Chronic and Acute Kidney Disease (Renal Failure) in Cats

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Last updated on
4 min read

Key takeaways

Renal failure refers to loss of kidney function, which can be chronic (occurring over a period of 1 -3 months) or acute (arising suddenly, often due to injury).

  • The chronic form of this disease is permanent, progressive, and fatal but quality of life may be enhanced with treatment
  • With acute kidney injury, recovery is possible.
  • Renal failure is characterized by an increase in water consumption and urination, lethargy, vomiting, reduced appetite, and high blood pressure
  • Specific potential causes include degenerative changes with age, congenital disorders, infections, cancer, toxin ingestion, adverse drug reactions, and immune system disease
  • Diagnosis involves blood analysis, urinalysis, and imaging
  • Treatment aims to flush waste products from the bloodstream, ease the kidney’s workload, and relieve symptoms of poor kidney function
  • Treatment usually involves a combination of medications, dietary adjustments, and ongoing monitoring
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A closer look: Chronic and Acute Kidney Disease (Renal Failure) in Cats

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.

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Risk factors

Renal failure is a very serious disease. The acute form carries a guarded prognosis, but recovery is possible. The chronic form is irreversible and fatal as kidney function eventually deteriorates. The rate of progression varies and can be quite fast or very slow. The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms caused by poor kidney function, either in the short term to give the kidneys an opportunity to heal from an acute injury, or to delay progression of chronic renal failure.

Kidney failure is seen frequently in elderly cats and the best quality of life is found with early detection and rapid intervention.

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 kidney failure.

Main symptoms

Testing and diagnosis

In addition to physical examination and medical history, several test results are used to confirm renal failure as well as establish the level of progression, including:

  • Blood analysis
  • Urinalysis
  • Imaging (X-rays, ultrasound)

Steps to Recovery

Once renal failure is confirmed, treatment is focused on relieving symptoms caused by poor kidney function. Symptomatic relief may include:

  • Anti-nausea and GI protectant medications
  • Fluid therapy to flush waste products from the bloodstream

The goals of treatment for chronic kidney failure target 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

With acute kidney injury, recovery may be possible and the prognosis depends on the extent of damage. The chronic form 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 kidney failure cannot be prevented, as it is primarily caused by aging, but it can be managed and slowed with early detection and intervention.

Most cases of kidney failure 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 symptoms arise

Is Chronic and Acute Kidney Disease (Renal Failure) in Cats common?

This condition is very common in elderly cats.

Typical Treatment

  • Dietary management
  • Medication
  • Consistent monitoring of progression
  • Fluid therapy
  • Kidney transplant or dialysis

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