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Taking Care of a Cat With Kidney Failure

I have rescued and fostered many pets over the years. Keeping my pets healthy and happy is my number one priority.

Kidney Failure in Cats

Kidney Failure in Cats

One of the more common, fatal ailments in cats is kidney failure, otherwise known as renal failure or renal disease. The disease is progressive and early symptoms may not be super-evident. But as your cat's failure progresses, it will begin to show outward signs of the disease such as weight loss, excessive drinking, and excessive urination.

Here is one owner's perspective on taking care of a cat with kidney disease.

Why an Early Diagnosis Is Important

When our cat first came to us, he was abandoned on the steps of our apartment building, covered in his own urine out of fear and shaking from the cold. His owners, who had lived under us, had abandoned him when they moved. He was one or two years old at the time.

After bringing the terrified, long-haired tabby in and taking him to the vet's office for shots and vaccinations, he became a part of the family. Always a bit skittish, he only began to truly relax and seek a lap for comfort and petting once he aged past 10. Last year, when he was around 14, we noticed that he had begun to lose a little weight (never a good sign but an especially ominous one if the cat is older). Some blood work from the vet's office revealed that he was in the early stages of kidney failure.

Having adopted an older cat a few years back who also had kidney failure and taking care of her for nine months, I realized the slow decline that we were facing with our beloved cat.

Older cats sometimes face kidney failure.

Older cats sometimes face kidney failure.

How You Can Help

You should work with your vet on a plan of action for caring for your cat. Some cats can respond well to treatment, and some tend to go down rather quickly regardless of what the owner does.

If your cat is in the early stages of kidney failure, speak with your vet about:

  • Types of food
  • Subcutaneous fluids
  • Medications

Creating a customized plan for your cat may help to make it feel better for longer.

Offer High-Moisture Food to Cats With Kidney Failure

A cat with failing kidneys needs extra moisture, more than they can usually take in just by drinking water. One way to help them get this is to give them canned food.

A cat's body is actually designed to acquire moisture and hydration from the food they eat. There is some evidence that feeding cats only dry food may contribute to urinary and kidney issues. With a cat in kidney failure, getting moisture from food is even more important.

Up until recently, vets recommended a low protein diet for cats with kidney failure. More recent research may be shifting away from this in some cases of kidney failure. It's a balance between getting your cat to eat, which keeps them stronger for longer, and trying to get away from the intake of foods that are hard on the kidneys (which proteins are).

Each cat's situation is unique and it is important to work with your vet to determine what the best food plan is for your cat.

In my situation, the cat in kidney failure was not eating well. We found that he did like Friskies canned food but would stop eating if we fed him the same flavor every day. So we bought variety packs and would give him half a can in the morning and half at night with water and dry food (Science Diet) out all day.

Subcutaneous Fluids and Hydration

Another way to get your cat extra moisture is by giving it fluids at home. While the process may seem intimidating, it is relatively simple, especially if you have two people. Your vet will demonstrate how to give the cat fluids and decide the frequency and amount needed.

For our cat, fluids every other day was the prescribed course. We would put the cat on the counter on a towel and hang the fluid bag via a coat hanger from the top of the cabinets.

After putting in a fresh needle, we would pinch up a bit of skin on the back near the base of the neck and insert the needle. Sometimes the cat may be jumpier and you may need to gently hold it by the loose skin near its neck or use another recommended form of fear-free restraint. I usually have the person help me when I insert the needle subcutaneously (SQ). We talk soothingly to him.

The SQ fluids usually take just a few minutes. This process may leave a pocket under the skin, but the body will absorb and use the fluids, usually within a few minutes to a few hours.

If you are looking for ways to help your cat but are nervous about giving the fluids, I encourage you to try it with the instruction of your veterinarian. It looks more intimidating than it actually is and your cat will often perk up and begin to feel better.

Medication for Kidney Failure in Cats

There may also be medications that help your cat feel better and will slow the progression of kidney failure. Our vet prescribed a very cheap blood pressure medicine that we are giving our cat in conjunction with his fluids. It is a once-a-day pill that she believes may help alleviate the pressure on his kidneys and make him feel more like himself for longer.

Again, treatments are individualized based on the stage of kidney failure and your particular cat's tolerance and needs. Working with your vet and letting them know what you want and what you are willing to do will help you build the best action plan.

Cats need extra fluids when they have kidney failure.

Cats need extra fluids when they have kidney failure.

Many Owners Feel Overwhelmed

When your cat is diagnosed with a serious ailment, it can be a very stressful time for both the cat and the owner. While none of us want to lose our pets, realize that while your cat will ultimately get beyond treatment, some owners have been able to prolong their pets' lives by as much as three years. For others, it may only be a few weeks. For many owners, even a little bit of extra time is worth the effort.

Don't forget to give them lots of extra love and comfort during this time and don't be embarrassed about facing your own emotions of worry, fear, and grief. It is all a natural part of our bond and a part of the process of caring for an aging or ill cat.

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: Should you try to get a cat to eat by placing a tiny amount on its lips?

Answer: In some cases, I have gotten a cat to eat but mostly by opening their mouths and wiping the food on the ridged roof of their mouth. You can also water down the food and syringe feed them. There are high-calorie supplements that are easy to give them. I'd consult your vet about the best methods in your situation.

© 2013 L C David


Ann1Az2 from Orange, Texas on February 02, 2014:

I've had cats for a long time, anywhere from 8 to now 4 at a time. When I lose one, even having all the others, it leaves a void. It is important to note that a good vet who knows about cats is worth his weight in gold. There are many vets who treat dogs and other pets, but if you can find one that at least knows more about cats or even specializes in them, it's really a blessing. Cats are harder to diagnose than dogs because they are very good at hiding their symptoms. It is always helpful if you know your cat or cats very well so you can tell when they aren't acting right.

Good and useful article and I voted it up.

L C David (author) from Florida on December 03, 2013:

There's nothing like those companions knowing sometimes even before you do. We lost a cat to another disease and our kitten would not leave his side for the months he was declining.

Kidney disease is hard. Right now my 15 year old tabby is maintaining getting fluids every other day and getting blood pressure medicine. I know the day will come when these measures won't work any more and I'm already dreading it.

moonlake from America on December 03, 2013:

We have lost one cat from kidney failure and that was hard, he was very close to me. He was also a senior and it was time to let him go. The morning we knew he had to go back to the vet we laid him on his favorite rug and our dog laid down beside him and laid his head on the cat’s stomach. It was so sad. the dog knew his friend was dying.

Voted up on your hub.

L C David (author) from Florida on September 23, 2013:

I do. I think finding a vet that you trust is such an important part of pet ownership.

Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on September 23, 2013:

It sounds like you have a wonderful Vet to help you care for your cat and I hope all goes well. Voted up.

L C David (author) from Florida on September 22, 2013:

Thank you so much truthfornow. I do think that it can be overwhelming to try to figure it out. I'm so glad we have done this though as our boy perked back up and is eating and acting like his old self again.

Marie Hurt from New Orleans, LA on September 22, 2013:

Voted up and useful. It is tough when our feline friends get older and start to decline. However, we can make them more comfortable and work on a plan to give them the best care possible.