further damage the kidneys. Your vet will determine if your cat is a candidate for NSAID treatment, carefully calculate the dosage, and monitor kidney values.


Opioid pain medications like buprenorphine or tramadol act on the central nervous system to block pain signals. Opioids often cause less kidney strain than NSAIDs. However, opioids can potentially lead to side effects like sedation, constipation, or a loss of appetite in some cats. Work closely with your vet to find the right opioid medication and dosage for your cat.

Other Drug Options

Some other medications that may help with pain management include:

– Gabapentin – an anticonvulsant that can reduce neuropathic pain
– Amitriptyline – an antidepressant that may help with chronic inflammatory pain
– Steroids – can help reduce inflammation, but prolonged use requires close monitoring

Your vet will determine the best pain medication protocol for your individual cat based on their health status, other medications, and observed response to treatment.

Best Practices for Administering Pain Medication

When giving your cat pain medication, it’s important to follow your veterinarian’s instructions carefully. Here are some best practices for administering pain meds to your cat:

Follow the dosage instructions from your vet. Never give more or less medication than prescribed. Track when you give each dose to avoid accidental overdoses. If you have trouble getting your cat to take medication, talk to your vet – don’t increase the dosage on your own.

Many cats dislike taking oral medications. Consider asking your vet for compounding options to make the medication more palatable. Compounded medications are customized by a pharmacy into forms like flavored liquids or transdermal gels that are easier to administer.

Pilling cats can be challenging. Ask your vet to demonstrate proper pilling technique. Tips include: holding the head steady and tilting it back slightly to straighten the esophagus, using a pill popper or your fingers to place the pill far back over the base of the tongue, closing the mouth while gently stroking the throat to encourage swallowing. Reward with treats after.

Always monitor for side effects after giving new medications. Common signs include lethargy, appetite changes, and gastrointestinal issues. Report any concerns promptly to your veterinarian.

Monitoring for Side Effects

When giving your cat pain medication, it’s important to monitor for potential side effects. Some common side effects to watch for include:

Changes in Appetite

Pain medications may cause a loss of appetite in some cats. If your cat is refusing food or seems disinterested in eating, contact your veterinarian, as adjustments to dosing or a medication change may be needed.

Vomiting or Diarrhea

Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea can occur as side effects of certain pain relievers. If your cat experiences any gastrointestinal upset, stop giving the medication and notify your vet.


Excessive drowsiness or lethargy can be a sign of over-medication. If your cat seems overly sleepy, unsteady, or unable to move around normally, seek veterinary advice right away, as the dosage may need lowering.

By carefully observing your cat after administering any new medication, you can spot adverse reactions early. Alert your vet to any concerning symptoms so adjustments can be made for your cat’s comfort and safety.

Managing Other Symptoms

In addition to pain, cats with kidney failure may experience other symptoms like nausea, constipation and anxiety. Properly managing these other symptoms can greatly improve your cat’s comfort and quality of life.

Nausea – Since kidney failure can cause gastrointestinal upset, nausea is common. Anti-nausea medications like Cerenia can help control vomiting. You can also try feeding bland, low-protein foods like boiled chicken and rice. Make sure your cat stays hydrated by providing wet foods or unflavored pedialyte.

Constipation – Dehydration and medication side effects may lead to constipation. Increase water intake, add broths to food or use lactulose syrup. Your vet may recommend a stool softener like docusate. Gently massage your cat’s abdomen and ensure plenty of opportunities to use the litter box.

Anxiety – Your cat may act anxious or stressed from changes in health or routine. Using synthetic feline pheromones like Feliway can help calm anxiety. Make time for gentle play and calming pets. Maintain their normal routine as much as possible. Ask your vet about anti-anxiety medication if needed.

When to Reach Out to Your Vet

While managing kidney failure and pain medications at home for cats, it is crucial to check in regularly with your veterinarian. You must monitor your cat closely and report any issues that arise so the vet can make adjustments to care. There are several key reasons you may need to reach out to your vet before the next scheduled appointment:

Medication is not working

If your cat’s pain does not seem well controlled on the current medication or dosage, contact your vet. They may advise adjusting the dosage or trying a different pain reliever better suited to your cat’s needs.

Severe side effects

Some medications, especially at high dosages, may cause side effects like vomiting, diarrhea, appetite loss or lethargy. If side effects are severe and impact your cat’s quality of life, the vet can help switch to a medication less likely to cause issues.

Sudden behavior changes

Significant changes in your cat’s energy levels, activity, appetite or personality can signal an underlying problem. Alert your vet promptly about any unusual behaviors, as they may indicate pain is not well controlled or there is a complication requiring medical intervention.

Staying in close contact with your veterinary team ensures your cat with kidney failure receives the best care and pain control possible. With your vet’s guidance, you can properly manage medications and find the right solutions if any problems arise.

Caring for Your Cat’s Overall Wellbeing

When your cat is dealing with kidney failure, it’s important to focus on their overall health and wellbeing in addition to managing their pain. Proper care can help improve your cat’s quality of life.

Make sure your cat’s nutritional needs are met. Your vet may prescribe a special kidney diet lower in phosphorus and protein. Feeding wet food can help increase water intake. Avoid giving junk food scraps.

Keep your cat’s mind engaged through play and environmental enrichment. Try new toys, catnip, climbing structures, food puzzles, and window perches. Spend quality one-on-one time together.

Maintain good litter box hygiene by scooping waste at least once daily. Use an unscented clumping litter. Place litter boxes in easily accessible areas. Cats prefer bigger litter boxes with low sides for easy entry.

Groom your cat frequently to prevent matted fur and skin irritation. Trim nails as needed. Keep their bedding and living areas clean.

While kidney failure can’t be cured, taking steps to support your cat’s overall health and happiness can make a big difference. Work closely with your vet to provide the best care for your feline friend.

Outlook for Cats with Kidney Failure

The outlook for cats diagnosed with kidney failure can vary dramatically depending on the stage of the disease and response to treatment. However, kidney failure is generally a progressive disease that cannot be cured. With treatment and dedicated care, many cats can live for months or even years after their diagnosis.

Life expectancy will depend on factors like the cat’s age at diagnosis and overall health status. Kidney failure tends to progress faster in older cats. With aggressive treatment, some cats may live up to 2 years or slightly longer after diagnosis. However, the median survival time for cats with untreated kidney failure is approximately 3-4 months.

As kidney failure advances, palliative care becomes crucial for maintaining quality of life. This includes pain management, hydration, nutritional support, medication for nausea/vomiting, and other symptomatic treatments. Monitoring for anemia and controlling high blood pressure are also important.

Pet owners should work closely with their veterinarian to regularly assess their cat’s quality of life. Important considerations include the cat’s appetite, activity levels, interactions with family, grooming behaviors, and any signs of pain/discomfort. If the cat’s needs can no longer be met or quality of life is severely diminished, euthanasia may be the most humane option.

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