10 Common Causes of Kidney Disease in Cats

Kidney disease is an unfortunately common affliction that affects many cats, regardless of their age or breed. Understanding the potential triggers for this condition is crucial for cat owners to be able to provide the best possible care for their furry friends.

Some notable causes of feline kidney failure are avoidable, which means you can reduce the chances of your cat suffering from kidney issues with just a few changes in your home.

In this article, we will look into the common causes of kidney disease in cats, discussing each in detail to provide a comprehensive overview and how to minimize the risk of your cat getting sick.

What causes kidney disease in cats?

1. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) is a common cause of kidney disease in cats. This broad term encompasses several disorders affecting the cat’s lower urinary tract, including urinary blockages and bladder inflammation.

These conditions can result from various factors, including dietary issues, genetic predispositions, and underlying metabolic problems like diabetes. Depending on the specific condition, treatment for FLUTD may include antibiotics, dietary changes, or surgery to remove blockages in severe cases.

Recognizing any changes in a cat’s urination patterns is crucial for early detection of FLUTD. Owners should immediately consult their veterinarian if their cat shows signs of difficulty or discomfort during urination.

2. Kidney Stones

Kidney stones, or nephroliths, are a common cause of kidney disease in cats. These crystalline mineral deposits can cause severe discomfort and may lead to further complications and severe pain if they obstruct the urinary tract.

Several factors can contribute to the formation of kidney stones in cats, including chronic bacterial infections, dietary imbalances or deficiencies, dehydration, excessive consumption of certain drugs or minerals, and genetic predispositions.

Veterinarians can diagnose kidney stones with an ultrasound exam or CT scan. Treatment for kidney stones typically involves dietary modifications or, in severe cases, surgical intervention to remove the stones.

Early detection and management of kidney stones can significantly reduce a cat’s discomfort and prevent potential complications. Regular veterinary check-ups can help identify and manage this condition before it causes significant harm.

3. Pyelonephritis or Kidney Infections

Pyelonephritis, or kidney infection, is another common cause of kidney disease in cats. This condition occurs when bacteria or fungi infiltrate the urinary tract and cause an infection in the kidneys.

Symptoms of pyelonephritis include fever, weight loss, increased thirst and urination, lethargy, vomiting, poor coat condition, abdominal pain, and reduced appetite. If left untreated, this condition can escalate quickly and may even prove fatal. 

Veterinarians can conduct a bacterial urine culture and susceptibility test to verify the infection and identify the appropriate treatment for the infection. Treatment for pyelonephritis usually involves antibiotics to kill the infection-causing organisms and fluids to help flush out the urinary system.

4. Chronic Dehydration

Chronic dehydration is a significant factor contributing to kidney disease in cats. Cats naturally have a low thirst drive and often consume diets high in protein, so they are prone to dehydration. Chronic dehydration can inhibit the kidneys’ ability to filter waste and toxins, leading to long-term kidney damage.

To prevent chronic dehydration, you should always ensure your cat has access to fresh, clean water. You should also monitor your cats’ drinking habits and consider dietary modifications such as switching to wet cat food if your cats are not consuming enough fluids.

Another thing to pay close attention to is the amount of sodium your cat is taking, especially through processed food. Too much salt inhibits the body from retaining necessary fluids.

5. Urinary Blockages

Urinary blockages are among the most common causes of kidney disease in cats. These blockages can result from various factors, including urethral plugs, foreign objects, bladder stones, and tumors.

Urethral plugs are a result of excess mucus accumulating within the urethra and forming clumps. Foreign bodies can also become lodged in the urethra, causing an obstruction.

Bladder stones, as mentioned earlier, form when dissolved minerals accumulate in the bladder and solidify into crystalline mineral deposits. Tumors that grow in and around the urinary or digestive tract can cause blockages, eventually causing kidney disease. 

Regardless of the cause, urinary blockages can cause significant discomfort for cats and may lead to severe complications if left untreated. Early detection and prompt treatment are key to managing this condition and preventing further damage to the kidneys.

6. High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a common trigger of kidney disease in cats. Persistent high blood pressure can damage the nephrons (filtering units) within the kidneys, leading to reduced function and potential tissue damage.

High blood pressure in cats can result from various underlying conditions, including chronic kidney disease, systemic illnesses such as hyperthyroidism or diabetes, and certain types of tumors.

Untreated hypertension can lead to significant kidney damage, including rupture of the blood vessels, which leads to other serious health problems, including stroke and blindness. It is crucial to manage any conditions that could lead to high blood pressure.

7. Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD)

Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) is a genetic disorder causing cysts to form in the kidneys. If not managed properly, this condition can lead to renal failure and other serious health issues.

While PKD primarily affects purebred cats, it can occur in any breed. As the symptoms of PKD may not appear until several months after birth, many cat owners may be unaware of their cat’s condition until later in life.

Diagnosis involves an ultrasound exam or biopsy, which helps identify the presence of cysts. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial for managing PKD and improving a cat’s quality of life.

8. Congenital Defects and Structural Abnormalities

Kidney disease in cats can also stem from congenital defects or structural abnormalities present at birth. These issues can lead to kidney stones, urinary tract blockages, and malfunctioning kidneys that cannot properly filter toxins.

Early detection and treatment of congenital defects and structural abnormalities are crucial for preventing further kidney damage. Treatment options can include dietary modifications, supplements to reduce inflammation, and surgery to remove obstructions or repair damaged organs.

9. Exposure to Toxins

Exposure to toxins is a common cause of kidney disease in cats. When cats ingest or come into contact with toxic substances such as antifreeze, rat poison, certain insecticides or herbicides, and petals, leaves, and pollen of true lilies, they can suffer from kidney damage, eventually leading to renal failure.

Common OTC medications such as aspirin, prescribed medications, and nonsteroidals (NSAIDs) can also cause kidney disease in cats. Keep your meds away in a safe place because cats can eat the pills if you leave them on the counter or anywhere else they can easily access.

To protect their pets from toxic substances, cat owners should ensure that any chemicals or detergents they use are safe for animals. They should also store hazardous substances out of their pets’ reach and dispose of them properly when no longer needed.

10. Immune-Mediated Diseases

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) is an immune-mediated disease that can cause kidney disease in cats.  This condition triggers the immune system to behave abnormally, attacking cells and tissues throughout the body, including the kidneys.

Treatment for SLE typically involves maintaining hydration, controlling secondary infections with antibiotics if necessary, and administering immunosuppressive medications to control the abnormal immune response.

Treatment typically involves maintaining hydration, controlling secondary infections, and using immunosuppressant meds to suppress the abnormal behavior of the immune system. Left untreated, SLE can lead to end-stage renal disease or death. 


Understanding the causes of kidney disease in cats is a crucial step toward providing the best possible care for your pet. While some triggers are unavoidable, many can be prevented or managed with appropriate care, regular veterinary check-ups, and prompt treatment when necessary. You can help ensure your cat’s health and longevity by staying informed and vigilant.