Chronic Kidney Disease (Renal Failure) in Cats

Key Takeaways

Chronic kidney disease is the irreversible loss of kidney function over a period of a minimum of 1-3 months. 

• This disease is permanent, progressive, and fatal but quality of life may be enhanced with treatment

• Chronic kidney disease is characterized by an increase in water consumption and urination, anemia, lethargy, vomiting, reduced appetite, and high blood pressure

• It may occur independently or subsequent to an acute kidney injury, and is usually attributed to aging

• Specific potential causes include congenital disorders, various infections, neoplasias, toxin ingestion, adverse drug reactions, and immune system diseases

• Diagnosis involves blood analysis, urinalysis, and imaging

• Treatment aims to prolong quality of life and reduce progression of the disease through various medications, dietary adjustments, and consistent monitoring of the progression of the disease

A Closer Look: What is Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats?

Renal failure is a very serious disease. It is irreversible and fatal as the pet loses function of their kidneys. The rate of progression varies and can be quite fast or very slow. The goal of treatment is to delay progression as much as possible. This is seen frequently in elderly cats and the best quality of life is found with early detection and rapid intervention.

Risk Factors

International Renal Interest Society staging standards are often used in diagnostics to classify the severity of disease progression based on different blood test results and clinical signs. Severity of symptoms is directly related to the level of progression of the disease. If it is caught early, the symptoms are milder than if caught in a later stage of progression. Symptoms don’t develop until the disease is quite advanced. Screening blood tests on apparently healthy cats are the key to early diagnosis.

Possible Causes

In the majority of cases of chronic kidney disease no cause is identified and it is attributed to age. There are a large number of other potential causes of chronic kidney disease, including:

Infectious/inflammatory diseases: • Bacterial infection • Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV)

Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) • Pyelonephritis • Feline leukemia virus (FeLV) • Glomerulonephritis

Toxicosis: • Vitamin D poisoningEthylene glycolLily toxicosis

Congenital diseases: • Polycystic kidney disease • Amyloidosis

Medications: • Drug reaction • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug toxicosis

Cancer:• Lymphoma/lymphosarcoma • Hemangiosarcoma • Renal cell carcinoma

Main Symptoms

The main symptoms of chronic kidney disease include:

Increased water consumptionIncreased urination • LethargyPale gumsVomiting

• Oral ulcers • Decreased appetite

• Decreased water consumption and water consumption (later stages)

Testing and Diagnosis

Several test results are used to confirm chronic kidney disease as well as establish the level of progression, including:

• Blood analysis • Urinalysis • Imaging (x rays, ultrasound)

Steps to Recovery

Once chronic kidney disease is confirmed, treatment is focused on slowing the progression and maintaining quality of life. Strategies include:

• Dietary management: diets consisting of low protein, phosphorus, and sodium

• Medication: targeting treatment of hypertension and proteinuria

• Consistent monitoring of progression

• Kidney transplant or dialysis

This condition is permanent, progressive, and fatal. The goal of regular monitoring, early diagnosis, and symptom management is to help the cat live a comfortable and relatively normal several years as the disease progresses.


Most cases of chronic kidney disease cannot be prevented, as it is primarily caused by aging, but it can be managed and slowed with early detection and intervention. In addition, most cases of chronic kidney disease are not contagious. Leptospirosis is one example of a contagious and zoonotic infection causing acute kidney injury which can potentially lead to chronic kidney disease. 

General strategies to prevent disease transmission in cats include: 

• Keeping cat indoors

• Keeping up to date on vaccinations and parasite control

• Avoiding toxins (medication, lilies, poisons)

• Keeping up with annual vet examinations, especially as pets age

• Maintain good health practices and seek help promptly when problems arise

Is Chronic Kidney Disease Common in Cats?

This condition is very common in elderly cats.

Typical Treatment

• Dietary management • Medication • Consistent monitoring of progression • Fluid diuresis

• Kidney transplant or dialysis

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