Chronic Kidney Disease in Cats and How It Affects Behavior

Sleeping Cat

Cats are experts at disguising when they are in pain or not feeling well. But with a careful eye, you can detect subtle signs of illnesses like chronic kidney disease (CKD) and make adjustments to help your cat feel more comfortable.

Help Cats Feel More Comfortable and Secure

CKD causes fatigue, muscle weakness, and generally makes cats feel unwell. You might notice your cat hiding or sleeping more often, being less social, or not jumping up to surfaces that they used to be able to reach. To address their decreased energy and provide added comfort, you can use comfortable cat beds and heating pads. Stairs, ramps, and low-sided litter boxes will also help them move around the home more comfortably.

Watch for Abnormal Eating Behavior

Feeding habits are important to monitor for cats as any change may be an early indication of illness. CKD can cause nausea, vomiting, and decreased appetite. Contrary to a popular belief, vomiting is not normal for cats and is a sign that something is wrong. Nausea can be more difficult to notice, but usually manifests as lip-licking, drooling, or sniffing food and then walking away. Cats can have worse-smelling breath when nauseated, caused either by increased drooling or from an increase of urea leaking from their blood into the saliva. 

Decreased appetite and vomiting can mean that cats with CKD don’t get the calories they need, leading to weight loss and nutritional deficits. To make sure they are getting enough, measure their food and feed separately from other pets in the home so you can track how much they actually eat. Addressing diet and health problems right away is important to limiting the muscle loss that can occur with CKD since muscle is difficult to gain back. The “skinny old cat” stereotype doesn’t have to happen.

Poor fur quality can also be caused by CKD when the body breaks down the protein that normally maintains healthy skin and coat. In addition, feeling nauseous or generally unwell often means the cat will spend less time grooming. Owners can groom their cats to help them stay clean and improve their mental health.

Provide Water Sources and Litter Boxes

Cats with CKD often experience excessive thirst, accompanied by increased urination. These cats need fresh water sources to quench their thirst like bowls refilled multiple times per day or a water fountain with running water. With additional water intake, senior cats may not be able to make it to the litter box in time due to an urgency to urinate or inability to move quickly enough. It helps to have more litter boxes available throughout the home so the cat doesn’t have to travel far. Low-sided boxes will also make it easier for them to get in and out.

Litter boxes should be scooped daily both for cleanliness and to track how much waste is present each day. CKD can cause an increased volume of urine in addition to increased frequency, so you should pay attention to the size of urine clumps in the litter box and note any changes. These cats often become dehydrated, so keep an eye out for unusually small, hard, or dry poops. 

“Old age” is not an excuse for decreased energy, decreased appetite, weight loss, or not making it to the litter box. From home modifications to diet and litter box monitoring, there are ways to mitigate the effects of your cat’s illness to help them feel better and improve their life.

Want to learn more about cat behaviour? Check out our friends at Pawsitive Vibes!


Written by Laura Cassiday at 'Pawsitive Vibes Cat Behavior and Training'

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