Managing Your Older Cat’s Kidney Disease
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on April 4, 2019
Posted in Cat Aging
As your cat ages, it’s likely that it will begin to develop some kind of health problem. The unfortunate side effect of aging is that the body begins to shut down and stops working how it used to.
Outside of common age-related conditions like declined cognitive ability and arthritis, another common health condition that tends to plague senior cats is renal failure, or chronic kidney disease. This condition marks the slow degradation of the kidneys over time, (as opposed to acute kidney failure, which is often the result of poisoning or infection).
With an early diagnosis and the right treatment plan in place, your cat could live for years after its renal failure begins.
The signs and side effects of chronic kidney disease
Your cat’s kidneys are very important. They assist in a number of important bodily functions, like producing urine, removing waste from the blood, regulating hormones and managing blood pressure.
Chronic kidney disease is when your cat’s kidneys begin to fail. Because your kidneys filter the blood to remove impurities, chronic kidney disease may result in a buildup of waste materials in the bloodstream that make your cat sick. Kidney failure also causes the kidneys to not concentrate urine appropriately, altering the frequency at which urine is processed and excreted.
The cause of chronic kidney disease is not always clear. It may be the result of kidney infections throughout your cat’s lifetime, which stress the kidney’s functionality. Most often, though, no direct cause is found.
There are many signs of renal failure in cats. Most notable is abnormally frequent or inappropriate urination. Your cat’s kidneys may not be able to hold water for very long, so it will need to use the litter box or may have accidents often. Additionally, your cat may suddenly experience increased thirst and appear to constantly be drinking water. This is due to the speed at which water is processed through the body when the kidneys aren’t working.
Other signs of renal failure may include:
- Bloody or cloudy urine
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Bacterial infections in the bladder or kidneys
- Dry coat
- Bad breath
- Weakness and lethargy
- Weight loss and/or lack of appetite
- Constipation (due to lack of water)
Treating renal failure in cats
Chronic kidney disease is progressive, meaning it will get worse over time as the kidneys continue to shut down. Unfortunately, every cat’s condition will progress at different speeds. Some cats may experience rapid deterioration, while others can live for many more years.
Although there is no cure for renal failure in cats, there are ways you can help your cat live out the rest of its life happy and comfortably by helping it to manage the disease.
Initially, cats that are diagnosed with renal failure may need to stay at a veterinary hospital for a few days to stabilize them with a fluid IV and resolve other problems that are a result of the kidney disease. Once the cat is stable, it may be able to return home to continue treatment and live as comfortably as possible.
At-home treatment may include numerous things.
- Kidney-friendly diet: Cats in renal failure should be fed a diet low in sodium, phosphorus and protein to prevent the buildup of these compounds in the blood. The diet should include lots of vitamins, fiber, antioxidants and omega-3 fatty acids, which can help support the kidneys and their proper function. Vets usually recommend that cats in renal failure eat canned food instead of dry, since canned food has a much higher moisture content to assist in your cat’s water intake. (If you need to switch your cat’s diet as part of chronic kidney disease treatment, make sure you transition to the new food slowly to get your cat used to it and to avoid gastrointestinal upset.)
- Lots of water: Make sure your cat has access to lots of water in multiple areas of the home. The body will need constant replenishment of water, and if your cat fails to drink enough, it may become dehydrated. Water fountains may be helpful if your cat does not like to drink water out of a bowl.
- Kidney support: Natural supplements formulated for kidney support can help maintain proper functionality and support normal fluid balance in the body.
- Side effect support: Supplements or medications to assist with blood pressure, nausea, anemia, gastrointestinal ulcers and other side effects of the condition may also be necessary so your cat remains comfortable.
- Litter box placement: You may want to place multiple litter boxes around the home to mitigate accidents and encourage your cat to urinate in the proper locations as it roams around.
With the right combination of treatments, your senior cat may go on to live happily for months or even years.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan