Kidney disease is relatively common in cats, affecting an estimated one to three percent of felines,1 and that figure is even higher in the senior population. As well as filtering waste products from the blood, the kidneys have a number of other crucial functions… from controlling the balance of minerals, and helping to manage blood pressure in cats, to producing a hormone involved in the production of red blood cells,  your cat’s kidneys are pretty amazing!

Why do cats get kidney failure? 

Did you know that cats have only 200,000 nephrons per kidney, while dogs have 400,000 and humans have a staggering one million? These nephrons are the kidney’s essential filtering units and the lower number in cats, may be one factor in the susceptibility of our feline friends to kidney disease.

Kidney disease in cats may be acute (sudden onset) or chronic (gradual onset and long lasting). Acute kidney failure is often caused by exposure to toxins, such as anti-freeze, whereas chronic kidney failure usually affects older cats, over the age of eight. The risk of kidney failure in cats increases with age and it is thought to be due to general wear and tear on the kidneys. By the time kidney failure is diagnosed it is often difficult to determine the underlying cause.

Ten signs of kidney failure in cats

  • Increased thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Reduced appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea (lip-licking)
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Halitosis (bad breath)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Poor coat condition

What tests are there for kidney failure in cats?

Your vet sill start by examining your cat, checking their weight and assessing their general health. Other tests that they are likely to do. Include:

  • Blood tests to assess kidney function (which is likely to include measuring blood levels of urea, creatinine and SDMA)
  • A urine sample to check how concentrated the urine is and monitor protein levels
  • Measurement of your cat’s blood pressure – high blood pressure is common in cats with kidney failure and successfully managing this can help to:
  • Improve your cat’s quality of life
  • Reduce organ damage, and even
  • Prolong their lifespan
  • Examine your cat’s eyes – to check for signs of bleeding due to high blood pressure

How long do cats live with kidney failure?

If your cat has been diagnosed with kidney failure, it can be a worrying time. One of the first questions that may spring to mind is how long your cat is likely to live with kidney disease. The answer to this depends on the underlying cause but with the right management it can be months or even years.

How can I help my cat with kidney disease?

Your vet will advise you on how best to manage your cat’s kidney disease. This may include a prescription diet to support kidney function, fluids and medication to treat high blood pressure.

Can I check my cat’s blood pressure at home?

Your vet or vet nurse will usually do the blood pressure checks for you. Measuring your cat’s blood pressure is a straightforward procedure, using a cuff round a leg or the tail and it is important that it is done properly to ensure the results are accurate. However checking your cat’s blood pressure at home may be useful for cats that get very anxious at the vets or stressed about car travel. Speak to your vet to find a solution that works best for you and your cat.


  1. Brown SA. Linking treatment to staging in chronic kidney disease. In August JR (ed): Consultations in Feline Internal Medicine. St. Louis: Elsevier Saunders, 2010, pp 475-482