Feline Kidney Disease and Rapid, Shallow Breathing

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    Metabolic Acidosis

    • Metabolic acidosis can cause rapid, shallow breathing in cats. Metabolic acidosis occurs in 65 percent to 75 percent of cats with kidney disease. Excessive urine flow, which commonly accompanies kidney failure, flushes away bicarbonate ions that are needed to prevent acid build up. This causes acid levels to increase and fosters muscle breakdown and weight loss. Vomiting, twitching, weakness, mouth ulcers and breathlessness can all occur with acidosis. Breathing problems caused by metabolic acidosis is referred to as kussmaul breathing.


    • Anemia is a result of decreased red blood cell production. Red blood cells are manufactured within bone marrow. Cats suffering from kidney disease are unable to produce enough erythropoietin, which is a hormone controlling the production of red blood cells. This can occur in cats of any age but is most common in middle-aged to older cats. Rapid breathing is a symptom of anemia caused by kidney disease.

    Fluid Retention

    • Breathing with an open mouth is an indication of a heart licks itself image by Daria Miroshnikova from

      Cats can develop fluid build-up during kidney failure. This can be a sign of a deteriorating kidney or heart problems. Fluid retention can also occur from overhydration when manually administering therapy fluids. Fluid collecting in the lungs (pulmonary edema), around the lungs (pleural effusion) or in the abdomen (ascites) can all cause difficulty breathing. The cat can appear uncomfortable, change positions or refuse certain positions due to breathing difficulties. If the cat is breathing with its mouth open, seek medical attention immediately as this indicates heart problems.

    Heart Failure


    • During renal failure, the cat's body attempts to conserve water. By reabsorbing water from the stool through the intestinal wall, the body can retain liquid needed to help flush an already crippled filtration system. However, the stool is left quite dry and makes passing the stool very difficult. With severe constipation, elevated heart rate and fast breathing might ensue.

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