Signs a Cat is Dying of Kidney Failure (Plus Ways to Help)

Signs a Cat is Dying of Kidney FailureCats form an integral part of our families, and our desire is to keep them healthy, happy, and full of life. Unfortunately, moments come when they are nearing the end of their lives and it is never enjoyable having to watch them suffer.

It can be hard to know when a cat suffering from chronic kidney failure is in his or her final hours. There are instances when cats recover from chronic kidney disease and go on to enjoy a quality life for weeks, months, or even years.

In this post, we will highlight the signs that indicate a cat is dying of kidney failure and ways to make your cat’s final days as peaceful as possible.

Signs a cat is dying of kidney failure

Kidney failure is a terminal disease, which means a cat suffering from the disease will eventually experience end-stage renal disease (ESRD), which ultimately leads to death. Although cats can still live a long and happy life even when the disease is at an advanced stage, some signs will make it clear to you that she is about to die. Below we highlight the most notable signs a cat is dying from kidney disease.

1. High urea and creatinine levels

If the cat’s creatinine and urea levels are over 7.0 mg/dl and 150 mg/dl respectively, the end could be near. These numbers occur during the end-stage of the disease and rarely drop even after undergoing treatment.

During end-stage renal disease (ESRD), urea and creatinine levels will rise fast and are almost impossible to stop. A sudden rise in blood values can be an indication of an unidentified infection (which calls for testing to identify the disease) while a sudden hike in creatinine and urea levels can be a sign of high blood pressure.

The situation is definitely dire if the cat’s condition gets worse even after receiving sub-Qs and intravenous fluids (IVs). It’s important to note that giving IV to a truly end-stage cat can be risky because it may cause pulmonary edema while very high urea levels can cause inflammation of the brain and seizures.

In rare cases, creatinine levels can drop during ESRD because the cat is losing muscles and cannot produce as much creatinine, which happens to be a by-product of muscle.

2. Reduced urination & inability to urinate

While cats suffering from chronic kidney disease tend to urinate profusely, this changes once the condition is advanced. The cat will produce less and less urine over time, and the worst case is when they cannot urinate at all. This is mainly caused by kidney and urinary tract infections, but in some cases, it is due to kidney stones, which can still be treated.

3. Bowel and bladder incontinence

Instead of experiencing reduced urination and an inability to urinate, some cats develop the opposite once the condition is advanced. The cat will urinate and/or poop wherever they are lying due to the inability to control bowel and bladder movements.

Lack of energy also means they cannot walk to its litter box, which means they end up lying on their own urine and feces. This can be distressing to the cat due to its fastidious nature. You should have your vet examine your cat for urinary tract, kidney, and bowel infections and see if the infection will respond to treatment.

4. Extreme weight loss

Weight loss is common in older cats due to loss of muscle mass as a result of the body’s reduced efficiency in digesting and building proteins. A cat suffering from chronic kidney disease can get extremely thin to the extent the ribs, spine, and hip bones protrude under the skin.

This state becomes worse if the cat is suffering from kidney cancer. The cat will suffer from cachexia, a state of extreme weight. The rapidly dividing cancer cells will demand so much energy, and since the cat is sick and cannot produce the required energy, the body will start breaking down its fat stores and muscle for fuel.

A cat suffering from chronic kidney failure can also gain weight, which is never a good thing. This could be a sign of fluid buildup because the cat’s body can no longer regulate body fluids. Continued buildup of fluids in the body can lead to congestive heart failure.

5. Not eating or drinking

If your cat is suffering from kidney failure and reaches a point where they refuse to eat or drink, you should be concerned. Failure to eat or drink will lead to lethargy, dehydration, and weight loss.

You can seek veterinary assistance for medications to help boost your cat’s appetite. Your veterinarian will recommend medications to combat nausea and appetite stimulants to encourage your cat to eat. Be careful not to force your cat to drink more water than it can as this can cause aspiration pneumonia.

6. Congestive heart failure

Another sign a cat is dying of kidney failure is having heart problems such as congestive heart failure. It’s a condition where fluids leak out of the veins and build up in the lungs, around the lungs, or in the abdomen. If the fluids are not drained off, the cat will eventually drown from the fluids in the lungs.

While it’s possible to drain the fluids, the prognosis of cats with this health complication rarely looks good. It largely depends on how often the fluids need to be drained. Such cats are also not able to absorb sub-Q fluids well, which makes treating and managing kidney disease even more challenging.

7. Bad breath and body odor

Most cats with chronic kidney disease have bad breath that smells like ammonia. This gets worse as the condition advances. While it’s possible to treat bad breath, it will only get worse and worse as toxin levels in the cat’s body increase.

If your cat is not suffering from kidney disease then bad breath can be a sign of dental problems, dehydration, or other health complications.

The accumulation of waste and toxins in the body eventually leads to body odor. It is, however, good to keep in mind that body odor can also be caused by dehydration or diabetic ketoacidosis. Make sure to seek veterinary assistance to be absolutely sure.

8. Rallying

Rallying is a situation where the cat will experience sudden improvement and act better than they have in several weeks only for it to experience a crash.

The cat might experience a massive appetite boost and will eat more than expected, become playful and bubbly, and spend time with the rest of the family while before that she mostly kept to herself.

The crash usually happens a day after this and can be very devastating and hard to accept.

9. High phosphorus & potassium levels

High phosphorus levels often accelerate the progression of chronic kidney disease. If the cat experiences rising phosphorus levels despite taking the necessary measures such as feeding low phosphorus food or giving large amounts of phosphorus binder, the end could be near. The cat will become weaker and may suffer from diarrhea.

Most cats suffering from chronic kidney disease have low potassium levels. However, the levels will rise gradually as the kidney’s inability to excrete potassium increases. The risks of high potassium levels include seizures and heart attack.

Signs a Cat is Dying of Kidney Failure

10. Severe oral ulcers

A severe oral ulcer is also one of the signs a cat is dying of kidney failure. While normal oral ulcers can be kept under control with the right medications, cats experiencing end-stage renal disease have severe ulcers in the mouth and throat that are unresponsive to lots of medications.

Keep in mind that cats with metabolic acidosis may also develop mouth ulcers, but they are not as severe as ulcers in cats about to die from chronic kidney disease.

11. Uncontrollable vomiting

Although most cats with chronic kidney disease experience occasional vomiting that can be managed with medications, the same cannot be said once the condition is advanced. The vomiting will worsen to a point it cannot be controlled no matter the treatment used.

12. Seizures

Seizures can be caused by high levels of urea, calcium imbalances, high blood pressure, and high potassium levels. These seizures can be controlled with appropriate medications. However, if the cause is advanced chronic kidney disease, the seizures may come clusters and are more complicated to control.

13. Dull, sunken eyes

Although dull, sunken eyes is often a sign of dehydration, it could also mean your cat is nearing its final days if suffering from chronic kidney disease. Your cat will definitely need more aggressive treatments if it is to pull through and enjoy a quality life thereafter.

14. Unkempt appearance

Sick cats tend to ignore self-grooming duties, which leaves their coats greasy and scruffy-looking. In the case of cats with long hair, they will develop mats behind the ears, under the bellies, and on their hind ends. The cat may also experience flaky skins and excessive dandruff.

15. Unresponsive to treatments

This will be a sure sign your cat is about to die from kidney failure. At first, the cat will be responsive to treatments, then over time she will need higher doses of the medications, and eventually, they stop responding to treatments at all. At this stage, the cat’s body is no longer able to use the medications as it should.

How to comfort a dying cat

Once you determine your cat is dying of kidney failure, there are a few things you can do to make her final days more bearable. Below we highlight tips on how to comfort a dying cat.

1. Keep her warm

Keep your cat warm by ensuring they have a good and cozy warm bed. Make sure the bed is easy to access and is kept in a warm spot.

2. Groom her

You can also help your cat be neat by grooming her. Brush her hair and clean up any messes where she stays. Make sure the litter box is clean at all times.

3. Ensure she’s well-fed

When a cat is dying of kidney failure, she will lose appetite and become increasingly disinterested even in her favorite bites. Seek veterinary assistance on ways to encourage her to eat as this will help boost her energy and keep her active.

4. Provide easy access

A sick cat needs easy access to food, water, sleeping spots, and even the litter box. Understand that she doesn’t want to move a lot, so ensuring all these are easily accessible is important.

5. Maintain peace and quiet

You should also ensure there is peace and quiet where your sick cat is staying. You can keep her in a separate room from other pets if she’s extremely sick and the other pets keep knocking her down.

6. Provide appropriate medications

Your veterinarian will also recommend appropriate medications for your sick cat. They may include pain medications, appetite stimulants, or steroids.

7. Spend quality time together

Cats behave differently when they are sick. Some like to cuddle and be petted while others prefer solitude. The most important thing is to be there for your pet so that she doesn’t feel lonely.

8. Plan for the inevitable

Time might come when euthanizing your cat will be the only option left. If such a moment comes, talk to your veterinarian and compare the options available to you, including home euthanasia.

Final thoughts

Saying goodbye to your lovely pet is never easy. However, you should try to make her final days as peaceful and stress-free as possible. We hope the signs a cat is dying of kidney failure that we have highlighted above will help you know when your pet’s condition is getting worse.

6 Comments

  1. Thank you for your wonderful help with this website. Today I will say good bye to my 20 year old Rosy. She has end stage renal failure. Your information has helped me decide it is time to help her pass on. God Bless you.

    1. Hello Lynda, I’m so sorry to hear that. I’m happy to hear the information helped you, though I understand saying goodbye is the hardest thing ever.

  2. Appreciate the information. It is certainly a very tough decision when to put your cat down. The late symptoms of renal failure (toxicity, weakness, confusion, instability and others) are enough to help make the difficult decision. Our 18 y.o. cat was the runt of the litter but had the biggest personality! He will be missed.

  3. Thanks for the article. My 19 year old cat is at kidney failure. She does a loud howling meow that makes me think she’s in pain. Is she? I can’t tell when it’s time for her. She drinks a lot of water and eats, she’s picking when she eats and may only lick the gravy. I want to make sure I’m making the right decisions for her.

    1. Hello Patty. I am sorry to hear what your cat is going through. If she recently started howling loudly and is persistently doing so, she could be in pain. A cat howling could be due to pain & discomfort, boredom especially if it happens more at night, and cognitive problems such as dementia. I recommend having her checked by your veterinarian as soon as possible.

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