Chronic Renal (Kidney) Failure in Cats


Overview of Chronic Kidney Failure in Cats

Chronic renal (kidney) failure (CRF) is a common problem in all cat breeds. The digestion of food produces waste products, which are carried by blood to the kidneys to be filtered and excreted in the form of urine. When the kidneys fail, they are no longer able to remove these waste products, and toxins build up in the blood producing clinical signs of kidney disease.

Below is an overview of Chronic Renal (Kidney) Failure in Cats followed by in-depth detailed information about the causes, diagnosis and treatment of this disease.

CRF affects all breeds of any age, although older pets are commonly affected, as the prevalence increases with age. The average age of diagnosis in cats is nine years. Breeds thought to be more susceptible include Abyssinians and Persians. CRF affects almost every body system causing many changes throughout the body and usually results in the following:

  • Abnormal filtration of blood and retention of waste materials
  • Failure of hormone production (including substances that stimulates the production of red blood cells [erythropoeitin])
  • Disturbance of fluid, electrolyte and acid-base balance

    CRF can be caused by several different processes. These may include diseases, some of which can be secondary to other disease processes or trauma, that may have caused acute kidney failure such as:

  • Toxins
  • Poor blood flow and lack of oxygen (ischemia)
  • Inflammatory disease
  • Infections
  • Cancer (neoplasia)
  • Immune system abnormalities

What to Watch For



Diagnosis of Chronic Kidney Failure in Cats

Diagnostic tests are needed to recognize CRF and exclude other diseases. These tests may include:

Treatment of Chronic Kidney Failure in Cats

Although there is no cure, early detection can slow the progression of the disease. CRF can be a life threatening condition that requires hospitalization and treatment for stabilization in extremely ill pets. Treatments may include:


  • Fluid therapy for dehydrated pets
  • Management of blood abnormalities such as hyperkalemia or hypokalemia (abnormal potassium blood levels), metabolic acidosis and hyperphosphatemia
  • Dietary therapy with protein a phosphorus restriction
  • Free access to water
  • Supportive care and careful monitoring of urine output
  • Control of vomiting with diet and drug therapy as needed
  • Management of anemia if needed (with Epogen)

Home Care

Chronic renal failure is life-threatening, and if you suspect your pet has this condition, you should see your veterinarian as soon as possible. Follow-up with your veterinarian for examinations, laboratory work and urinalysis. Blood and urine analysis should be repeated within five to seven days after discharge.

Feed your pet the diet recommended by your veterinarian. Provide free access to fresh clean water at all times. Some owners can administer subcutaneous fluid to their pets at home, if necessary. Your veterinarian can provide instructions when indicated.

Administer any prescribed medications as directed by your veterinarian. Drug therapy may include: phosphate binders; potassium supplementation; or drugs for vomiting (such as cimetidine or famotidine); or anabolic steroids for some patients. Epogen may be given for anemia two to three times weekly.

Preventive Care

There are no specific recommendations for prevention of chronic renal failure. However, general suggestions include:

  • Providing frequent attempts to urinate and free access to fresh clean water.
  • Avoiding exposure to ethylene glycol and toxic plants (such as Easter lily) that can cause acute kidney damage.


In-depth Information on Chronic Kidney Failure in Cats

Other medical problems can lead to symptoms similar to those encountered in CRF. Laboratory testing (blood work and urinalysis testing) will often diagnose CRF. Further diagnostic testing may be needed to determine the underlying cause.

Diseases that can appear similar to those with CRF include:

  • Acromegaly (abnormal enlargement of of the extremities of the skeleton due to overgrowth of connective tissue)
  • Acute Renal (Kidney) Failure (sudden onset of kidney failure)
  • Diabetes Mellitus(malfunction of the pancreas, whose function is the production and release of insulin)
  • Diuretic phase of acute renal failure (ARF)
  • Drugs (diuretics, corticosteroids)
  • Excessive parenteral fluid administration
  • Hyperadrenocorticism (Cushing’s Syndrome)
  • Hypercalcemia (High blood calcium)
  • Hyperthyroidism (excessive functional activity of the thyroid gland)
  • Hypokalemia (low blood potassium)
  • Liver disease
  • Multiple myeloma (cancer)
  • Nephrogenic (producing kidney tissue) diabetes insipidus (a metabolic disorder, which results in a deficient quantity of the hormone ADH being released or produced, resulting in failure of reabsorption of water in the kidney
  • Partial Urinary tract obstruction
  • Polycythemia (an increase in the circulating red blood cell mass)
  • Post-obstructive diuresis (an increased excretion of the urine due to the diuretic effect of urea and electrolytes retained during the period of obstruction)
  • Primary hyperparathyroidism (abnormally increased activity of the parathyroid gland)
  • Psychogenic polydipsia (excessive drinking caused by psychological causes, such as boredom)
  • Pyelonephritis (inflammation of the kidney and renal pelvis)
  • Pyometra (infection of the uterus)
  • Renal glucosuria (the presence of sugar in the urine)
  • Renal medullary (central or inner portion of an organ) washout of solute
  • Salt administration

Causes of Kidney Failure in Cats



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