Early stage kidney disease in cats isn’t always easy to recognize. Cats are masters at hiding illness, and it’s up to you as a cat parent to notice subtle signs.
Kidney disease in cats is commonly known as CKD and advances through several stages. If your cat is in the early stages of the disease it can usually be managed very well.
There are in fact 4 stages of kidney disease, much like in humans. However, cats are at far greater risk of the disease. Don’t worry though as many will survive well into old age with proper care.
In this post you’ll discover everything you need to know about early stage kidney disease as well as later and final stages. Although it can be scary to hear the diagnosis, your vet will provide a treatment plan tailored to your cat’s needs.
We’ll be looking at some of the causes of kidney disease in cats, as well as signs to watch for. Plus, what to expect when you get your cat examined, and possible treatments.
What Is Kidney Disease In Cats?
Just as with humans, your cat’s kidneys provide a vital role in filtering blood and creating urine. In healthy kidneys, toxins and waste are filtered. However, if your cat’s kidneys start to lose function, blood pressure may increase, and production of red blood cells may also be affected.
Sometimes kidney disease is short lived and your cat will make a full recovery. However, acute kidney failure which sounds bad, can have a shorter duration of up to 3 months.
However, CKD is far more common, especially in cats over 7 years old. In fact 10% of cats over this age will get kidney disease, and 30% of those over 15 will develop it.
Causes Of Kidney Disease In Cats
There are quite a few causes of kidney disease in cats, but toxins, trauma and even medication can occasionally be responsible for acute kidney failure.
As bad as it sounds, acute kidney failure sometimes improves, with your cat making a full recovery. Your vet would closely monitor the cat though, involving regular blood and urine tests.
However if kidney failure becomes chronic it’s known as CKD. This means loss of function that continues beyond 3 months.
In many cases kidney disease in cats is age related, just as it is with older people. Although, less common in humans. Other causes can include
- Bacterial infections
- Urinary stones
- Gum Disease
- Feline Infectious Peritonitis
Pyelonephritis is a bacterial infection in the kidneys often resulting from bladder infections such as cystitis. Bacteria can easily travel along the uretha tube into the kidneys.
However, this is mostly seen in older cats. If your cat is under 7 years old it would be unlikely she’d suffer from such an infection.
If your cat suffers from a urinary tract infection it’s possible struvite crystals can begin to develop. These can then form into stones.
If the stones become large enough to block your cat’s uretha it’s likely kidney damage can occur. Without treatment this could completely destroy a kidney.
Feline infectious peritonitis
Feline infectious peritonitis or FIP can affect the kidneys. Though fairly common in domestic cats, it’s usually a mild disease, but occasionally can cause damage to the kidneys.
Thankfully, cancer of the kidneys is fairly rare in cats. However, if your kitty is unfortunate enough to develop the disease, early treatment can prove effective.
Sadly, gum disease is all to common in cats. Unless treated it could lead to infections in other parts of the body including kidneys.
One of the best ways to avoid gum disease is by brushing your cat’s teeth. Although it may sound hard, your vet can show you how.
Some breeds of cat including Persian and Exotic Shorthair are prone to pkd or polycystic kidney disease. This means lots of small cysts developing on the kidneys over time.
However, if they become too large they can cause damage to the kidney. Treatment is available though which can help manage the condition.
Symptoms Of Early Stage Kidney Disease In Cats
As previously mentioned, cats are very good at hiding illness. Your cat can’t tell you what’s wrong, and the only way to find out is by noticing subtle signs.
These can include;
- Gradual loss of weight.
- Drinking more water
- Urinating more frequently
- Loss of appetite
Gradual loss of weight.
Noticing weight loss in a cat isn’t always easy unless you have a short hair kitty. Fluffy kitties often appear well rounded even if they start losing a few ounces!
A good way to check your cat is by feeling her ribs. If you can’t feel a lot of flesh between kitty’s skin and ribs she could be losing weight.
This is why annual check ups are so important. Your vet will monitor your cat’s weight over the years.
This not only helps prevent obesity, but signals early stage kidney disease as well. Monitoring your cat’s intake of food and cutting down on treats may also be advised.
Drinking more water
A common sign of early stage kidney disease in cats is increased thirst. If you notice your kitty is lapping up more water than usual you should talk to your vet.
Always provide fresh clean water for your cat anyway. As I’ve mentioned previously in other posts, cats tend not to drink a lot of water.
This is because much of their required daily intake comes from wet food. However, a sudden increase in thirst is a worrying sign.
Urinating more frequently
If your cat is spending more time in the litter box urinating this could be a sign of early kidney disease. The reason for this is her poorly functioning kidneys are causing urine to become concentrated.
This also explains an increased thirst as your cat is drinking more to compensate. It’s still important that she drinks plenty of water though.
Loss of appetite
If your cat goes off her food there could be a variety of reasons. Dental disease is a common reason, but it can also be a sign of kidney disease.
The reason for this is a build up of toxins and waste in the body . These can make your cat feel nauseous and affect her appetite.
As the kidneys lose more function this will only get worse unless treated. The occasional, short lived loss of appetite is nothing to worry about though.
Any cat parent knows the number of hours a day their lazy kitties spend dozing! This is normal as most adult cats spend up to 16 or more hours a day sleeping.
However, if you notice your cat is sleeping more than usual and seems less sociable, this could be a sign of illness. Cats tend to hide themselves away if unwell until they feel better.
However, a sluggish system full of toxins from poorly functioning kidneys will make your cat feel tired and lethargic. If you notice your cat’s sleeping habits have changed it may be a good idea to talk to your vet.
How Is Kidney Disease In Cats Diagnosed?
If you’ve noticed any of the above signs it’s important to get your cat checked out by a vet as soon as possible. This is because early stage kidney disease can be managed.
Your veterinary clinic will ask you to get a sample of your cat’s urine. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. Simply clean the litter box and sprinkle hydrophobic litter sand.
This allows urine to pool on top, making it easy to collect. You can buy this in kit form with phial included.
I always keep one at home just in case! They’re more expensive than regular litter, but invaluable if your cat develops a urine infection.
Urine will be checked for any imbalances in electrolytes as well as creatinine and phosphates. In addition, your cat will also be given a blood test.
Providing your cat is ok with it, her blood pressure will be taken. A small cuff is put around a leg, similar to the cuff used to measure blood pressure in people.
Also, an ultrasound may be given to check for any abnormalities such as growths. No sedation is required as long as your kitty is cooperative.
Loss of protein in urine is common in cats with CKD and is why a low protein diet is recommended. Your vet will probably suggest a prescription diet tailored to your cat’s needs.
If your cat is found to have high blood pressure, she’ll be prescribed medication. This is because it can cause further damage to the kidneys.
In addition, just as in humans it can lead to heart disease and stroke if not managed. Also, your cat will be weighed as part of the diagnosis.
Treatment for kidney disease in cats
If your cat has been diagnosed with kidney disease your vet will create a treatment plan. This will depend on the stage your cat is in the disease.
Should your cat have acute renal failure the good news is it’s possible she’ll make a full recovery. However, treatment may be as an inpatient depending on the severity.
If your cat is in the early stages of kidney disease your vet will most likely recommend a specialized diet. These will either be in the form of wet or dry foods.
The important thing though is they’ll have lower levels of protein. This will help prevent further damage to her kidneys.
Early stage kidney disease can’t be reversed, but if diagnosed at this stage your cat can live up to another 8.5 years. However the longer it’s left untreated the shorter your cat ‘s life.
Kidney disease in cats may also involve medication. Depending on the cause, these may include blood pressure pills as well as potassium supplements.
These are often prescribed during the second or third stage of the disease. This is when creatinine levels in urine increase. Also potassium levels decrease causing muscle weakness.
If your cat reaches stage four of CKD her creatinine levels will have increased further. This chemical compound is left over waste from energy producing processes in the muscles.
In healthy kidneys creatinine is filtered through with other toxins and waste products. Medication however, can help keep things under control.
If your cat becomes very ill at this stage intravenous fluids may be given. Your vet will do his or her the very best to keep your cat going for as long as possible.
CKD can often be managed very well with the right treatment. Modern veterinary medicine is a world away from what it was decades ago.
Although you can’t prevent age related kidney disease there are steps you can take to reduce her chances of developing it.
Ensuring your cat gets plenty of exercise is a good start. If your cat goes outside this won’t be an issue, but an indoor cat needs toys to encourage her to run and jump.
Annual checkups with a vet can often spot early signs of disease before it advances. He or she may discover abnormalities you would have missed.
Weight loss can be gradual and unless you feel your cat’s ribs you may not notice. Also, as cats sleep more in older age you may not necessarily spot signs of lethargy.
Diet plays a very important part in managing CKD and finding the best cat food for kidney disease can be challenging.
Your cat has to like the food so it must be palatable, as well as have the right balance of protein. It’s always good to ask your vet’s advice though even if you don’t buy from the surgery.
I hope this post has helped answer some of your questions about early stage kidney disease in cats. If you’ve found it useful please share. Feel free to share this pin on your “pets” board
Also if you have any questions or would like to share experiences please leave a comment below.
Wishing you a purrfect day:)
8 thoughts on “The Truth About early stage kidney disease in cats”
Aww I had no idea so many different ailments caused kidney issues in cats. I guess it is the same in humans. The difference is, the cat relies on us to keep them healthy, and they are kind of screwed if we don’t follow through on our responsibilities as a pet owner. So thank you for making this information readily available and easily digestible to the average cat owner. Living in Arizona, I have noticed my cats drinking a lot more water during the past few hoit months. How much is too much do you think? When should I worry about it? Maybe if I see another symptom arise?
Thanks for the help
Hi Ashley, yes, it’s surprising to learn how many ways cats can develop kidney disease. In answer to your question, your cats would naturally drink more in hot weather just like you would. Don’t worry about it too much but keep a close on them If your cats still continue to drink large quantities of water as the seasons change, ask your vet’s advice. If your cats are of an older age it’s possible this is an early sign but hard to tell in the hot weather.
Wow! I never thought about these sicknesses for cats, but my cats are young but I know it can happen.
This is great I learn something new today… When I was reading I was asking myself “how can you get a urine sample from a cat?” The Hydrophobic Litter is a great product to have in case of emergency with the little kitty… I enjoy reading this post! Thank’s for sharing
Hi Lyne, thank you for your comment:) Yes, the idea of getting a urine sample from a cat can be daunting. However, hydrophobic litter makes it easy as urine collects on the surface. I always keep a small bag of it just in case:) Thanks for stopping by
Cats do have the tendency to hide their illnesses. An old cat of mine was constantly hiding in her last year before she left us. And I feel my current cat is not feeling too well either.
It’s important to be aware of small changes in the cat’s routine so we can get them checked. He’s much better now.
This article made me realise how much cats are exposed to illnesses/diseases as much as humans would and as owners, it is our responsibility to understand the signs and symptoms. Glad I came across your website.
I will surely bookmark this site. Thanks for sharing!
Hi Sam, yes, sadly cats are masters at hiding illness. Sorry to hear your elderly kitty hid during her final year. Keep a close eye on your present cat if she seems unwell as symptoms can quickly develop if left unchecked. It often comes a surprise to pet owners when they discover many illnesses are the same as those suffered by humans. Glad you enjoyed this post and thank you for your input:)
It’s sad to know that cats also have kidney problems as human beings, and it must be heartbroken if we see what they need to suffer. I am glad that you share ways to help this situation, such as taking them for a thorough check annually.
Do you recommend taking our cats to the doctor when they are still younger than seven years old?
Hi Matt, yes, our furry friends can get many of the same health problems as humans. In answer to your question, yes, you should get your cat checked annually by a vet at any age. Thanks for stopping by and glad you enjoyed this post:)