Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) is a prevalent condition in cats, particularly in older individuals. Understanding its causes, symptoms, and available treatments is crucial for cat owners. Regular veterinary check-ups and early detection play a vital role in managing the disease and ensuring the well-being of our feline companions.

Key Takeaways:

  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is common in older cats, but early detection and treatment can improve their quality of life.
  • Veterinary check-ups, diagnostic tests, and specialized diets are essential for managing CKD in cats.

What is Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats?

Veterinary specialists estimate that 30% of cats over the age of 10 have chronic renal (kidney) disease. That’s a scary number and, though there are a variety of treatments available, there is no known cure for this condition.

Thankfully, veterinary diagnostics have become more sensitive over time, allowing your veterinarian to detect subtle signs of renal disease earlier. Combined with rapid detection and advanced treatment, many cats can live long lives with this condition. Though renal disease can occur at any age, it is most commonly diagnosed in cats over 7 years of age.

The kidneys are a particularly important organ, contributing to metabolic factors like blood pressure, electrolyte balance, hydration, and red blood cell production.

Your veterinarian can work with you to perform pet bloodwork, check your cat’s blood pressure, discuss diet changes, increase fluid intake, control symptoms, and even supplement electrolytes that may be out of balance.

What Causes Chronic Kidney Disease?

Most of the time, the cause of CKD is unknown. Some factors can contribute to the advancement of kidney diseases, such as congenital changes (birth defects), infection, hypertension (high blood pressure), and neoplasia (cancer).

Signs & Symptoms of Feline Chronic Kidney Disease

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of feline chronic kidney disease is crucial for early detection and effective management. Keep an eye out for the following common indications in your cat's health:

  • Increased thirst (polydipsia)
  • Frequent urination (polyuria)
  • Changes in appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness or lethargy
  • Dull coat appearance
  • Sudden blindness (in severe cases of prolonged hypertension)

Diagnosing Chronic Kidney Disease for Cats

The blood value that is most specific to the kidneys is called creatinine. Creatinine is used to stage kidney disease, which is a valuable tool in determining appropriate treatment and predicting prognosis. Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) is also often elevated in cats with CKD.

Your veterinarian may also notice protein loss through the kidneys into the urine, along with dilute urine. In some cases, your veterinarian will be able to palpate changes to the shape of your cat’s kidneys.

Creatinine will not be persistently elevated until the kidneys have reached the 60-70% tipping point. Recently, additional markers have been developed to detect renal disease earlier. As one of these values, your cat’s serum symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA) may be elevated for over a year before creatinine increases.

A diagnostic laboratory has also developed a tool called RenalTech, which uses predictive modeling to determine whether an individual cat is likely to develop CKD.

Treatment for Kidney Disease in Cats

One of the most important cat kidney disease treatments is a prescription diet. These specially formulated foods contain low amounts of highly-digestible protein, are low in phosphorus, and contain additional vitamins to support your cat.

Cats with severely elevated phosphorus levels may require phosphate binders, while those low in potassium may need oral supplementation of this electrolyte. Some cats will also need medications to lower their blood pressure, treat anemia (low red blood cells), or control nausea.

Your veterinarian may further recommend supplements, such as omega-3’s, to support the kidneys. Once renal disease has advanced, many cats will require subcutaneous fluid administration at home. Your veterinarian can discuss when this is appropriate and show you how to administer fluids to your cat.

Preventing Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats

As discussed above, this disease is very common in older cats, and the underlying cause is often unknown. Just like in any other aspect of your cat’s health, your veterinarian is the best source of information.

Always be sure to schedule annual pet wellness exams and maintain preventative medical care for your cat. As your cat ages, your veterinarian will let you know when annual or more frequent bloodwork is appropriate.


By being proactive in monitoring our cats' kidney health and seeking professional veterinary care, we can detect and manage chronic kidney disease effectively. Remember to schedule regular check-ups, discuss preventive measures with your veterinarian, and be aware of the signs and symptoms of CKD. Together, we can provide the best care for our cats and enhance their quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between chronic kidney disease & renal failure?

Cats typically display signs of CKD when 60-70% of their kidneys are dysfunctional, while renal failure occurs when more than 75% of the kidney's filtration units (nephrons) are depleted.

Your veterinarian can determine if your cat has reached the stage of renal failure, emphasizing the importance of early CKD diagnosis.