Feline kidney disease, also known as chronic renal failure in cats, is common in older cats. Kidney disease or kidney failure does not mean that the kidneys are no longer working, it simply means that they lose their ability to effectively concentrate urine, which helps cats remain properly hydrated and filters toxins from the blood. The hallmark symptoms of kidney disease in cats are increased consumption of water and increased urine production. This is due to the cat’s attempt to stay hydrated.
Feline kidney disease in cats is incurable. This means that cats diagnosed with kidney disease can expect to die from the disease at some point. The progression of the disease can be affected by several factors including proper diet and medical management of the disease. Ultimately, the cat will succumb to the disease.
The progression of feline kidney disease is monitored through a combination of blood chemistry tests and measuring the specific concentration of the urine. Specifically, BUN (or blood urea nitrogen) and creatinine levels in the blood are monitored for increases. Increased dilution of the urine and elevated BUN and creatinine levels indicate further deterioration of kidney function.
Cats in end stage kidney disease will begin to exhibit symptoms of toxicity including anorexia, vomiting, weight loss, lethargy, increased serum phosphate levels and anemia. The latter two symptoms will be measured through additional blood tests in a veterinarian’s office. Subcutaneous fluids are administered in an effort to help the cat compensate for the loss of fluid through the kidneys, as well as vitamin B injections, epoetin to assist with red blood cell production, and appetite-stimulating drugs.
Death will occur anywhere from a few weeks to a few months after the onset of end-stage symptoms. Seizures are common during this period. Cats will develop behavioral changes and will vocalize more, urinate outside the litter pan, and become disoriented and uncoordinated. Many refuse to eat and become hypoglycemic; the cat’s body temperature will drop. Death will occur within a few hours to a day or so of the onset of decreasing body temperature.
Many veterinarians suggest euthanasia well before the onset of end-stage kidney disease symptoms in cats. Euthanasia is an option that owners of cats with chronic kidney disease can choose in order to prevent unnecessary suffering for both the cat and the owner. Cats with chronic renal failure can live for many years if the disease is caught and managed properly at an early stage. Without treatment, many cats will die within a few months to one year post-diagnosis.