Chronic Kidney Disease

What is Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)?

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) describes the gradual loss of kidney function over time. Waste products are normally filtered out of the blood by the kidneys and excreted in the urine, but cats with CKD end up with an accumulation of these waste products in the bloodstream and suffer symptoms of illness as a consequence. CKD occurs over a period of weeks, months, or years and can be deadly for cats.

What Causes CKD?

The cause of CKD is usually difficult to determine. Damage to the nephron, the kidney unit that filters the blood, is usually irreversible and can be progressive, and many different diseases can cause CKD. If your veterinarian cannot determine a definite cause, it is called “idiopathic kidney disease.”

Certain toxins, like lilies and antifreeze, genetic abnormalities, high blood pressure, lack of blood supply leading to the kidneys, infections, cancer, and immunologic diseases have all been identified as leading to CKD. Sometimes the cause of CKD can be specifically treated, but most of the time the changes in the kidneys are permanent. However, by partnering with your veterinarian, it may be possible to slow down the progression of CKD and achieve a good quality of life for your cat.

Signs & Symptoms

orange-cat-sitting-on-flower-couch-givinCats with CKD will typically not show any signs of illness until the kidneys have lost two thirds of their functional ability. At that point, the following signs are often observed:

  • Weight loss and thin body condition
  • Increased thirst and more urine being produced in the litter box
  • Diminished appetite
  • Lethargy


  • Annual or bi-annual veterinary examinations are the best way for you to find out if your cat is showing early signs of CKD. Your veterinarian will weigh your cat and compare to previous weights. Your veterinarian will ask about your cat’s appetite, urine output, and water consumption.
  • Yearly blood and urine tests will help your veterinarian determine if your cat has abnormal values suggestive of CKD.
  • A new test is now available that will hopefully help your veterinarian spot kidney disease sooner than previously possible.
  • Urine can be cultured and antibiotics prescribed if an infection is playing a part in your cat’s CKD.
  • Your veterinarian will measure your cat’s blood pressure to identify and treat to guard against problems such as vision loss and stroke.

Treatment and Management

  • Dietary management may slow the progression of CKD, although there is some controversy as to when dietary intervention should be started and what diet should be fed. Your veterinarian will help you determine if a dietary change is warranted and which diet to use.
  • Medications may be prescribed to treat problems such as low potassium levels and poor appetite.
  • Sometimes your veterinarian may teach you how to give supplemental fluids underneath the skin of your cat to improve hydration, which could help extend the duration and quality of life.
  • Treating CKD is a partnership between you, a committed cat caregiver, and your veterinarian.
  • Regular evaluations of cats with CKD help refine treatments and identify new problems early when they are easier to resolve.
  • Although CKD unfortunately cannot be cured, many cats with CKD live with good quality of life for an extended period of time, often years.