Excessive Drinking in Older Cats

Always a serious sign- move quickly. A thorough exam plus lab work may uncover age related kidney failure-a disease which may be treatable.



Our cat Bugsy is 17 years old and she seems to be acting like the years are catching up to her. For the past 2 or 3 weeks she’s been drinking more water and she’s hardly eating. My sister thinks that her breath smells like urine but I say it’s because her teeth are bad. How could a cat’s breath smell like urine?


Dr. Nichol:

You are right to be concerned about Bugsy. At age 17, there are several age related problems that could cause her to drink more water and reduce her eating. Diseases to consider include kidney failure, thyroid tumors, diabetes, liver disease, and possibly cancer.


What about the urine smell to her breath? This is an astute observation on the part of your sister. This symptom is often seen in kidney failure in cats as well as in dogs. The reason is that worn out, failing kidneys are falling way behind in their work. One of the important jobs they do is to eliminate what’s called nitrogenous wastes (the stuff that gives urine its smell) from the body. When the kidneys are unable to handle that job, the body tries desperately to get rid of these wastes some other way. In Bugsy’s case, her body is excreting some of it through the membranes of her mouth.


I know that it’s hard to hear this news but your Bugsy is a pretty sick old kitty. Her kidney failure is advanced. It is likely to have been going on for a long time. But please don’t feel like you have neglected her. Symptoms like hers really do present themselves suddenly even though her problem has been gradual in its development. While organ failure like this is a slow process other organ systems are remarkable in their ability to compensate for the shortcomings in her kidneys. Finally, though, her system is starting to collapse.


Can we help Bugsy? It is possible. What you must do immediately is to get her to her doctor for an exam and some lab work. If her kidney failure is confirmed but is not too severe, treatment with fluids intravenously and medications to manage her nausea and mouth pain may help a lot. If she responds well, she may do well at home for quite a while on a special diet and oral medications. Even at 17 she may still have a few good miles left on the clock. Whatever you do, don’t allow this old friend to go any longer without help. Her poor appetite is caused by her nausea. She feels pretty badly.


By the way, for younger kitties whose kidneys have run into serious trouble, kidney transplants are available. Finding suitable donors is much easier than other species-any cat with the same blood type could be a kidney donor. And they generally do well long term with some easy to live with anti rejection medication. For more information on this write to me here at the Journal.