Chronic Kidney Disease in Older Cats: Things to Know

September 25, 2019
Today, we're going to talk about chronic kidney disease in older cats. The scariest thing about this condition is that the signs don't show up until after it's usually too late. Learn more about this disease and what you can do to prevent it in this article.

Chronic kidney disease in cats is a progressive, silent condition that one in every 3 cats older than 10 will get. Over 50% of cats older than 15 will get it too. Also known as chronic renal failure, this condition causes a gradual deterioration of your cat’s kidneys. The scary thing is that you may only notice after the damage is done.

Chronic kidney disease: a silent enemy of older cats

Like any silent condition, there aren’t any signs that clearly suggest chronic kidney disease. Unfortunately, most of the clear signs will only start to appear after the deterioration of its kidneys have become a major concern. By this time, it has usually affected about 75% of its kidneys.

Because of that, the best way for you to stop chronic kidney disease in time is to have older cats (starting at 8) do semi-frequent blood and urine tests. Bringing your cat to the vet to do this will help ensure its quality of life, and life expectancy.

Chronic kidney disease is a common condition for cats older than 10. The clear signs only begin to appear after much of the damage to its kidneys has been done. 

The vague signs that your house cat has chronic kidney disease

As we said, the signs of chronic kidney disease often go unnoticed, or may seem like symptoms of another condition. But you should talk to your vet if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • A progressive decrease in weight
  • Loss of appetite
  • Drinking more water than it usually does
  • Urinating frequently
  • Vomiting

In the final stages of this disease, cats tend to be extremely lethargic.

Treating an older cat’s chronic kidney disease

An increase in urea and creatinine levels in the blood, and a low level of urine density are clear signs of kidney disease. If you don’t catch this in time, your cat will most likely end up in hospital to get its hydration levels back to normal. 

From there on, it’ll have to follow a very strict diet. That will include high-quality proteins, and a major cut-down on phosphorous and sodium. However, your cat may not want to eat the food in its new diet. In that case, it’s best to have it eat something it likes, rather than eat nothing at all.

You could also find some kind of substance that gives the food a better flavor. Hopefully that will perk your cat’s appetite and get it to eat the food it should.

Your vet should also suggest a vitamin supplement with these nutrients:

  • B vitamins
  • Antioxidants
  • Potassium
  • Omega-3 fatty acids

Why doesn’t it have early warning signs?

The kidneys have lots of tiny tubes in them, called nephrons. These tubes are the part of the kidneys that filter out and reabsorb liquids. A young, healthy cat will have lots of them. This means that its body will decide to store away some of them for emergencies.

When kidney disease begins, some of its nephrons will stop working. This is when the stored nephrons will come into action. But the problem here is that this means your cat won’t have any more backups.

So, as the kidney disease progresses and your cat starts to run out of nephrons, the first signs of the condition will start to show up. But that doesn’t happen until later on. Your cat’s “reserve” of nephrons will cover up the early signs of the disease until a significant amount of damage has already been done. 

Causes of the condition

But wait, what exactly causes your cat’s kidneys to stop being able to properly filter and eject waste from its bloodstream?

Unfortunately, in most cases, it’s impossible to determine the exact cause of the kidney disease. Biopsies almost always show a lot of fibrous tissue that has replaced normal tissue. But that’s something that happens with other conditions, too, so it can’t give you a definitive idea of what happened.

Some potential causes, though, include things like:

  • Polycystic kidney disease
  • Kidney tumors
  • Infection
  • Glomerulonephritis

Kidney disease in older cats: a condition you need to catch early

Although there’s no cure for this condition, your cat can live a relatively normal life with chronic kidney disease. But that’s only possible if you catch it early on, and give it the proper care.

So, if the diagnosis comes late, the prognosis normally won’t be good.

As much as we hate to say it, no matter what you do to keep it healthy and happy, the cat’s health will probably continue to deteriorate, and it may die in a matter of months.

But, as we mentioned above, even though the early signs aren’t definitive, what you can do is take your cat to the vet once it’s 8 years old for blood and urine tests. It never hurts to be safe!