Older Cat Care: Understanding Chronic Kidney Disease By Angela Walter, DVM
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Older Cat Care: Understanding Chronic Kidney Disease

Drs. Foster & Smith Educational Staff
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Understanding Chronic Kidney Disease

One of the most common ailments cats can struggle with is Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD), and older cats are especially at risk. Kidney disease, or renal failure, is a condition in which the kidneys lose the ability to concentrate urine.

Kidney disease can be either acute (sudden onset) or chronic (slow onset). In acute kidney disease, the signs appear quickly and are usually severe. In chronic kidney disease, the signs are slowly progressive.

What causes it?

Many conditions can cause kidney disease, some of which may have occurred years earlier, making the root tough to identify.

  • Age
  • Infections
  • Amyloidosis (caused by a specific type of protein deposited in the kidneys)
  • Drugs
  • Toxins
  • Congenital and inherited disorders
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Inflammation

Clinical Signs of CKD

Early on, your cat may show no signs of illness. As the kidney disease progresses though, the following signs may appear:

  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Weight loss
  • Unkempt appearance/poor hair coat

How's it CKD diagnosed?

Your veterinarian will perform a physical examination on your pet. Many pets with chronic kidney disease will have abnormal physical exam findings, such as dehydration and small, irregularly shaped kidneys. Your veterinarian will then do blood and urine tests to assess your pet's kidney function. Other tests may also be needed to help your veterinarian determine how advanced the kidney disease is.


Since kidney disease is progressive, the goal of treatment is to stabilize the kidney function and slow the progression of the disease. Treatment usually includes changes to the diet and medications to control nausea or other signs. Fluid therapy can help keep cats hydrated. Kidney transplants are also available at certain veterinary referral hospitals.

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