How Long Can Cat Live with Kidney Failure: How You Can Help Your Cat

sick gray cat
Steve Corelli
Written by Steve Corelli

There are two types of kidney failure; acute has a fast onset and can affect a cat of any age, while chronic develops over a period of time and affects older cats. Nowadays cats have better quality of lives, and they live longer than ever before, so there are more cat owners that are dealing with chronic kidney failure. Once a cat is diagnosed, owners will want to know how long can cat live with kidney failure.

Although kidney failure is a serious condition and most people start thinking about the worst possible scenarios, a cat can lead a normal life if the disease is managed properly.

The key to getting a positive outcome is early detection, and in a case of chronic renal failure, life changes and regular therapy. These are fairly inexpensive and effective, which means that you won’t have to compromise your cat’s health even if you have limited resources.

In this article, you will find all information regarding both chronic and acute renal failure in order to recognize the symptoms and help your cat right away. Furthermore, we will include information about the course of the disease and the available treatments that will prolong the life expectancy of your cat.

What is Kidney Failure?

cat's kidney failure

Your cat’s kidneys have many functions; they help manage blood pressure, make hormones, stimulate the bone marrow, and remove toxins and waste from the blood.

Kidney failure is also known as renal failure and is basically a malfunction of one or both kidneys. The biggest problem with this disease is that it takes a long time to present itself.

This is mainly because kidneys have a large capacity and use only around 30% to perform their various functions. So once a cat starts experiencing kidney problems, around 60% to 70% of their kidneys is already damaged.

In most cases, this means that the damage to the kidneys has been progressing over a period of months, and sometimes years.

This is the case with chronic kidney failure which affects older and geriatric cats. Luckily, it can be managed with life changes and medication. On the other hand, acute renal failure is caused by an event or an injury, and if not noticed in time, it may result in death.

#1: Acute Kidney Failure

poisoned cat

Acute renal failure is more aggressive, and it happens days or weeks after the initial onset. It is important to know that this is a life-threatening condition and that the cat is in need of immediate medical assistance.

Acute kidney failure can happen in a cat of any age, and it is triggered by:

  • Toxins and poisons like antifreeze, lilies, pesticides, cleaning fluids, and human medications like ibuprofen.

  • Trauma caused by a car accident that involves broken pelvis or a damaged bladder.

  • Kidney infection.

  • Extreme dehydration caused by diarrhea, vomiting, or a heat stroke.

The symptoms of acute kidney failure are the same as with chronic kidney failure and include dehydration, vomiting, urinating outside a litter box, bloody or cloudy urine, weakness, and lethargy. The only difference is that the cat will have more severe symptoms and will vomit several times within an hour.

See Also: How to Clean Up Cat Vomit

If you suspect that your cat ingested a poisonous plant, antifreeze, or raided your medicine cabinet, it is important that you take her to the vet even if she isn’t experiencing any symptoms. As the kidneys start to fail, they won’t be able to process the ingested toxins, which brings a cat to great danger.

Acute renal failure is reversible and treatable if noticed in time. Treatment usually involves IV fluids and other medications that will help a cat regain her normal kidney function. However, if the disease isn’t caught on time, there isn’t much a vet can do.

#2: Chronic Kidney Failure

orange cat and a vet

Unlike acute kidney failure, chronic kidney failure isn’t reversible, but it is manageable. The cat has greater chances of leading the rest of her life normally if the disease is detected in the earlier stages.

Since this disease causes progressive damage to the kidneys, it is usually seen in older cats that already suffer from some conditions.

The key to treatment is to maintain the kidney function and to prevent further deterioration of the kidney functions. In some cases, the disease is so well managed that the eventual cause of death is some other condition unrelated to kidneys.

Depending on the stage of chronic kidney failure, a cat can live a few more months or several more years completely normally.

It is still being debated what exactly causes chronic kidney failure, but some of the following conditions are associated with it:

  • Frequent kidney infections or blockages that don’t result in acute kidney failure but wear down the kidney function over a period of time that can range from months to years.

  • Diseases like high blood pressure, thyroid problems, advanced dental disease, and cancer.

Since kidneys only use 1/3 of their capacity for their functions, a cat can start showing symptoms of the disease when over 75% of the kidneys are damaged. The following symptoms are commonly seen in chronic kidney failure and will help you identify the disease at the early stages.

  • Increased thirst due to the frequency of urination

  • Bacterial infections of the bladder and the kidneys

  • Weight loss and loss of appetite

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Cloudy or bloody urine

  • Mouth ulcers and bad breath that has an ammonia-like smell

  • Anemia

  • Changes in the quality of the coat

  • Apathy and weakness

  • A brownish-colored tongue

If you notice any of these, it is important to take your cat to the vet so he/she can run the necessary tests. These include blood, urine tests, X-ray, or ultrasound, so the vet can take a better look at the kidneys. In some cases, a biopsy is needed.

Once kidney disease is diagnosed, treatments can range quite a bit depending on a cat’s individual state.

In some cases, surgery is necessary so that the blockage is removed, and then a cat can be prescribed with a special diet and IV fluids. These special diets are low in proteins and phosphorus and contain vitamins and omega fatty acids.

When it comes to chronic kidney failure, the best way to prolong your cat’s lifespan is to provide her with plenty of water and take her to regular vet appointments.

See Also: How Often Should You Take Your Cat to the Vet

Different Stages of Kidney Failure

cat having kidney failure

A cat goes through 4 different stages of renal failure and all of them present with different symptoms. As the disease progresses, a cat’s life expectancy drops. Because of that, it is important to familiarize yourself with the different stages of kidney failure and do your best to detect the disease in the early ones.

#1: Stage 1

The first stage is also known as Early Kidney Insufficiency, and most cats don’t show any signs of disease at this point. You should know that during this stage your cat’s kidney function can be anywhere from 33% to 99% and kidneys use only 25%.

Still, if a cat’s coat is dry-looking, you should increase water intake and supplement her with electrolytes.

#2: Stage 2

Stage 2 is known as Late-Stage Kidney Insufficiency, and a cat can show symptoms of increased urination and excessive drinking of water. During this stage, kidney function is at 25% to 33% and shows signs of damage, but the kidneys are still able to filtrate waste from the bloodstream.

Once you notice the first symptoms, you should take your cat to the vet so he/she can diagnose her properly and provide treatment.

In this stage that includes a change of diet and anti-nausea medication for vomiting. If diagnosed at this stage, a cat will get a prognosis of a few more years of normal life.

#3: Stage 3

This stage is known as Early Kidney Failure, and a cat’s kidney function currently ranges from 15% to 25%. In this stage, a cat will experience loss of appetite and weight loss, as well as a lower absorption of proteins and a drop in red blood cells.

A vet will recommend an aggressive treatment with a variety of medications and an increase of fluids by giving them subcutaneously. Change of diet is also necessary to one with lower protein count and easily digestible proteins.

Medications that will relieve the strain on the kidneys will be prescribed and also ones that will stimulate red blood cell count. At this point, you can look at the prognosis of a couple of months to 4 more years.

#4: Stage 4

Stage 4 is known as the End Stage Kidney Failure, and at this point, a cat’s kidneys retain less than 15% of its capacity. With aggressive treatment, a few more months of normal life is possible. Your vet will recommend IV and subcutaneous fluids, phosphorus binders, and a prescription diet.

With the advance of medicine, a kidney transplant is also a possibility at this point, but you need to be aware that only a few clinics do the operation. It also comes with risks, and around 25% of cats die from kidney rejection, so research everything thoroughly if you want to give it a try.

It is important to feed a cat with a special diet during this period to relieve the strain on the kidneys as much as possible and reduce the possibility of acute onset. During the end stage, it is important to continue with the treatment and be aggressive with IV and subcutaneous fluids.

Some cats refuse to eat, so try feeding them with canned cat food to entice your cat with the smell and the taste and help her get some extra fluids. Your vet will prescribe medication for vomiting and give you phosphorus binders and medication for anemia.

It is important to remember that this disease is manageable with frequent vet check ups and that is especially true at this stage.

You should routinely have your cat’s body checked. At any signs of weight loss, go to your vet. Also, have your cat’s blood pressure measured regularly.

What Types of Treatments are Available?

The treatment for your cat will depend on the results of blood tests and her specific case. In most cases, change of diet and supplementation are the best ways to manage kidney failure, and a cat may get only one or two additional treatments.

#1: Diet

gray cat and its food

Once a cat suffers from kidney failure, her kidneys have difficulties filtering toxins that are released once she digests proteins. Phosphorus also puts a strain on kidneys, so a diet that is low in phosphorus and proteins is recommended for cats with this disease.

This is an effective and non-invasive way to control kidney failure and prolong your cat’s lifespan.

However, some cats don’t like the taste of low protein foods and may refuse to eat it. This can be a serious problem so you should try to make the food appetizing. Try mixing it with warm water or switch your cat’s diet to wet cat food that is made especially for this condition.

See Also: How to Make Homemade Cat Food

#2: Vitamin Supplements


Added vitamins and minerals can help your cat fight the advancing renal failure. According to the blood test results, your vet can assess if your cat can benefit from supplement therapy.

A cat can benefit from vitamin B supplements since large amounts of it are lost in the urine. Vitamin D may be necessary since the kidneys are producing it and a cat might not get enough.

Furthermore, low potassium levels can speed up kidney failure, and if a cat doesn’t have enough, she will need supplements. Your vet may also include vitamin C supplements since great amounts of it are lost in large amounts of urine.

#3: Medication

medication for a cat

During later stages of renal failure, a cat will get medication for kidneys and other conditions like high blood pressure or anemia that will help prolong her life expectancy. High blood pressure puts additional strain on kidneys, so the meds are necessary to control this condition.

Since kidneys initiate the production of red blood cells, medicines that stimulate bone marrow production will help with the anemia. You can also expect phosphorus binders, antibiotics, and anti-vomiting meds in some stage of the disease.

You should be aware that not all of these are necessary in all cases, so your cat may only need a few of these medications combined with supplements and dietary changes.

See Also: How to Give a Cat Liquid Medicine

#4: Fluids

additional IV fluids for a cat

Once a cat is diagnosed with this condition, it is important to provide her with unlimited access to fresh water. Increased water consumption will help your cat flush the toxins and prevent dehydration.

During later stages, a cat may require additional IV fluids and subcutaneous fluids that will additionally hydrate your cat and help her flush toxins.

Regular water consumption is very important in the management of kidney failure and better quality of life. In some occasions, a vet will show you how to give your cat subcutaneous fluids at home.

See Also: How to Get a Cat to Drink Water

Wrap Up

man lying with his cat

Chronic kidney failure is a commonly seen disease in older cats, and although it isn’t curable, it isn’t a death sentence either. Naturally, most owners get scared once they hear the diagnoses and wonder how long can a cat live with kidney failure.

When it comes to acute kidney failure, a prompt reaction usually results in full recovery, but otherwise, a cat can die in the next 48 hours. Chronic kidney failure is usually manageable. Depending on the severity of disease, a cat can live from a few months to a couple of years after the diagnosis.

When it comes to this condition, it is important to take your cat to the vet every 6 to 12 months and have her urine and blood analyzed in order to see the first signs of kidney disease and catch any underlying condition early.

Does your cat suffer from kidney failure? Do tell our readers and us about the treatment and life changes you had to apply in the comment section below. You may also be interested in learning how to treat UTI in cats.

About the author
Steve Corelli
Steve Corelli

Steve Corelli is a Pet Nutrition Expert from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is the author of many nutritional strategies for different breeds and a member of some Pet Food development teams. His Maine Coon Stephan, as you might guess, is always well-fed.