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Feline kidney failure is something that every cat owner should be aware of. Unfortunately, kidney disease and kidney failure are common problems in cats, so you need to know how to prevent kidney failure, what warning signs to watch out for, and what the treatment options are for renal failure in cats. The more you know, the better you can protect your cat from kidney failure and related problems.

Like most medical problems, kidney failure in cats can have multiple causes, including systemic shock, heart failure, insect or snake bites, and more. Knowing the signs of kidney failure in cats can help owners solicit a proper diagnosis and get their pet treated as soon as possible.

If you think your cat has kidney disease or kidney failure, here’s what you need to know as a pet owner.

Symptoms Of Kidney Failure In Cats

The symptoms your cat displays can tell you a lot about their health. It’s important to understand the differences between the symptoms of acute renal failure and chronic kidney disease. Recognizing symptoms of kidney failure in cats can help you and your vet determine what kind of kidney problems your cat has and the best course of treatment.

Graphic displaying symptoms of acute kidney failure in cats

There are several clinical signs of acute renal failure (ARF). Some of the signs that may indicate ARF in cats include sudden anorexia, listlessness, vomiting that may contain blood, diarrhea that may contain blood, strange breath, and seizures. The important thing to remember is that cats don’t always experience all of these symptoms, so ARF in one cat may look a bit different than ARF in another.

Signs of chronic kidney disease tend to come on more slowly than those of acute renal failure. According to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, cats with chronic kidney disease (CKD) may have a buildup of waste in the bloodstream since the kidneys can’t regulate or remove waste like they normally do. This buildup of waste may lead to your cat feeling ill, losing weight, or appearing lethargic and unkempt. 

You may also notice increased urination volume as well as increased water intake. Eventually, a cat with kidney disease may experience metabolism and appetite problems as a result of losing much-needed proteins and vitamins through their urine. Hypertension, or elevated blood pressure, may also affect the way certain organs, such as the eyes and heart function.

Sick cat being pet by owner

Causes Of Kidney Failure In Cats

Learning about the causes of kidney failure in cats can help you take steps to prevent kidney failure and keep your cat healthy. While kidney failure may be a result of ingesting certain heavy metals and other toxins, it can also be caused by clotting disorders, low blood pressure, and other medical conditions.

In some cases, renal failure in cats may be caused by the ingestion of certain toxins. Heavy metals including lead, mercury, arsenic, and thallium can cause kidney failure if ingested, and these heavy metals may be found in household products such as insecticides, batteries, and paint. Rodenticides you use to eliminate pests can also be very harmful to cats. Plus, there are several plants—lilies especially—that can lead to kidney failure in cats, so you should keep these plants away from your pet.

Kidney failure in cats can also be caused by various medical conditions. Hypotension (low blood pressure) and clotting disorders may lead to kidney failure in cats, for example. Kidney failure may also be caused by an obstruction in the urethra or a urinary disease that leads to an inability to urinate. If your cat has any of these medical conditions, you should talk to your vet about steps you can take to prevent kidney disease.

Certain medications can also lead to kidney failure in cats. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory agents can cause kidney failure, as well as certain types of antibiotics. This is why it’s so important to talk with your vet before you decide to give your cat any type of medication, even if it’s something that’s been prescribed to them in the past. Your cat should only take medications that are prescribed by a veterinarian for their current condition.

In addition to these causes of kidney failure, kidney failure in cats can also result from antifreeze poisoning, insect or snake bites, a bacterial infection of the kidney, or feline infectious peritonitis. If you notice any signs of kidney failure in cats, you should take your cat to the vet for a professional diagnosis.

Graphic displaying causes of kidney failure in cats


A proper diagnosis is an important part of treating kidney failure in cats. Kidney failure can have a multitude of causes, so it’s important to figure out what’s going on with your cat so you can get them the treatment they need.

When a vet suspects your cat may have kidney failure, there are certain tests they may perform to determine the definitive diagnosis. According to the Cornell Feline Health Center, blood tests are a common way to detect kidney failure in cats. During a blood test, your vet will look at blood urea nitrogen (BUN) levels as well as creatinine, with creatinine being the primary indicator of kidney disease. High levels of these compounds may suggest that your cat’s kidneys aren’t working as well as they should be. Keep in mind that these tests are typically taken from a cat who is fully hydrated but has fasted for 12 to 24 hours.


Treating kidney failure in cats is mostly about removing toxins from the body and restoring an electrolyte balance as soon as possible. Treatment may include intravenous fluids for between 24 and 96 hours, as well as hemodialysis, which is a process that purifies the blood of toxins. Your vet may work to empty your cat’s stomach if your cat has ingested toxins or medication.

Some cats may experience symptoms such as uncontrollable vomiting with kidney failure. In these cases, your vet may also prescribe nutritional support to make sure your cat is getting all the nutrients it needs.

If your cat is displaying signs of kidney failure, it’s important to take them to the vet for a diagnosis right away. Your vet can help you determine the best treatment option no matter what’s going on with your cat.

Lethargic cat lying down

Feline Kidney Failure: FAQs

What are the symptoms of a cat dying of kidney failure?

Some of the symptoms of a cat dying of kidney failure include excessive thirst and increased urination, loss of appetite, weight loss, dehydration, lethargy, depression, and drooling. Keep in mind that some of these symptoms may also be present with other medical conditions, and your cat may not show all of the symptoms of kidney failure in cats.

If you spot any of these symptoms of kidney failure in cats, you should take your cat to the vet right away for a diagnostic blood test. The earlier you detect kidney failure in cats, the easier it is to treat. Early detection is especially important if your cat has ingested a toxin or medication.

Are cats in pain during kidney failure?

The pain that comes with kidney failure depends on the symptoms your cat is feeling and the severity of those symptoms. In some cases, cats may not experience a lot of physical pain as a result of kidney failure, but they may still have difficulty urinating or staying hydrated. However, stiff movement and an arched back are two of the signs that your cat may be experiencing the later stages of kidney failure, which can be fatal.

Because kidney failure can do so much damage, it’s important to take your cat to the vet if you think they’re experiencing kidney problems. If your cat gets into anything you think may be toxic, you should also call your vet to see if you need to bring them in for a visit.

Can a cat recover from kidney failure?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot you can do to make your cat completely healthy again after kidney failure. The kidneys are vital organs, and they can’t repair themselves very well after extreme damage. If your cat is suffering from kidney failure, the best thing you can do is talk to your vet about starting a treatment plan to give them the best quality of life.

While you may not be able to reverse kidney failure, you can help your cat live comfortably and for longer with proper treatment. Your vet can provide more information about the treatment options that are available for kidney failure in cats, as well as the pros and cons of each treatment option.

Owner cuddling cat

Final Notes

Because kidney failure is a fairly common problem in cats, it’s important to know about the symptoms, causes, and treatment options as a cat owner. While kidney failure in cats can be treated, it’s important to talk to your vet to determine the right treatment option.

Whether you need help diagnosing a cat ear infection or renal failure in cats, Dutch can connect you with vets who can help. If you need advice or someone to help diagnose a simple medical problem, we’ve got you covered. Contact us to find out more about Dutch and how we can help you take better care of your cats.



  1. “Chronic Kidney Disease.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 1 Mar. 2019, 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Dutch?

Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

What is a visit with Dutch like?

When booking a video call with a vet, you'll be asked a few questions about your pet’s health issue. Depending on the issue, you may also be asked to fill out a longer questionnaire about their symptoms and share photographs of them so our veterinarians can better understand what’s going on. You’ll then pick an appointment time that works best for you.

During your video call, one of our licensed veterinarians will talk to you about the symptoms your pet is experiencing, ask you questions, review your pet’s medical history if you’ve provided it, and answer any questions you have. The vet will ask to see your pet and their environment. And they may ask you to perform some simple checks on them if needed.

After your video call, the vet will send you a message with a custom treatment plan to help your pet feel better, including a link to buy any recommended prescription or over-the-counter medications. Place your order and we’ll ship it free.

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In addition to the base membership plan, our veterinarians may also recommend additional medication (Rx and/or OTC) that you will have the option of adding to your plan at an additional cost.