Kidney problems are fairly common in domestic cats, particularly as they age. The kidney performs the vital functions of assisting in the regulation of blood pressure, controlling the fluid content of the blood, production of certain enzymes and hormones, and removing waste from the feline system. So they’re not something little Sylvester can do without.

Cay lying downCauses of Kidney Problems

A number of factors cause kidney problems. Some cats inherit a predisposition to early kidney failure (it’s common in Persian cats, for example). Some cats simply suffer kidney failure during old age. Luck of the draw, unfortunately.

It is important at this point to distinguish between the two main types of kidney failure:

  • Acute kidney failure
  • Chronic kidney failure

‘Acute’ means that the kidney failure occurs suddenly and is, in most cases, severe. The word ‘chronic’ means that the kidney failure has developed over a long period of time and steadily progresses from bad to worse.

Most cats develop acute kidney problems through infection or the ingestion of, or exposure to, some harmful substance. Many of the effects of acute kidney failure are reversible if caught in time.

The most likely culprits are substances such as pesticides or household cleaning gels or fluids, and medications. A single tablet of ibuprofen can cause kidney failure in an adult cat. Certain plants like lilies, autumn crocus, daylilies and milkweed can also cause kidney failure if ingested.

Other possible causes include kidney infections and untreated dental disease (so keep an eye on those teeth).

Chronic kidney failure is either the result of a genetic condition or a long-standing disease which has been allowed to cause irreversible damage to the kidney.

If chronic renal failure is caused by an inherited condition, it will typically strike in middle to old age, but it is not unheard of in kittens and young cats.


If your cat is displaying more than one of the following symptoms, get her to a vet immediately.

Vet checking for kidney problems

  • losing weight rapidly
  • vomiting
  • drinking a great deal more water than is usual for her
  • frequent urination
  • bad breath
  • pain or sensitivity of the kidneys
  • bloody/cloudy urine
  • unusual gait/stumbling/clumsiness
  • unusual fatigue

Remember: Early action is the best chance for survival.


If caught early, and properly treated, acute kidney failure can be reversed in about half of cases. The key is to get your cat to the vet as soon as possible.

Chronic kidney disease is progressive and irreversible. The symptoms can be managed with things like careful diet and hydration, but in all cases, the symptoms will worsen and deterioration is inevitable. It essentially becomes a matter of taking all steps necessary to see that the years or months remaining to the cat are as high-quality as possible.

Whether the type of kidney problem you’re dealing with is acute or chronic, you’re likely to have a very distressed cat on your hands. The steps required in either case are the three Cs of kidney health.

  • Close observation: keep an eye on your cat’s habits, particularly nutrition and elimination.
  • Care: if any problems are observed, get your cat to a vet immediately and follow his or her instructions to the letter.
  • Chow: a carefully controlled diet is the key to recovery or management of symptoms. Make sure your cat is getting the diet she needs to either speed her healing or manage her symptoms. Your vet will provide you with a specific diet in either case. Limit her access to items that are not on the approved list and definitely make sure there are no poisonous plants or substances around for her to nibble on.

Kidney disease is very distressing for either cat or owner, but taking the right steps and ensuring that you are informed will ameliorate much of the distress on your part and hers.