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Caring for Kidney Failure

Chronic kidney failure is a relatively common problem for cats. It usually affects older pets, although kidney failure can occur in young animals, as well.

What is kidney failure?
Special dietary needs
General care

What is kidney failure?
Chronic kidney failure occurs when the kidneys cannot work efficiently. When they can't remove waste products from the blood efficiently, these wastes accumulate and produce some of the clinical signs of kidney disease: poor appetite, weight loss, increased thirst, and vomiting. As a result, the kidneys cannot concentrate urine efficiently - they cannot re-absorb enough water efficiently back into the bloodstream - and this leads to dehydration and dilute urine. The cat will suffer from increased frequency of urination and urinating during the night.

To check for kidney failure in your cat, your veterinarian may perform a blood test to look for increased levels of waste products (especially urea) in the bloodstream.

Your cat's kidney disease may seem to have come on suddenly, but it has probably progressed over time - and is therefore "chronic." The loss of kidney function will have happened slowly, with the levels of waste products gradually increasing in the blood until they are high enough to produce the signs of disease.

By the time most cats show any signs of kidney failure, over two thirds of their kidney tubules may have become damaged. Unfortunately, it isn't possible to repair this damage. By giving your cat the correct diet, however, you can help:

  • The remaining tubules work more efficiently
  • Reduce the accumulation of waste products in the blood
  • Slow down the progression of disease by reducing the loss of more kidney tubule function.

Your vet will probably recommend that you feed your cat a low-protein diet. This diet helps reduce the build-up of waste products, for example, urea. You don't want to reduce the level of protein too much, however, or your cat won't receive enough protein to help support cell regeneration and body regulation. Talk to your veterinarian about finding a properly balanced diet.

The recommended diet should also be low in phosphorus. When the kidney is unable to remove phosphorus from the blood, certain chemical processes can lead to additional loss of function of more kidney tubules - which results in the kidneys being even less able to remove phosphorus and, therefore, to even more loss of tubule function. By restricting the level of phosphorus in the diet, you can help to slow down this vicious circle.

Special dietary needs
By feeding your cat a diet which is lower in protein and phosphorus than normal, you reduce the build-up of unwanted waste products (and may reduce the clinical symptoms) and even help to slow the progression of kidney disease. Cats need more protein in their diets than dogs - the food you provide should restrict proteins to stop the clinical symptoms but still allow all the amino acids that your cat needs.

The diet you feed your cat should be high in calories to prevent weight loss. Some cats are fussy eaters and kidney disease may decrease appetite. To ensure sufficient food intake, feed your cat a particularly palatable diet. Talk to your veterinarian about the commercially prepared special diets that are available.

In cats, the increased production of dilute urine that occurs during kidney failure may cause a deficiency in important nutrients like B vitamins and potassium. Consult your vet to find a diet that has supplemented levels of B vitamins and potassium to avoid potential deficiencies.

General care
By following your veterinarian's advice, you may be able to relieve some of the signs of chronic kidney disease and offer your cat a better quality of life. There are some general measures which you can take to help your cat:

  • If your cat has been prescribed drugs, administer them exactly as advised.
  • If your cat has been prescribed a low-phosphorous diet, serve it exactly as advised. Don't give your pet extra snacks.
  • Give your cat a number of small meals, rather than one or two large meals in a day.
  • Offer fresh food at each feeding.
  • Allow your cat access to clean, fresh water at all times.
  • Warm food to just below body temperature if your cat shows an unwillingness to eat. You might try to hand-feed your cat for the first few days of a new diet.

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