Jake is 14 years old and has kidney disease, which is one of the most common conditions to affect older cats

Jake  is a big animal, at around twice the weight of a typical moggie. He is not fat; he has a large frame, and he is very well-muscled. When he started to lose weight recently, it was a clear sign that there was something wrong with him.

Jake has always disliked coming to the vet. He sits at the back of his carrier refusing to come out, and it’s usually necessary to turn it upside down to force him to emerge. He then crouches on the consulting table glaring angrily at the vet, hissing and spitting if anyone dares to touch him. Any handling needs to be done very carefully, because he is quick to lash out with his front claws. And when he is finally returned to his carrier at the end of the consultation, the cage door needs to be closed using an object like a pencil. Jake always likes to have the final word – letting out a loud “pah” noise, and lashing out with his claws at the hand that is closing the door.

As he has grown older, Jake has needed to have his nails regularly clipped, and the only way that this has been possible has been with sedation. While he is sedated, I always take the opportunity to carry out any other minor procedures that may need done. I check his teeth, listen to his heart, and put him on the weighing scales.

It was during one of these routine visits a few months ago that his weight loss was noticed. He had lost ten per cent of his weight, the equivalent of a ten stone person dropping to nine stone. When I questioned Miriam, she mentioned that he had started to drink more water. While he was sedated on that day, I took the opportunity to take a blood sample, which was sent off to the laboratory for full analysis. The results of the tests were not surprising: Jake was suffering from kidney disease. This is one of the most common illnesses to affect older cats, and it’s usually referred to as “chronic renal failure”. Many vets prefer to use the less severe term of “chronic renal insufficiency”, because the word “failure” suggests that the kidneys have stopped working completely. In fact, cats with kidney disease are still often able to live for many years with the condition.

There are many possible underlying causes of kidney disease, but most cases are probably best described as simple “wear and tear”. The kidneys carry out the function of extracting waste from the blood stream. Most waste products are produced from the breakdown of protein in the diet. Since cats tend to enjoy a high protein diet compared to other species, their kidneys have a high workload. It’s not surprising that they tend to wear out as cats grow older. Jake’s blood tests suggested that a bacterial infection was aggravating his kidney problem, but it was unlikely to be the main cause.

Blood tests are the simplest way to make the initial diagnosis, but urine samples also provide useful information about what’s going on. It’s not easy collecting urine samples from uncooperative cats, but there are some tricks of the trade. When Jake was sedated, I was able to slip a long, fine needle through the underside of his belly into his bladder, and collect a sample directly from his bladder. Laboratory tests confirmed the presence of a bacterial infection, and Jake was started onto a course of antibiotics.

There is only one full “cure” for Jake’s type of kidney disease: a full-scale kidney transplant. This is commonly done in North America, but rarely in Europe. Most cases are treated instead using a combination of drugs and special diets. It’s also possible to give more intensive treatment, such as injections of high doses of fluids to flush out the kidneys. This approach does not suit every cat, and it would be impossible with Jake. There’s no way that he’d sit still while given a large injection on a regular basis. Kidney disease is a complex subject, but because it is a common problem, there are many helpful resources available for owners. There is an excellent website at www.felinecrf.com which gives plenty of detail about the different treatment options.

Jake’s treatment plan is heavily influenced by his own attitude. His dislike of vets means that fluid therapy is not an option. His refusal to take tablets means that daily medicines are also out. Instead, he is simply being given a specially formulated diet designed for cats with kidney disease. The lifespan of a cat with kidney disease can be doubled by feeding a high-quality, low-protein diet that produces fewer protein waste products than standard cat food.

At his most recent check, Jake was doing well. He is enjoying his special diet, he has stopped losing weight, and his thirst has returned to normal. He remains as grumpy as ever during his visits to the vet, but I have even grown fond of this aspect of his personality. Jake wouldn’t be Jake without his powerful attitude.


  • Weight loss and an increased thirst are often caused by kidney disease
  • Blood and urine tests are needed to make the diagnosis
  • A special diet is one of the most important parts of a treatment plan

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Please note that I am unable to answer veterinary questions in comments. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health it is always better to contact your vet.

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