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Newly diagnosed?

You've just come home from the vet's office with the ominous diagnosis of chronic renal failure and you are in shock. Perhaps you came home alone, with your cat still at the vet's receiving IV fluids.

Try to remain calm.

Though the diagnosis you just received can be devastating, try to remain as calm as possible. The calmer you can be, the more help you will be to your cat.

Learn what you're up against.

You need information right away and this page will serve as your starting point in understanding feline chronic renal failure. It contains minimal but crucial information - just some highlights and key points - to help you begin to understand what is happening before you start your in-depth research of the extensive information on this website.

Don't rush to judgment!

Because some vets may recommend euthanasia immediately upon diagnosis, be sure your vet understands how much you are willing to do to help your cat. Many cats who were in extremely serious condition when first diagnosed have lived with a good quality of life for months (and even years) after diagnosis because their condition was treated aggressively. If you feel that your vet is not as knowledgeable about CRF as he/she should be, or if the vet does not want to aggressively treat your catís CRF and you do, seek a second opinion and consider changing vets. Be sure to read our section Working With Your Veterinarian.

If your cat has been on IV fluids and has just arrived home, he may appear to be in worse condition or show no improvement from his previous condition. Don't give up hope. It is important to give the cat some time to restore the blood electrolyte balance that may have been lost owing to the treatment.

Chronic renal failure does not progress at the same rate in all cases. In some cases, the deterioration is fast, in others it can be quite gradual. You cannot know how your cat will respond to treatment unless you try.

As CRF progresses and toxin levels rise, cats become more uncomfortable with an overall sensation of feeling unwell. Human patients with a similar condition don't report "pain" but describe their condition as feeling poorly. Dehydration, in particular, can make the patient very uncomfortable. Aggressively treating CRF, especially with subcutaneous fluid therapy, should not be thought of as "prolonging the agony" as there is no significant pain associated with kidney failure until the end-stage. Even then, unless the patient convulses, the chief symptoms will be malaise, weakness, nausea and discomfort.

Some key points about CRF

  • CRF is a progressive, irreversible deterioration of kidney function that may not become apparent until approximately 70% of that function is lost.
  • The most obvious symptoms of CRF are increased thirst and excessive urination. There are many other symptoms that are harder to spot.
    See the What is CRF? page

  • A blood test to check BUN and creatinine and a urine test to measure specific gravity are what your veterinarian needs to confirm a diagnosis of CRF.
    See the Tests and Diagnostics page

  • Intravenous (IV) fluids may save your cat's life when his condition suddenly becomes critical, but regular subcutaneous (sub-Q) fluids will extend your cat's life. IV fluids will not keep your cat hydrated for long and sub-Q fluids, on a regular basis, should be started as soon as possible. Sub-Q fluids are the mainstay of CRF care and are the most successful treatment we know.
  • Low protein diets are recommended for CRF cats but low phosphorus is thought to be more critical.
  • Dialysis for cats is expensive and not widely available.
    See the Management of CRF section

  • Kidney transplants are available for CRF cats. They are not available everywhere and not every CRF cat is a candidate.
    See the Kidney Transplant section

Common problems related to feline CRF may include:
(All of these symptoms are treatable to some extent. )

  • Potassium depletion
  • Excess phosphorus
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Anemia
  • Inappetence
  • Dehydration
  • Hypertension and detached retinae - If you suspect that your cat is losing or has lost vision, take him to a veterinarian immediately! If detached retinas are treated with medication within a day or so of onset, it is possible that partial or full vision can be restored.
  • Oral ulcers

Where to go from here:

When you're ready for more detailed information, be sure to visit the Site Guide page to get a brief overview of the content of the various sections of this site.

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