Kidneys regulate electrolytes and eliminate waste products. With CRI, kidney function is diminished, so waste accumulates in the body, poisoning the cat. If the condition is detected early and treated, cats may have many happy, active years before they succumb to the condition.
Cats can get CRI at any age, but it is most common in older cats. Abyssinian, Balinese, Burmese, Maine Coon, and Russian Blue cats have a slightly greater risk of developing CRI than other breeds.
Causes of CRI
In addition to environment, age and genetics likely play a role in the development of CRI. Other possible contributing factors include kidney disease, high blood pressure, acidified diets that are low in potassium, and dental disease. Regular dental care can help prevent the development of bacteria in the mouth that contributes to CRI.
The earliest symptoms of CRI are increases in both thirst and urination. Cats with more advanced CRI will have some of the following symptoms:
- Licking lips
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Muscle loss
- Oral ulcers
- Noise sensitivity
- Ammonia smell
- Dull coat
At the later stages, cats may experience detached retina, very low body temperature, coma, or convulsions. Many older cats develop hyperthyroidism, which can make CRI symptoms less noticeable initially.
Other Conditions That May Occur with CRI
There are a number of conditions that often occur in conjunction with CRI, including:
- Anemia – causes weakness and loss of appetite; symptoms include pale or bluish nose, gums, or tongue. Treatment options include medication and transfusion.
- Constipation – caused by inadequate water consumption; treatment includes adding more fiber to the cat’s diet, adding water to the cat’s food, and/or administering subcutaneous (Sub-Q) fluids (which are injected into the scruff of the neck).
- Dehydration – you can check for this by pinching a bit of skin on the cat’s neck – if it doesn’t immediately fall back, the cat is dehydrated. Dehydration can be treated by encouraging the cat to drink more or administering Sub-Q fluids.
- Hypertension – this serious condition can cause more kidney damage, cardiovascular problems, blindness, and seizures. Diagnosis can be made by a veterinarian, and the condition is treatable with medication if discovered early on. In some cases, blindness can be reversed if the cat receives medication within approximately 24 hours of onset.
- Hypokalemia – caused by potassium depletion, symptoms include muscle weakness, difficulty in holding the head up, stiffness, tiring easily, and difficulty moving. Veterinarian-prescribed potassium supplements can be used to treat the condition.
- Hyperkalemia – this condition of excess potassium can lead to heart failure and other problems. Owners may accidentally cause this by overdosing their cats on potassium if they attempt to supplement without guidance from a veterinarian.
- Mouth and Tongue Ulcers – these contribute to weight loss and speed a cat’s decline. Bad breath may be a symptom. Ulcers can be treated with antibiotics and other medications.
- Stomach problems – nausea, vomiting, and stomach irritation are common in CRI cats, and can contribute to anorexia and weight loss. A veterinarian can prescribe medications that will alleviate nausea and other stomach problems.
Older cats should be tested regularly for CRI during veterinary check-ups. Common at-home CRI treatments include dietary changes and Sub-Q fluid therapy. In the case of life-threatening dehydration, cats may require intravenous (IV) fluids. These are administered by a veterinarian, and most cats receiving them must stay in the hospital for 1-5 nights. Once the cat is rehydrated, she can usually come home, but her owner may need to administer Sub-Q fluids at home.
Many cats with CRI suffer a crisis in which they become very ill, appear to be at death’s door, and then bounce back completely for quite some time. Eventually these crises get closer and closer together, and the owner must decide when it is time to say goodbye. In the interim, with proper treatment, a CRI cat can enjoy a high quality of life.
Information for this article was derived from the Feline CRF Information Center, an excellent resource that provides comprehensive information on CRF causes, symptoms, treatments, and care. For a brief overview of treatment options, see Treating Cats with Chronic Renal Insufficiency.