The kidneys perform many essential functions in the body. They help maintain fluid balance, regulate blood pressure, stimulate red blood cell production, and support electrolyte balance and hydration. In addition, the kidneys filter waste and toxic substances which are excreted through urine. When renal function starts to diminish, chronic kidney disease can develop.
What Is Kidney Disease?
Kidney disease is a condition that causes a gradual loss of kidney function over a period of time. With kidney disease, the body is unable to effectively clean the blood and filter out excess water from the blood. Damaged kidneys can cause fluid and waste products to build up in the body, resulting in a variety of symptoms.
The two main types of kidney disease include:
- Acute – An acute disease is one that occurs suddenly but gets better with proper treatment and care. A common cause of acute renal failure in cats is poison, such as from human medications, plants considered toxic to cats, or certain cleaning products.
- Chronic – Chronic kidney disease (CKD) develops slowly over time and gets progressively worse. CKD is generally not curable and can be difficult to treat effectively. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, between 2 and 20 percent of all cats and 30 percent of cats over age 10 develop CKD.
What are the Signs of Kidney Disease?
Cats can develop kidney disease for any number of reasons. Many cats do not show any outward signs of kidney disease at first. Most visible signs and symptoms of kidney disease in felines do not appear until the condition is very advanced. Even then, the signs could be subtle, and difficult to pinpoint a particular disease. According to Royal Canin, physical signs of CKD typically only appear once 75 percent of kidney function has been lost.
Some of the most common signs of kidney disease include:
1. Drinking More Frequently
Cats require an average of 3.5 to 4.5 ounces of water per five pounds of their body weight, according to WebMD. Most cats get the majority of their fluids through the food they eat, especially if they consume wet food. If you notice that your cat is suddenly drinking more, is thirsty all the time, is drinking so much that they vomit, or is drinking from places that they don’t normally drink (e.g., sink, bath, toilet, etc.), then this could indicate a medical condition like kidney disease.
2. Urinating More Frequently
In addition to drinking more frequently, your cat may also be urinating more frequently. This naturally occurs due to a larger influx of water, meaning the more they drink, the more they pee. Some cats will drink so much that they pee in the house or visit their litter box more often. When the kidneys are damaged, it can cause an increased urge to urinate.
3. Weight Loss
Weight loss can be a concerning symptom in cats and can have many different causes, such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes, stress, worms, or dental disease. Weight loss is most common during the early and middle stages of the disease as it causes a loss of appetite. If your cat continues not to get enough nutrients, it could lead to malnutrition, confusion, wasting, and fatigue. Kidney disease can also cause compounds to build up in the body, resulting in a suppressed appetite and altered taste.
Some cats that develop kidney disease will experience vomiting, especially as the condition progresses. The cause is usually a buildup of toxins in the body, as well as the development of associated conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease. If your cat is vomiting and showing signs of a general illness, speak with your vet about your concerns.
5. Low Energy
Does your cat appear lethargic, is less interested in playing, is quieter than usual, or doesn’t want to hunt or go outside? While low energy can have many different causes, lethargy combined with other signs of kidney disease could point to a problem with the kidneys. The average cat sleeps for 12 to 16 hours a day. If your cat is sleeping for longer periods than normal, it may be due to a health condition.
6. Bad Breath
Cats with kidney disease may develop bad breath. This odor usually has a “urine” smell similar to ammonia or bleach. Bad breath in cats with kidney disease is usually caused by an excessive amount of urea in the bloodstream. While healthy kidneys generally filter out urea, cats with kidney disease are unable to do so, resulting in a foul odor. Other common causes of ammonia breath include dehydration, urinary blockages, urinary tract infections (UTIs), or eating too much protein.
When to Contact Your Vet
If you suspect that your cat may have kidney disease, it’s important that you contact your vet as soon as possible. Your vet will perform urine and blood tests, as well as a possible ultrasound, X-rays, or biopsy before making a diagnosis. If your cat is found to have kidney disease, your vet may recommend a variety of treatments ranging from a special diet and medications to IV fluids and surgery to remove possible blockages.