Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats – What you need to know

ginger cat walking on wall
Ginger Cat House does not aim to replace your Veterinarian. Ginger Cat House offers practical advice but will always advise you to seek Veterinary attention for further information if your cat is unwell.

Sadly, Chronic Kidney Disease in cats is something which is very common in (older) cats. Finding out your cat has Kidney problems is upsetting but with the right circumstances and care you can still support them to live happily.

Supporting Chronic Kidney Disease in cats – What you need to know

Firstly it is important to understand – despite affecting the same organ – Chronic Kidney Disease and Acute Kidney Disease are two different diseases. This article will be covering Chronic Kidney Disease only, therefore, it is important to you know which process your cat has. 

Other terms/names for Chronic Kidney Disease:

  • Chronic Renal Failure
  • Renal Failure
  • Renal disease
  • Kidney Failure
  • CKD
  • CRF

In the UK, chronic kidney disease (CKD) is thought to affect 1% of patients registered to a veterinary practice at any one time. The frequency of CKD is much higher in older cats and is estimated to affect 30% of cats over the age of fifteen years.

Although chronic kidney disease is a progressive disease, with appropriate care and commitment you can help your cat to live a happy life – often for many years. While all cases vary in the level of care required, learning about CKD will help you to adjust with your cat’s diagnosis and in turn, be able to support them accordingly.

ginger and white cat with kidney disease

What is Kidney Disease in cats?

Kidney disease is the term used when kidney function is no longer able to meet the body’s demands. Kidney disease is a broad term which covers cats in all stages of renal disease – from those that have no health implications through to those with significant problems as a result of their illness.

What do the kidneys do?

Like humans, cats have two kidneys, a left and a right, which are located in the abdomen.
Normal kidneys are vital for maintaining good health and vital bodily functions including:

  • Excretion of waste products via the urine. Waste products include Urea and Creatinine which are a result of Protein breakdown.
  • Regulation of hydration status
  • Regulation of levels of blood salts
  • Production and regulation of a number of hormones and other substances. For example Erythropoietin – a hormone that stimulates the production of red blood cells by the bone marrow.

What are the signs of kidney problems in cats?

Symptoms may vary between cats but commonly include:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Weight loss
  • Reduced appetite
  • Dehydration
  • Lethargy
  • Increased urination
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Anaemia (a low red blood cell count)
  • High blood pressure

While all of the above are common signs of renal problems in cats, they can also mean a number of other things or nothing at all. Try not to initially worry or panic but always booking an appointment with your Vet to discuss the symptoms.

How is Kidney failure in cats diagnosed?

There are a variety of different ways your Vet will diagnosis and stage CKD but most commonly this will include a quick blood test and collection of a urine sample.

Generally, you will be able to have the results within 24 hours, sometimes even quicker. Your Vet Surgeon may also decide to do additional tests such as an SDMA blood test, ultrasounds or X-rays which may share further information to aid diagnosis.

How can I help my cat with kidney disease?

Treatment varies greatly according to the cat’s individual needs and your Vet will be able to provide the best treatment for your cat.

However, there are things you can do at home to help you feel more comfortable.

Food for cats with kidney problems

Specific diets have been shown to dramatically improve the quality of life of cats with CKD, your veterinary practise will be able to advise the most suitable diet for your cat.

Popular prescription diets include Royal Canin Renal and Hills K/D – it is important the diet of choice has reduced protein and phosphorus as well as increased omega-3 fatty acids (to improve blood flow to the kidneys), and antioxidants.

It has been shown cats with kidney problems can become fussier with food than normal. Therefore alternate between different flavours, as well as wet and dry to try to prevent this. However, we recommend a range from the same brand (such as Royal Canin Renal Range) to prevent possible diarrhoea.

If you are cat is being fussy with food spend time with them. Give them attention and fuss, groom them with their favourite brush – cats love to feel good, feeling good will help with their appetite.

Gently warming their food can also encourage appetite. Cats of all ages and breed rely heavily on their sense of smell – the smellier the food, the better. Gentle warming of food can increase the smell and stimulate interest.

Adding liquid to the food to make it softer and easier to digest.

Related: How to fatten up your cat – safe and simple methods

Cats with Kidney Disease drink more

Cats with kidney disease drink more than a healthy, well cat (and in turn will urinate more).

Ensure water supplies are always easily accessible to your cat – for example, a bowl on every floor of the house. Try experimenting with various sizes and shapes of water bowls, some cats prefer running water so you may find a cat water fountain is most appealing. 

Make sure the water bowls are always topped up and fresh.

A cat who drinks more will also urinate more. If you have a big house or one on multiple levels you may wish to increase the number of litter trays you have to prevent accidents and being caught short. Remember, cats love having somewhere clean to pee, invest in a good absorbable litter and remove soiled litter daily.

Grooming

Lethargic cats or those who are not feeling 100% may not groom themselves as well – again, cats love to be clean. Therefore it will be up to you to ensure regular grooming to help keep them clean and feeling their best.

Cats with kidney problems often have muscle wastage and prefer a softer brush as opposed to one with hard bristles. Check out our recommendations for the best cat brushes.

cat being cuddled on bed

Regular and close monitoring

While you will not need to make major lifestyle changes like you would need to for a cat with diabetes, you will need to be observant and be able to recognise changes in your cat.

It may be a good idea to weigh your cat monthly and keep a record to monitor changes.

It is advised that a cat with CKD visits your Veterinary Surgeon every 3 months, a veterinary examination is the best way of detecting changes which may not be obvious at home. At these appointments weight, blood pressure plus numerous other factors can be monitored.

Although the prognosis of chronic kidney disease in cats is case dependent, many cats continue happily and comfortably for years after diagnosis. With appropriate monitoring and assistance,  care of affected cats at home can be very rewarding and is essential to ensure your cat has the best quality of life for as long as possible.

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