Kidney Disease In Cats – When To Euthanize

Kidney disease is a devastating illness that impacts so many feline friends.

While this condition can be managed for long periods in some cats, many will eventually succumb to this heartbreaking condition at some point.

Knowing when to say goodbye to your cat with kidney disease can be impossible, especially if you are unaware of the signs of a cat suffering in their condition.

Education is key when dealing with chronic disease, as this can allow you to make the best quality of life decision in the future.

In this article we will discuss the details of kidney failure in our feline friends, and help you better understand when it may be time to euthanize your beloved cat companion.

When To Euthanize A Cat With Kidney Disease

The Role Of The Kidneys

The kidneys play a vital role in maintaining a cat’s overall health.

The main functions of the kidneys include removing waste products from the circulating blood, conserving water within the body, producing urine, and even regulating mineral levels present in the body.

If the function of the kidneys are compromised in any way, many of these vital processes will be disturbed.

As the kidneys begin to lose more and more of their function capacity, this will result in devastating impacts to a cat’s health.

What Is Kidney Disease In Cats?

Kidney disease in cats can be broken down into a few different categories; acute kidney disease, chronic kidney disease, and kidney failure.

Though many use the terms kidney disease and kidney failure interchangeably, these disease stages are not the same at all.

To help you better understand your cat’s situation, let’s break down the different phrasing.

Acute Kidney Injury/Failure

Acute kidney failure in cats refers to the sudden onset of decreased kidney function in cats.

This is typically a result of a sudden injury to the kidneys, ranging from urethral obstructions to toxicities impacting the kidneys.

These cats often decline in health at a rapid rate, requiring aggressive hospitalization to pull them out of crisis.

Chronic Kidney Disease

Chronic kidney disease in cats refers to the gradual decline of kidney function over time.

Chronic kidney disease often occurs over multiple months to years, causing the kidneys to struggle more and more as time goes on.

The kidneys can compensate for quite a long time before symptoms develop, so many cat owners will be unaware of their cat’s kidney disease until kidney failure sets in.

Symptoms don’t typically develop until 60-70% of the kidneys are dysfunctional.

Kidney Failure

Kidney failure refers to the state of the kidneys when they have undergone damage beyond repair.

This diagnosis is given to cats when their kidneys can no longer function properly, leading to an array of life-altering clinical signs.

When a cat is in kidney failure, this typically means that damage to the kidneys has been occurring over a prolonged period of time.

Signs Of Kidney Failure In Cats

As we mentioned above, cats will typically begin to show signs of kidney failure once they have lost function in 60-70% of their kidneys.

You may see subtle signs of illness as the kidneys first begin to decline, but many cat owners simply write this off as normal aging.

This is why it is so important to be aware of the possible symptoms, as this can allow you to contact your vet the moment you notice behavioral changes.

Some of the most common signs of kidney failure in cats include:

  • Weight loss
  • Dull coat
  • Excessive thirst
  • Increased urination
  • Anorexia
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Bad breath
  • Lethargy

If you notice any of the above symptoms in your feline companion, we suggest reaching out to your veterinarian immediately for further guidance.

Diagnosing Kidney Failure In Cats

The most accurate way to diagnose kidney failure in cats is through diagnostic blood work that measures their kidney enzymes.

Most clinics have the ability to test these levels within their walls, or they can send the blood out to a nearby lab for in depth testing.

The main levels that are measured in these blood tests include their blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine (CREA) levels.

It’s important to note that your veterinarian will likely suggest performing a full panel of blood work to assess other factors such as electrolytes, phosphorus, and other elements.

This can help your vet determine how far progressed your cat’s condition is, and what is needed to best stabilize them going forward.

Your veterinarian will also suggest performing a urinalysis that not only assesses the components of the urine, but the specific gravity of the urine as well.

The concentration of the urine can point to the evidence of kidney failure, as well as the evidence of casts within the urine.

In the past, it was challenging to diagnose kidney disease in cats before they progressed to the point of significant kidney damage.

Thankfully, there is now a test that searches for the evidence of early renal failure that would have previously went undetected.

An SDMA test can be performed in your vet’s office that searches for an increase in SDMA levels in the bloodstream.

If this level is increased, this can be an indicator that kidney disease is brewing. Many vets recommend performing an SDMA test yearly in cats 7 and up.

Can You Treat Kidney Failure In Cats?

When discussing treatment plans for cats with kidney disease, the options will vary based on the severity of their condition.

For example, a cat with acute kidney disease from a toxicity may find recovery through aggressive hospitalization, while those with renal failure due to chronic kidney disease cannot.

To help you understand the options on the table for cats with kidney disease of various forms, let’s list the management tools below.


Hospitalization can be beneficial if a cat presents in crisis.

Hospitalization on IV fluids can help to take the stress off the kidneys and potentially improve kidney function, especially if their kidney failure is due to an acute injury.

Hospitalization is often necessary for kidney failure cats with severe dehydration, vomiting, anorexia, and any other significant complications.


Hydration is key for a cat in kidney failure.

Adequate hydration is essential in helping the body flush toxins, and many cats will eventually need support in receiving enough daily fluids.

Some cats will tolerate simply increasing their fluid intake each day, while others will require subcutaneous fluids at home.

Your veterinarian will determine the best plan of action for your cat’s needs.

Prescription Diets

Prescription diets are often prescribed to cats that are diagnosed with kidney disease.

These diets are formulated to contain ingredients that are easy for the body to process, taking some much needed stress off of the declining kidneys.

Medication & Supplements

Cats with kidney failure can benefit from the use of daily medications and nutritional support in many cases.

Some of the most common medications that your cat may be prescribed based on their needs include anti-nausea medications, phosphate binders, potassium supplements, blood pressure medications, and iron supplements if anemia is present.

Your veterinarian will determine the best medication and supplement plan based on your cat’s needs.

Frequent Check Ups

If your cat is diagnosed with kidney failure, you can expect your veterinarian to recommend frequent check ups to monitor their condition.

This may involve testing their kidney enzymes every 3-6 months, having frequent routine exams as their disease progresses, and having your cat seen the moment any new symptoms develop.

Life Expectancy Of Kidney Failure In Cats

There is no standard life expectancy for cats with chronic renal failure, as each case will vary in how well it responds to long term management.

Some cats that are being managed properly can go on to have multiple healthy years without complication, while others will struggle to get back on track.

The best way to offer your cat a long life in spite of their kidney failure is by following the guidance of your veterinarian.

A well rounded kidney management plan can offer your cat the support they need to keep pushing through.

When To Euthanize My Cat With Kidney Failure

Making the decision to say goodbye to your cat with kidney failure can be extremely difficult.

While you never want your cat to suffer, it can be challenging to determine exactly when your cat no longer has a good quality of life.

To help you assess your cat’s daily behavior, let’s list some of the signs of a cat suffering from kidney disease.

It may be time to discuss quality of life with your vet if your cat is experiencing the following symptoms:

  • Severe weight loss
  • Dehydration that does not resolve
  • Anorexia
  • Chronic vomiting
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Extreme lethargy
  • Oral pain from ulcers
  • Weakness of the limbs

If you notice any of the above behaviors in your cat, it may be time to discuss that tough decision with your veterinarian.

Your veterinary team can offer the most support in determining whether or not it is time to say goodbye.

Final Thoughts

Kidney disease can take a devastating toll on the treasured feline friend in your life.

While many factors can be linked to this fatal condition in cats, it’s clear that early diagnosis is the best way to offer your cat a long and healthy road ahead.

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