Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats: Stages & Life Expectancy

CKD in Cats // chronic kidney disease in felines

Kidney disease in cats is an illness that nearly 30% of senior cats will face. Understanding the stages and signs of kidney disease can help to extend your cat’s life, and keep them comfortable for as long as possible through this stage of their life.

In this article, we discuss the essential information you need to know about CKD in cats, and what that means for your feline.

Table of Contents
  • What is Kidney Disease?
  • Differences & Symptoms
  • Diagnosing & Treatment
  • Managing CKD in Cats
  • How Long Can Cats Live with CKD?
  • Signs of End of Life
  • Final Thoughts

What is Kidney Disease?

Kidney disease in cats is the deterioration of the normal function of the kidneys.

Healthy kidneys work to flush out toxins in the body and aid in regulating urine production. When the kidneys are compromised in any way, the body struggles to perform these tasks, leading to a waterfall of dangerous symptoms and illness. When a major organ system such as the kidneys begin to fail, the cat’s overall health will begin to decline.

Chronic kidney disease: In chronic kidney disease, the kidneys will begin to struggle over time. Cats can compensate for months to years in chronic disease, and owners can usually note changes in their health that have happened over time.

Diagnosing the early stages of chronic kidney disease in cats is the goal, as this disease can be managed. Unlike acute kidney disease, chronic kidney disease is not an immediate threat when it is caught in the early stages.

Acute kidney disease: Acute kidney disease is the sudden onset of kidney function decline in a cat. This usually occurs in situations such as kidney injury, urethral obstruction (blocked cats), infectious disease, or toxin ingestion. This can also happen in cats that have congenital kidney abnormalities.

Acute kidney disease is especially dangerous, as cats will experience sudden and severe symptoms. These cases are much more difficult to manage since the function of the kidneys is usually severely impaired in such a short amount of time.

Is there a difference between kidney disease and kidney failure?

Though the two are tied together, there is a major difference between kidney disease and kidney failure.

Kidney disease is the chronic decline of kidney function over time, while kidney failure is the actual failing of the kidneys to the point where they cannot function properly any longer.

The kidneys are an impressive set of organs, as they can continue to function until 65-70% of the kidneys have been impaired by chronic disease.

Kidney failure would be the period in time of where the cat’s kidneys have already experienced severe damage, and can no longer function properly.

CKD in Cats | Fluffy Kitty | photo credit:
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What are the symptoms of kidney disease and kidney failure in cats?

Since the kidneys can function properly even in the beginning stages of kidney disease, it’s important to keep an eye out for the subtle signs that are often brushed off as signs of aging.

Some of the symptoms of kidney disease include:

  • Weight loss
  • Dull hair coat
  • Some increased thirst
  • Some increased urination

The more severe signs of kidney disease or acute kidney failure include:

  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Severe weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Rear leg weakness
  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Foul breath
  • Dehydration

How can you diagnose kidney disease in cats?

The only accurate way to diagnose kidney disease in cats is through diagnostic testing.  Your veterinarian will often perform diagnostic blood work and urine analysis testing.

By reviewing the levels of their kidney enzymes and the components of their urine, they can come to an adequate diagnosis.

The threat of kidney disease in cats is one of the main reasons why routine exams and senior diagnostics are so important. By performing diagnostics at their recommended time, you can catch this disease in the early stages. Catching kidney disease in cats early will help to prolong your cat’s life, and prolong their quality of life.

Is there a treatment for acute kidney failure in cats?

If your cat is diagnosed with acute kidney failure (the sudden onset of severe kidney decline), your veterinarian will recommend hospitalization.

In acute kidney failure, toxins are building up in a cat’s bloodstream due to the kidneys’ inability to function. Acute kidney failure also causes electrolyte imbalances and severe dehydration. Because of these dangerous factors, a cat will need to be on IV fluids in order to help flush the toxins in their system and take some of the stress off of the kidneys.

Most cats require a minimum of 48 hours on IV fluids to see changes in their blood work.

Acute kidney failure can also cause a list of uncomfortable symptoms, so they will also receive supportive care during their stay.

Acute kidney failure is a serious situation, so there is no guarantee that aggressive hospitalization will reverse this condition. Though survival is not guaranteed, aggressive care is the only way to possibly combat acute kidney failure.

1 in 3 cats develop kidney disease. //

Can you manage CKD in cats?

You can absolutely manage chronic kidney disease in cats. Each cat’s treatment plan will vary depending on the severity of their disease, but there are almost always options for effective management.

Some ways your veterinarian help to manage your cat’s disease are:

  • Hospitalization (if needed)
  • Receive adequate hydration through fluid therapy or increased water intake
  • Special kidney cat food diets
  • Routine blood work

The most important part of managing kidney disease is close communication and follow up with your veterinarian. By working closely with your vet, you can find a management plan that works best for your furry friend.

Can kidney disease be reversed?

Kidney disease can be managed and deterioration can be slowed down, but it can’t necessarily be reversed.

Through proper management, you can certainly improve their kidney values and prolong their life, but you won’t ever completely eradicate the disease.

The only situations in which you could reverse kidney failure is when the acute damage is due to infectious disease, urethral obstruction, toxin ingestion, or any other treatable situation.

If kidney damage is the result of an acute and treatable illness, then it is possible to reverse the damage with aggressive care.

How long can a cat live with chronic kidney disease?

The life expectancy of a cat with chronic kidney disease will vary with each cat. With proper management of the disease, life expectancy can range anywhere from a few months to several years.

Early diagnosis of the disease truly makes a difference when it comes to prognosis. As long as you follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for management, you have all the tools needed to prolong their life.

What are the signs of the end of life in kidney disease?

If you are currently treating a cat with chronic kidney disease, you may wonder what signs to look for when the disease is no longer manageable.

Some signs that a feline friend is suffering in their illness are:

  • Not eating
  • Vomiting
  • Severe weight loss
  • Lethargy
  • Rear leg weakness
  • Any other major changes

You know your cat best, so if you feel they are suffering at any point, it’s best to speak with your veterinarian.

Final Thoughts: CKD in Cats

Though kidney disease is a daunting diagnosis, it is definitely manageable through proper care and early prevention.

Just remember to keep up with your cat’s routine diagnostics in their senior years, and you will be ready for any difficulties that come their way.

The Fluffy Kitty

The Fluffy Kitty blog inspires cat owners around the world to live a more adventurous and eco-friendly life with their cats. Read more about our story on our about us page.

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  1. My cat is 16 yrs old and was dx with kidney failure 14 months ago. She is in the final stages now, we believe. We are starting her on fluid therapy tomorrow (she just got home from an overnight stay at the vet with continuous IV fluids). She is very weak and she wobbles on her back legs now. I think at this point we are mostly making her as comfy as possible until the extended family gets a chance to say goodbye.

  2. How does the referenced ‘kidney disease’ equate to kidney stones, which my now 15 yo Ragdoll cat was diagnosed with 2 years ago? The initial ‘clue’ of the difficulty (2 yrs ago), was due to him rejecting the litter box. That subscided with the above treatment and care until the past week with the same symptoms. I administered the vet recommended medication, and distilled water with urinary special diet dry food ‘disguised’ by moist food to entice him to eat the second choice of recommenced dry food that he rejected without the ‘topping.’ I am in my 80s, alone, limited low-income, without transportation – all of which complicate our unfortunate saga! Thank you for your consideration, sharing and support!

    1. Hi Sandra! I’m sorry to hear about your kitty! Is there an animal shelter or vet near you? There might be services for pick-up, drop-off, especially now! Also, whipping up some plain, boiled chicken or stuffing the meds into stinky tuna or fish might help! Those also work as toppings. Xx

  3. My cat died from it many years ago. It’s common in Persians because irresponsible people bred siblings. It should be illegal. I didn’t even know it when I bought her. My beautiful cat was twelve when she died. It was awful. I now have feral cats, and they’re healthy. Beware before you buy a cat, and buy only from reputable breeders.

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