There’s nothing worse than watching your cat suffer. When the vet returns to the exam room clenching a tissue box in one hand, and your kitty’s blood panel in the other, you know those gut instincts were right: the sudden appetite loss, less social personality, and unkempt coat were unusual. You understand the clock is ticking, but how long do cats live with kidney failure?
Cats can live with kidney failure for up to four years, but acute renal failure (ARF) is reversible if caught on time and treated immediately. However, you can treat acute and chronic renal failure by stabilizing electrolytes with IV fluids, switching to a renal diet, and allowing a cat extra water.
A kidney failure diagnosis doesn’t always mean an immediate death sentence for your four-legged pal. But learning more about this heart-wrenching feline condition can help you make Fluffy’s final days more peaceful. To learn about how long cats live with kidney failure, read on!
What Do the Kidneys Do?
To understand how long cats can live with kidney failure, you need to master two topics: the kidneys’ vital role in waste reduction and the two kidney failure types (acute and chronic).
Here’s a quick introduction:
The kidneys are among the most remarkable organs in the feline body, tasked with ridding a cat’s blood and urine of dangerous toxins and metabolic waste build-up. The kidneys play such a vital role in a kitty’s overall health that these organs also:
- Maintain electrolyte balance (potassium and sodium)
- Control blood pressure
- Filter a cat’s urine (and about 20% of their blood)
- Encourage red blood cell production
When kidney functioning is off-kilter and sets off on a steady decline, it can cause severe and mostly irreversible kidney damage. Now, we’re going to overview the types of kidney failure and how they can impact a cat’s remaining lifespan.
Types of Kidney Failure
Acute Renal Failure (ARF)
Acute kidney failure develops quickly over days or weeks, often triggered by poisoning (antifreeze, lilies, grapes), trauma, severe dehydration, or sudden illness.
Not exclusive to any age or breed, ARF wreaks havoc on once healthy kidneys, impairing their ability to filter out toxins and allowing waste to build-up in the bloodstream. Its sudden onset ignites a near-immediate downward health spiral for unsuspecting kitties, with additional side effects including:
- Severe dehydration (partially due to diarrhea, vomiting, and excess urination)
- Unbalanced acid-base status
- Improper electrolyte balance
- Low appetite and weight loss
The ARF prognosis is almost entirely dependent on how quickly you pursue emergency medical care. If you wait until the kidney failure leads to shock, the kidney damage may be irreversible.
However, rapid ARF diagnosis and treatment can nurture a near-full recovery. Treatment plans often include IV fluids to reverse electrolyte imbalance, diuretics to flush the kidneys of stored urine, and antibiotics (if caused by an infection).
While ARF can cause permanent kidney damage, immediate detection and treatment can return your cat to a clean bill of health without significant long-term effects. Infections, as opposed to toxins, often deliver a more favorable prognosis. Your vet will reveal a more accurate prediction.
Chronic Kidney Failure
Chronic kidney failure, also called chronic kidney disease (CKD), is a long-term kidney condition that takes months or years to develop and often goes unnoticed. Common in senior cats (as you will see in the table below), CKD is rarely diagnosed until the kidneys are near-70% dysfunctional.
When the kidneys struggle to pull impurities from the blood and urine long-term, the impaired function can cause severe symptoms throughout the body, like:
- An unkempt or scraggly coat
- Lethargy and anemia
- Weight loss and poor appetite
- Increased urination and thirst
This chronic kidney disease is progressive but often stems from a pre-existing medical condition like high blood pressure, congenital disabilities, kidney tumors, kidney blockage, or infections. Aside from visible signs, vets will confirm their CKD suspicions with blood and urine tests, looking for unusually high blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine levels in both.
The chart below shows how old age influences CKD risks in cats (chronic kidney failure rates):
|Cat Age||Chronic Kidney Disease Prevalence|
|<4 Years Old||13%|
|4-10 Years Old||24%|
|10-15 Years Old||31%|
|15+ Years Old||32%|
By the time chronic kidney failure symptoms arise, and a vet can diagnose the condition, the damage is irreversible. A cat with chronic kidney disease may live another 2-4 years with proper care. However, one study discovered more precise survival estimates, with sick cats eating low protein and phosphorus diets living an average of 633 days (compared to 264).
That kidney disease diagnosis could seem like a depressing dead end, but the video clip below reveals holistic remedies for making your cat healthy as she wages this uphill battle:
How To Improve Kidney Failure Prognosis
A chronic kidney failure diagnosis will ultimately be terminal, and some acute renal failure bouts will cause permanent organ damage. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t improve Fluffy’s medical prognosis or help her feel comfier in her final months.
To improve your cat’s kidney failure outlook:
Ask Your Vet About a Kidney Transplant
If your cat is otherwise young and healthy, she may be eligible for a kidney transplant from a donor feline to replace one of these non-functional organs. However, this option comes with a hefty $15,000 price tag and requires long-term aftercare (like anti-rejection drugs) and more frequent vet visits. Ask your vet if your beloved kitty is a good candidate.
Think About Medications
An appropriate drug treatment plan will depend on how severe the CKD is and which other organ systems it’s damaged. Possible medication routes include:
- Erythropoietin (for anemia)
- Ranitidine (for stomach ulcers)
- Propranolol (for high blood pressure)
- Maropitant (to lessen nausea)
Switch to a Renal Diet
Many large-name cat food manufacturers also market prescription diets for particular health concerns, including kidney (or renal) issues. Aside from feeding your cat wet food (which are often 70% water), select a diet that’s:
- Generally low in protein (lessening the kidney’s need to excrete waste)
- Low in phosphorus (to slow disease progression
- Low in sodium (to better control blood pressure and kidney strain)
- High in omega-3 fatty acids (to lessen oxidative stress on the kidneys)
Your vet may also recommend potassium or other vitamin and mineral supplements to achieve a CKD-healthy diet.
Give Your Cat More Water
By allowing your cat to drink more water, you can prevent excess toxin build-up in the kidneys and flush her system clean of chemicals. Encourage your cat to stay hydrated by giving her wet food with high water content and buying a water fountain (cats enjoy fresh and flowing water).
Although a kidney failure diagnosis paints a bleak picture for Fluffy, it can also trigger emotional turmoil for the remaining two-legged family. Here are some tips for coping with your cat’s irreversible medical diagnosis:
- Learn more about kidney failure (and how you can help your cat remain cozy).
- Allow yourself time to grieve the inevitable.
- Give your sweet cat even more TLC (snuggles, treats with dinner, a window perch).
- Follow your vet’s recommended check-up schedule.
Instead of questioning if you could’ve something differently or scheduled a vet visit sooner, celebrate your kitty’s life and the time she has left!
- International Cat Care: Chronic Kidney Disease
- NIH.gov: The prevalence and classification of chronic kidney disease in cats randomly selected within four age groups and in cats recruited for degenerative joint disease studies
- VCA Hospitals: Acute Kidney Failure in Cats
- NIH.gov: Survival of cats with naturally occurring chronic renal failure: effect of dietary management
- AAHA: Is a kidney transplant right for my pet?
- VCA Hospitals: Nutrition for Cats with Chronic Kidney Disease
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.