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Caring for Your Cat’s Kidneys

Cat playing with a toy laying down on a blanket

Kidney disease is one of the most common medical conditions to affect cats, and can significantly impact a cat’s health, happiness, and longevity. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) develops in many adult cats, and prevalence increases with age, with up to 80% of geriatric cats affected. At MissionVet, our internal medicine department commonly treats cats with CKD, which, unfortunately, is a progressive condition. Lost kidney function cannot be restored, but you can take steps to care for your cat’s kidneys and minimize their chances of CKD development or progression.

What is chronic kidney disease?

Food breakdown, cellular activities, and normal metabolism create many toxic waste products, such as urea and creatinine, that diffuse into the blood. Your cat’s kidneys are composed of tiny filtration units called nephrons that constantly remove these waste products from the blood, and eliminate them through the urine. When CKD develops, the nephrons deteriorate and no longer clean the blood adequately. Toxic waste accumulation in a cat’s body (i.e., renal azotemia) can cause many negative effects, such as nausea, vomiting, and dehydration. Your cat’s kidneys also play important roles in other body functions, including blood pressure regulation and red blood cell production, which is why CKD can also lead to hypertension and anemia. 

How can I protect my cat’s kidneys?

Keeping your cat’s kidneys healthy throughout their life may minimize the likelihood of CKD development, and can slow its progression. Although you may not be able to completely eliminate your cat’s risk, you can take steps to encourage good kidney health.

1. Encourage your cat’s water consumption

Your cat’s kidneys thrive on water, which they use to flush toxins from their body. You can help keep your cat’s kidneys healthy by encouraging your cat to drink as much water as possible. Cats can be stubborn, however, so you may have to trick them into thinking it is their idea. Ways to make water more appealing to your cat include:

  • Replacing their water bowl with a fountain, since cats love running water

  • Letting your bathroom faucet drip for a few hours, if your cat likes to drink from it

  • Adding tuna juice or chicken broth to your cat’s water 

  • Feeding your cat canned food instead of dry kibble

  • Adding a few ice cubes, which can encourage your cat to play in—and drink—their water

  • Placing water bowls throughout your house so your cat does not have to travel far to drink; this is particularly important for senior cats who may have arthritis

2. Keep your cat at a healthy weight

Overweight cats are more likely to develop diabetes, and some studies suggest that diabetic cats have a greater risk of also developing CKD. While a clear connection is still uncertain, preventing your cat from becoming overweight is better for their overall health. Prevent weight gain in your cat, or help them return to a healthy weight, by following these tips:

  • Ask your family veterinarian to help you determine how many calories your cat needs each day.

  • Calculate the correct number of cups to feed your cat—most cats require only half a cup or less each day. 

  • Decide how many times you will feed your cat each day and divide their calorie allotment accordingly. Keep in mind that cats are grazers and prefer to eat up to 20 small meals per day, including through the night.

  • Use an accurate measuring cup—not a generic plastic cup or scoop—to measure each meal.

  • Save 10% of your cat’s calorie allotment for treats, and choose healthy, low-calorie options.

3. Make using the litter box a stress-free experience for your cat

Urinating removes toxins from your cat’s body and keeps the waste-removal process flowing. However, cats can be finicky about their litter box preferences and may hold their urine if using their box is stressful. Make your cat’s litter box stress-free, and encourage them to urinate regularly, with the following tips:

  • Ensure you have an adequate number of litter boxes in your home—one for each cat, plus an extra.

  • Place litter boxes on each house level in quiet locations that will provide privacy.

  • Do not place litter boxes near loud appliances, such as the washing machine or furnace.

  • Scoop litter boxes daily, and completely clean them every week or so.

  • Do not suddenly change litter type, as most cats dislike drastic changes. 

Monitor your cat’s litter box habits, and contact your family veterinarian at the first sign of a problem, such as excessive urination, blood in the urine, or vocalizing while in the litter box.

4. Visit your family veterinarian regularly for kidney disease screening

Unfortunately, kidney disease often causes no clinical signs until it has advanced and 75% of kidney function has been lost. At that point, treatment often cannot help, and the cat’s condition may quickly worsen. Fortunately, your family veterinarian can screen for CKD in your cat, and help make an early diagnosis, when treatment can be more helpful. Your cat should visit the veterinarian annually as an adult, and biannually after 7 years of age, for routine wellness and preventive care. These visits are critical to detect disease early, since cats are masters at hiding illness, and they are the only way to know whether kidney disease is silently developing.

During your cat’s visit, your veterinarian will run bloodwork to check their overall kidney function, including levels of blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine, two waste products the kidneys eliminate. More accurate tests, such as symmetric dimethylarginine (SDMA) measurement and a urine protein: creatinine ratio, may also be recommended to screen for CKD in older cats who are at higher disease risk. If early CKD is diagnosed, treatment can slow progression and provide years of good quality life that may not be possible without early detection.

We hope your cat enjoys a long, healthy life, but if their kidneys begin to deteriorate, we are here to help. Contact us to discuss advanced diagnostics and treatment options that can possibly slow progression and extend your cat’s life.