Cats and kidney failure

Kidney failure is one of the main causes of death in cats yet little is known about its causes. There are however a lot of theories! Let us examine them. The suggested causes are: These factors do interact, so there will be no single cause of kidney disease, but let us discuss each factor in turn.


There is certainly a very strong genetic influence. Some breeds are known to be more susceptible that other. So Siamese cats are said to be particularly prone. But it follows logically that some lines of Siamese are more prone than others. So there will be breeders to avoid! How can you tell if your breeder is good or bad?

At preset the The Governing Council of the Cat Fancy (GCCF) who are the main registry of pedigree cats in the United Kingdom do not keep death or health records of registered cats. So there is no way at present of knowing if the breeder you choose is breeding long-lived healthy cats, or unhealthy ones. When we bought Misty, we knew she was weak and from a breeder we could not trust. But how could we resist? When Misty failed with CKD, we bought two new Siamese kittens from a breeder we found much more trustworthy. Some of her cats had, she said, lived to 18 years. And the kittens were far more robust and a lot less fussy eaters.

GCCF did inform me that they are in process of changing their system so such records will exist. This could tell a lot and help to sort good breeders from bad!

Early environment

This is not generally listed as a problem but I think it is possibly the most important of all. In fact, the more I compare Misty with our two new cats, Flora and Fauna, the more convinced I am.

It has been proven that stress in utero adversely affects human health throughout the baby's life. Likewise very early childhood is very important. There is no reason why cats, or other mammals should be any different. A cat that hasn't developed properly, either because of in-utero problems or because of a hard early life, can hardly be expected to become a healthy adult!

In humans, even stress in a pregnant mother can adversely affect the developing baby, with life-long adverse influence on its health. Why should cats be any different?

Furthermore, cats learn what to eat from their mothers and therefore from their breeder. If the breeder weans them on dry food and doesn't teach them to drink a lot, that's their life pattern. Flora and Fauna were weaned on a variety of food: chicken, cat food, grated Cheddar cheese. And to drink they had watered down milk. So at age 5 months, they are not fussy eaters - mainly chicken, chicken liver, other human food, cheese. But they actually prefer cat food! With a bit of good quality kibble (Canagen chicken). And they still drink a lot more than Misty ever seemed to do!


Recent genetic investigation has shown that domestic cats are descended from the Arabian Wild Cat (Felis silvestris gordoni) which makes its home in semi-desert and rocky terrain where free water is scarce. So, the theory goes, their kidneys are evolved to conserve water, thus they work fairly hard. These cats get most of their water from their prey. Thus it is said that they have low awareness of thirst. The www site makes a very convincing case that the problem could be exacerbated if cats are fed on dry food. Dry food given to an animal that doesn't fully recognise thirst (if the theory is indeed correct) is a logical absurdity. Certainly they evolved to eat very wet food!

So there are conflicting opinions as to whether dried food is actually the villain. We need a proper survey to ascertain what diets CKD cats are fed and whether dry food really is a problem.


There are theories that some vaccines can cause problems if applied inappropriately.

I am also alerted by the apparent lack of information on how the topical flea and worm treatments (which are applied to the back of the neck) are removed from the system. Could these be slowly damaging the kidneys of our cats? I am still researching this angle in the scientific papers. See the page Topical Spot-on paraciticides.


It is fairly well known that lilies can cause kidney damage. The pollen is highly toxic and chewing a flower or leaf can kill a cat. Similarly antifreeze (ethylene glycol) is highly toxic, causing kidney failure.

There are plenty of other toxic plants listed - daffodils, onions, grapes - but there is little said on exactly how toxic these plants are. Or whether any of them could start renal failure.

There are also many household chemicals which cats could ingest, either by chewing objects or by brushing against then, then licking themselves clean. Such things as:

Other health issues

In humans it is known that, for instance, a tooth infection can enable bacteria to enter the bloodstream. Then they can infect internal organs, particularly the heart and kidneys. An unhealthy cat is presumably more likely to get renal failure, but this is never quantified. It will be difficult to get a handle on whether there are other plants and toxins that do not cause acute injury, but can trigger chronic kidney disease.


In an attempt to start getting some proper answers to the above, there is a form on cat health. Please take a few minutes to fill it in.

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© 2016-2023 Richard Torrens.
Page first published Sunday the 7th of February, 2016.
Last modified: 2018
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