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Kidney Disease

There are two kinds of kidney or renal failure: acute renal failure (ARF) and chronic renal failure (CRF). ARF is a serious condition that usually comes on suddenly and is often triggered by a particular event, such as your cat eating something poisonous. Lilies and antifreeze are both extremely toxic to cats, for example, and may cause ARF.

CRF is the most common feline kidney disease, and it primarily affects older cats. The kidneys are composed of approximately 200,000 tiny structures, called nephrons, that eliminate waste products and regulate electrolyte concentrations in the blood. CRF occurs when approximately 70 percent of these nephrons have died and waste products and electrolytes can no longer be processed effectively. In short, a cat with CRF is poisoned by the waste that the kidneys are unable to filter. Electrolyte imbalances, anemia and blood pressure problems may also occur as the kidneys continue to deteriorate.


  • Increased drinking and urination (CRF)
  • Urinating outside the litter box
  • Decreased or even complete lack of urination (ARF)
  • Blood in the urine
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite, probably due to nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Pain in the lower back area
  • Sitting hunched or walking stiffly
  • Poor hair coat, partly due to decreased grooming
  • Ulcers in the mouth and/or drooling
  • High blood pressure, possibly with associated retinal damage
  • Anemia

Risk Factors

CRF may have one or more causes, but the common contributing factors are age, genetics, environment and disease. In recent years, more attention has been directed toward high blood pressure, low potassium levels, acidified diets and dental disease as possible contributors to the development of CRF. Research has also indicated that some breeds of cats have a higher rate of CRF than others. Maine Coons, Abyssinians, Siamese, Russian Blues, Burmese and Balinese appear to be more likely to develop CRF than other breeds. Although CRF can occur at any age, it is usually a disease of older cats. With dietary improvements in cat food, advances in feline medical care and more cats living indoors, cats are now living much longer and their bodies eventually wear out, just as human bodies do. Therefore, they are more likely to experience age-related diseases.


Your vet will need blood and urine samples to diagnose CRF. Treatment will likely depend on the cause of renal failure. If the cause can’t be determined, your vet will offer supportive therapy with the goal of easing your cat’s discomfort and prolonging its life.


Though there is no cure for CRF, cats can still live a long and productive life with proper treatment. Your cat may initially require IV fluids to restore electrolyte balance and reverse the effects of dehydration. Once your cat’s condition is stabilized, your vet will recommend a treatment program aimed at supporting kidney function while minimizing the complications of advanced feline kidney failure.

Medications, such as antibiotics, may be needed to fight any infections causing the kidney failure or to maintain blood pressure. Regular administration of fluids may also be necessary. A prescribed diet that is low in protein, salt and phosphorus will result in less waste produced and therefore will decrease stress on the kidneys. Such diets are usually found in canned foods with added vitamins, fatty acids and electrolytes. Kidney disease is manageable with proper care and treatment.

Routine checkups with a veterinarian will help ensure that your cat is responding to the treatment.


With proper care, many cats live for years after an initial diagnosis of CRF. Importantly, if the disease is recognized early, its progression can be slowed through proper management, whereas if the disease is diagnosed at a late stage, the prognosis can be poor.

Current Research

Click here to find out about Morris Animal Foundation–funded research into feline kidney disease.

Morris Animal Foundation (MAF) urges pet owners not to implement any suggestions on animal health treatments without prior consultation with a licensed veterinarian. If your pet is experiencing health issues, contact your veterinarian. MAF does not endorse any of the medical treatments described in these videos. The Foundation funds research to enhance medical options available to veterinary professionals and their patients.