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Chronic Kidney Failure in Cats: Symptoms and My Experience

My cat was diagnosed with CRF at the age of 12. The following information is based on my own research and experience.

My cat was diagnosed with CRF at the age of 12.

My cat was diagnosed with CRF at the age of 12.

Renal Failure in Cats

Chronic renal failure is, unfortunately, an all too common occurrence in cats. If you're not quite sure what the diagnosis means, I'll put it very in simple terms: CRF means that your cat's kidneys can no longer filter out the toxins that the kidney's normally process, and the cat is now being slowly poisoned by those toxins. It's really quite a depressing thing to hear, but it doesn't have to the end of the world for your kitty if his or her kidneys aren't completely damaged at the time of diagnosis.

My own cat was diagnosed at the age of 12, and the following information is based on my own research and experience. Not all cats will have the same results. You're welcome to share those of your own cat in the comments as it might help others who are looking for information.

Major CRF Symptoms in Cats

  • Increased Thirst: The first symptom I noticed with my cat was an increase in fluid intake. Cats don't consume water like a dog does; they don't need to. So if you suddenly spot your cat drinking several times a day, this could indicate that something is wrong. To put that in perspective, in the 12 years prior, I'd never once actually *seen* her drink. Suddenly she was drinking half a bowl in one day. This is one of the most common symptoms of CRF, but it could also be symptoms of something else. Regardless, this should be checked asap by a veterinarian.
  • Excessive Urination: This is another symptom of CRF and rather a dangerous one as it leads to serious dehydration.
  • Nausea, Gagging, and Vomiting: My cat started to vomit intermittently around the time I noticed the increased fluid intake and excessive urination. She wasn't vomiting food or having difficulty eating, but rather vomiting small amounts of bile.
  • Loss of Appetite: My cat didn't want to eat, and it was very difficult to find anything that she'd even look at, let alone eat.

More CRF Symptoms

  • Weakness: This could be weakness in the limbs, perhaps noticeable when jumping or walking, or it could appear differently.
  • Lethargy: This is more than just being lazy. If your cat stays in the same place all day long and only gets up to potty or eat, they may be lethargic.
  • Poor quality coat: The coat can look greasy, appear to be "sticking up and out," and it can also be lackluster.
  • Constipation: Not going poo for a few days is definitely not a good thing. It may not mean the worst, but it should be checked out.
  • Weight loss: Cats who don't eat will lose weight, obviously. But if the weight loss occurs when kitty eats like a pig, you may want to rule out hyperthyroidism as well.
  • Depression: Being ill doesn't feel good, particularly when the body is backed up with toxins. If your cat looks down in the dumps, there could be a serious reason and you should get it checked immediately.

How Vets Diagnose CRF

My cat was first diagnosed with a urine test, because I took her in there thinking she'd developed feline diabetes. CRF can also be diagnosed with a blood test; however, if you can't get a urine sample it's not the end of the world. In the case of my own cat, I was very lucky that I took her in the same week I noticed the excessive drinking and urination—her test results showed that she had CRF, but the prognosis wasn't as bad as it could have been.

The vet will show you the values and tell you how high or low they are in comparison to the norm, and then you can pursue treatment depending on those values.

Treatment for CRF

  • Infusions: My cat was started on IV fluids immediately. In the US and the UK, vets will typically admit the cat for a day or three, and the owner comes back when treatment is finished. I'm not that kind of owner and insisted that I be the one to administer the fluids since I happen to have a great deal of experience with it. Fortunately, my vet agreed, and I just want to take a moment to assure people of what infusion entail. Firstly, it's not painful. Once the catheter is in, it's a simple process to hook kitty up to the bag and, in our case, each infusion session took 1.5 hours. She slept during this time and was perfectly content. Afterward, I took her home and then back the next day; and then home and then back the next day. Infusions are NOT a painful process so please don't worry about your kitty if they're admitted to your clinic for a few days.
  • More blood tests: The next step is to check how well the kidneys responded to the infusions. In the case of my cat, she responded well, and we went home with a good prognosis. If there had been little or no response—or worse—this would indicate something different, which I'll discuss in a future article.
  • Tablets: My cat was also started on Fortekor 5mg daily. Its main function in this scenario is to keep blood circulating efficiently, particularly with regard to the kidneys. It also helps with heart problems.
  • Special Diet Formulas: I prefer holistic pet foods, but in my case, there aren't any holistic renal formulas available here. Fortunately, my very picky cat was happy with Science Diet's k/d diet. She also liked Waltham's moist packet renal formula on the occasions when she wouldn't eat dry food.
  • Sub Q Injections: These may be necessary with some cats, but in my case it wasn't, for which I'm very grateful.
  • Ipakitine: This is a powder formula of Chitosan and Calcium Carbonate meant to promote kidney health by preventing absorption of phosphates and uraemic toxins. I can't tell you how well this works because my cat refused to eat it on dry food, and she wouldn't eat wet food at the time. If you try it, I recommend mixing it with wet food if your cat will eat it.
  • Routine Checkups: The only way to check on your cat's health with regard to their kidneys is by checking the blood or urine on a regular basis.


In the case of my own cat, these treatments extended her life for approximately one year. And her quality of life was quite good during that time. She was happy, purring, and active. If your veterinarian recommends putting your cat to sleep without trying these measures first, I strongly recommend you get a second opinion. One year of good life is something most of us would want to enjoy.

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This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2009 Isabella Snow


Cat lover on March 12, 2018:

My cat was just diagnosed with a kidney problem. He has some kidney rocks. He is born with one that’s bigger. First, we brought him to the vet and he stayed there for a couple of days. The vets did a 48 hour fluid test and it didn’t change. Now, he his home but here are the signs:

- he doesn’t eat much, and he drinks a lot

- he sleeps a lot

- he ‘shakes’ (like an earth quake) sometimes

- he drinks a lot

Please help, I’m only 13 years old and I am so worried we will have to put him to sleep ;(

Rob on November 16, 2011:

My cat has just been diagnosed with CRF in addition to feline diabetes, we just started 2.5 Fortekor which has helped, still drinking between 300-400ml a day, he is still quite active and responsive, we were resigned to putting him to sleep when we first heard the news as we didn't want to put him through any suffering, I have also been reading up on slippery elm bark powder which can help, my cat ( cosmo) is not in any pain, every day now is a blessing to have him with us, will keep you all posted.

Allison on October 22, 2011:

Thanks so much for this information! Trying to make some decisions about my older cat who has kidney problems. Well done.

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