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Chronic Renal Failure in Cats


cat_renal_failureThere are two types of renal, or kidney, failure that are common in cats: acute and chronic. Acute Renal Failure is often brought on by something suddenly, such as ingesting a poison, trauma to the abdomen, or a blood clot preventing blood flow to the kidney’s. Chronic Renal Failure, or CRF, is caused by a number of things including:


  • Nephritis- a progressive destruction of the filtering units of the kidneys
  • Nephrosis- the destruction of the nephrons in the kidneys
    Infectious Diseases- such as FIP or Feline Leukemia
  • Toxins- such as heavy metals, or certain antibiotics prescribed for the long   term  or in high doses.
  •  Age- Most cats in their later years will experience some level of decreased  kidney function.

Cat owners should be aware that chronic renal failure seems to go hand in hand with hyperthyroidism and once the symptoms of hyperthyroidism are controlled, the symptoms of CRF may be unmasked.


It is important that cat owners understand that cats will not begin to show signs of renal failure until about 70% of their nephrons, the cells responsible for helping the kidneys to filter, are destroyed. Therefore a considerable amount of damage has already occurred by the time many pet owners get their pet assistance. The progression of the disease can be determined through blood work. If your cat is diagnosed and treated, it is possible they will survive. It is also important that cat owners realize that though cats with CRF will die, it is not an imminent death. Many cats live full lives and some even die of something entirely unrelated. Old age is certainly a factor in kidney function and CRF may simply be a symptom of old age that needs to be treated in order to give your cat a comfortable end of life. There are a number of treatments for CRF and new treatments are being developed all the time. Once your cat is undergoing treatment with your vet, take the time to research all the information available before taking the step of euthanasia. Having a pet in the hospital is a traumatizing experience all its own, being well- informed will help you make the decisions that are best for you and your cat.


Pet owners should be aware of the signs and symptoms of uremia, or kidney failure, especially as cats often do not begin showing signs until it it nearly too late. The first and often overlooked symptom is increased urination, often with urinating outside the litter box. The kidneys are no longer able to hold fluid as well and so your cat will begin to urinate more frequently. As the litter box begins to smell and dirty more quickly, your cat may begin to have accidents outside the litter box. This is accompanied by an increase in fluid intake and can lead to a secondary bacterial infection as the urine is more dilute. In the later stages, this will reverse as the kidney’s begin to shut down and the cat will urinate less often and then not at all. Blood work done at this stage will show increased levels of ammonia, nitrogen, acids and other waste in the bloodstream that would normally have been filtered out and removed by the kidneys.


Additionally, your cat may begin vomiting. They may seem sluggish or less active. There will be a loss of appetite and your cat will lose weight. They may develop ulcers, small white bumps, on the tongue and gums. Their breath may begin to smell like ammonia. They may also experience diarrhea and blood in their stools. If your cat experiences any of these symptoms get them to a Veterinarian immediately.

Diagnosing renal failure requires a number of tests and may include x-rays, ultrasounds and blood work. The blood work will show increased levels of BUN, blood urea nitrogen, creatinine and phosphorus; cats with chronic symptoms will also have anemia. Your Vet will also perform a urinalysis to see if the kidneys can still filter and concentrate the urine.


Treatment for Chronic Renal Failure should not be considered a cure as it is a terminal or fatal disease, but it can save the life of your cat and many times allow them additional healthy and happy years as your pet. Veterinarians are now able to perform dialysis and even kidney transplants. After the initial treatment at the Vet, you and your Veterinarian will want to make a plan that covers ways to control the levels of waste your cats kidneys are asked to process through diet, medication and diuresis or hydration therapy.


Cat owners who have a kitty that has been diagnosed with CRF should take comfort in the fact that, though it is a terminal disease, with proper treatment CRF cats can live for months and even years with a high quality of life.



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