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What Exactly is Chronic Renal Failure (CRF)?

Chronic Renal Failure is a term to denote an irreversible kidney disease. It occurs when tiny structures in the kidneys called nephrons (which eliminate waste products and regulate electrolytes in the body) begin to die off.

When these nephrons begin to die off, waste products can no longer be effectively processed, causing waste to accumulate in the cat’s body. In effect, a cat in CRF is being poisoned by the waste that the kidneys are unable to filter.

CRF is one of the leading causes of illness and death in older cats. This is why annual exams are so important — especially if your cat is age 7 or older: Regular yearly are one of the best ways to look for early signs of kidney problems.


The most telling signs of CRF are increased thirst and excessive urination. As the condition progresses, your cat may also experience loss of appetite, dehydration, bad breath (ammonia smell), nausea and vomiting, constipation, emaciation and/or muscle wasting, and dull or unkempt coat.

Behavioral symptoms you may see include lethargy, depression, licking lips, gagging, drooling, hunching over the water bowl, and eating litter.

It is important to note that not all cats will exhibit all symptoms. Make an appointment with your veterinarian immediately if you notice symptoms of CRF.


CRF can only be accurately diagnosed with clinical tests. There are some symptoms and behaviors that indicate the likelihood of CRF and, if these are observed, the cat should be tested as soon as possible.

Your vet will perform a urinalysis as well as blood tests to diagnose the problem. Since other conditions can have similar symptoms, your vet will perform a urinalysis as well as blood tests to ascertain whether your kitty has CRF.

What Causes CRF?

CRF may have one or more causes. Common contributing factors include age, genetics, environment, and disease.

In recent years, more attention has been directed towards high blood pressure, low potassium levels, acidified diets, and dental disease as possible contributors to the development of CRF.

The possible role high blood pressure plays in kidney disease is one reason we here at Scaredy Cats are sure to check your kitty’s blood pressure as part of yearly check-ups and exams; make sure your vet routinely checks your kitty’s blood pressure.

The reality is that many renal diseases (both congenital and acquired) can result in CRF. Though there is no single, overwhelming cause of CRF (and therefore no definitive protocol for prevention), your best defense is routine checkups with your veterinarian.

How is CRF Treated?

There is no cure for CRF; however, with care, the condition may be managed for a time.

The cornerstone of CRF management is to control the amount of waste products that are sent through the kidneys. Since the remaining nephrons are limited in their ability to process waste, the idea is to reduce the amount of waste to a level that the nephrons can accommodate.

This is done through a combination of diet, medication, and hydration therapy.

What Happens Now?

It is a difficult diagnosis to hear, but CRF is a terminal condition. With proper treatment, however, your kitty may have anywhere from months to years of relatively high-quality life.

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.

As your kitty’s caregiver, it is up to you to determine when the quality of life has decreased to a point at which prolonging life no longer has value.

We here at Scaredy Cats will be here to listen, to treat with compassion, and to guide you and your kitty on this difficult journey. When it is time to say goodbye to your precious friend, we’ll be with you every step of the way.