The low-down on cat kidney failure

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A diagnosis of feline chronic kidney failure can be alarming, but learning more about the condition can help keep your cat as comfortable as possible. Here’s Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner to tell us more.

Why has my cat developed chronic kidney failure?

This is one of the most common conditions in older cats. It’s caused by the gradual and unfortunately irreversible decline of the kidneys’ abilities to work properly.

The kidneys filter out toxins, waste products and excess water so they can be removed from the body. In order to do this job properly, they have millions of tiny ‘sieves’ called nephrons. As your cat ages, these ‘sieves’ get damaged or start to wither after a lifetime of hard work. Once 66% have stopped working, signs of chronic kidney failure start showing. These usually include increased thirst and urination, as you may have noticed.

Do only old cats suffer from chronic kidney failure?

It typically results from wear and tear over time, so it can happen earlier in some cats than others. It’s one of the go-to checks when an older cat isn’t well. But chronic kidney failure can also be caused by infections or poisoning from antifreeze, which cats sometimes lick up, when they’re hiding under a car.

Why does kidney failure cause my cat to drink more?

As your cat’s kidneys become damaged, they’re no longer able to filter and concentrate urine in the same way. This means that water is more likely to pass through the body, which is why your cat may be drinking more and then urinating more. Their kidneys will also be less able to remove toxins, and as the condition progresses these can build up and make your cat feel quite groggy. Probably the best way to understand what kidney damage feels like, is to equate it with is the flu – she may feel sluggish, nauseous and off her food.

What treatments are available?

As you’ll know from discussions with your vet, this isn’t a reversible condition, but there are actions that can reduce the strain on the kidney and hopefully make the remaining nephrons last longer.

The number one way to achieve this is through diet, focusing in particular on protein. If your cat gets an unbalanced blend of proteins, the kidneys have to work extra hard to process them. Your vet may also give you phosphate binding treatment or medicine to help the kidneys function. It may also become necessary to monitor your cat’s blood pressure, as this can also be affected by kidney failure.

How can I keep my cat feeling comfortable as the condition continues?

The best way you can help your cat is by following your vet’s advice and sticking with any recommended treatments. As cats are often fussy eaters at the best of times, any dietary changes should be introduced gradually by mixing it with some of their usual food. It can be hard for cats to stick to these diets, so all the family and any neighbours should be aware of any new regime if they are involved in feeding the cat. Don’t forget to keep plenty of fresh water available, keeping multiple bowls in different rooms can help and be sure to speak to your vet if there’s an unexpected change to their condition. With the right care, hopefully your cat can continue to live a full life for as long as possible.

For more information about caring for a sick cat at home, read how these owners adjusted to a difficult diagnosis.

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