Kidney Disease and Your Cat – the Silent Killer

Four years ago I had to have my beautiful black cat Salem euthanised after he had lost stacks of weight and was hardly able to get around.  He was 16 years old and such a beautiful cat.  At one stage he had weighed 12 kilograms when he became quite overweight as desexed male cats tend to obesity as they age.  He was an indoors and outdoors cat.

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My Cat Salem a few weeks before he died

Here my Salem is shown above a few weeks before he became really ill with kidney disease.  I took him to the vet on his last day as he had lost so much weight and had a very sad little meow and could hardly walk.  I asked my vet for her advice and said I was hesitant to euthanise if there something else that we could do.  She conducted the blood tests and advised me that his kidney function was virtually zero and that he would die a very painful death within 24 hours.  So I had to make that difficult decision to have him put to sleep.

Salem’s final moments

As the needle was entering his poor depleted little body,  he gently turned his face towards me and it was as though the expression in his eyes was saying “thank you”.  This was one of the saddest moments of my life.  My then 8 year old son, shown in the picture above was with me.  He had grown up with that cat.  I still miss my Salem three years on from then.

I am writing this article because I want people to know what preventative measures they can take about the silent killer of kidney disease.  I knew my cat Salem had kidney disease for some years.  He had also been required to have radioactive iodine on two separate occasions for thyroid disease as well, which was quite unusual as that treatment usually does the trick.  I will write a separate article about thyroid disease in cats and how that is addressed.  Because I knew that Salem had kidney issues, which is in any event, quite common in cats of advancing age, I had been feeding him Hills Science Diet or Royal Canin dry food specifically designed to address dysfunctional kidneys.  Those science diets do make quite a bit of difference to extending the lifespan of a cat prone to or with early stages of kidney disease.

Silent killer

The worst thing about kidney disease in cats is that you most often don’t realise they have it until it is too late.  What we do know is that, it is extremely common and that 1 in three cats will be affected by it.

Kidney disease is a leading cause of suffering and death in cats and because of its stealthy nature it is difficult to identify until after permanent damage is done.

You can keep an eye out for kidney stones, urinary tract (bladder) infections or hereditary conditions which might make the disease more likely to occur.  You should always be encouraging your cat to drink more water.

More than 50 percent of cats over the age of 15 years have kidney disease.


Early Symptoms

Most cats show no outward signs until the disease has progressed.

The first signs of kidney disease include:

  • subtle but continuous weight loss.
  • constant urinating.
  • thirsty and drinking lots of water.

My wonderful cat Salem, many years prior to his passing, developed a really bad bladder blockage requiring us to have him catheterised under Morphine.  This procedure fixed the problem and it was then I put him on a kidney-friendly diet.  This was 10 years before he died.  So he was a seemingly healthy 6 year old cat with early onset kidney problems.  The kidney-friendly cat food no doubt helped prevent the build of calcium crystals in his urine and, I think, kept him going for that extra decade.

More serious symptoms

  • A dramatically increased output of urine.  With some indoor cats you will see them flooding the litter box.
  • Increased thirst.
  • Weight loss.
  • Incontinence and peeing in unusual places.
  • Bad breath with a peculiar chemical smell.
  • Lethargy.

In the case of my Salem I saw dramatic weight loss – from 12 kilograms to about 6 kilograms within a few weeks and he became extremely lethargic.  I took him straight to the vet but by then he was in chronic kidney failure.

russian blue kitten on brown woven basket
Photo by Vadim B on

As a pet owner, the best thing you can do is be vigilant.  Watch your cat’s behaviour, diet, toilet habits, and even their grooming, and if any of the early onset symptoms present take your cat straight to the vet.  There are new early screening tests which you can have done these days and many cats with early stages of kidney disease can live long happy lives if their diet is managed and they have a constant supply of fresh water and love.

I know I did the best I could with my wonderful cat Salem.  I gave him a great life.  I still miss that cat.  He followed me everywhere, even to the toilet. My Cat Salem helped me weather many storms in my life and was around for the birth of both my children and he used to sit by and watch my kids when they were just tiny humans.  I dedicated my pet furniture company to him and I named my Twitter feed (MyCatSalem) after him.

Vale Salem…




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