Cat urinary tract disease: a common health problem
Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease or FLUTD is a common condition seen in cats. Feline urinary tract disease can affect the urinary bladder (such as cystitis, an inflammation of the bladder) and the urethra, the channel that carries urine from the bladder to the outside.
In some cases, cat urinary tract disease is caused by crystals or stones that form in the urine. These can irritate the lining of the urinary tract and partially or completely block the flow of urine.
Recognizing the symptoms of cat urinary problems
Your observations about changes in your cat’s appearance or behavior can assist your veterinarian in making an accurate diagnosis of a feline urinary tract disease. For example, urinating can be painful for a cat with lower urinary tract disease. Urine may be bloody, have a reddish tinge, or a strong ammonia-like odor. A cat with FLUTD may:
- Make frequent trips to the litter box
- Cry when urinating
- Urinate outside the litter box
- Lick its genital area excessively
Occasionally, mucous plugs or crystals can block the urethra in cat urinary tract disease, making it difficult or impossible for your cat to urinate. These cats will:
- Strain to urinate, with little success
- Display signs of anxiety, such as pacing or hiding
Consult your veterinarian immediately if your cat shows any of these behaviors. If an obstruction is not relieved it can lead to vomiting, loss of appetite, dehydration, collapse and even death.
FLUTD can be caused by a number of factors, including:
- Bacterial or viral infection
- Anatomical abnormalities
There are several types of cat urinary tract problems. One type, associated with the formation of stones or crystals, is linked to conditions in the urinary bladder, such as the concentration of minerals, the pH and the volume of urine.
Male and female cats can experience cat urinary problems, such as cystitis, but since male cats have longer and narrower urethras, their urinary tracts are more likely to become obstructed by crystals and mucous.
Urinary problems are more common in some breeds like Persians, while there is a lower incidence in Siamese cats.
Young adult cats between the ages of 2 and 6 years are more likely to have lower urinary tract disorders, but cats of any age are susceptible.
Indoor cats seem to be more susceptible to cat urinary tract disease. This may be because confinement reduces physical activities, which in turn may reduce the amount of water consumed and the frequency of urination, allowing crystals to form in the urine.
High levels of ash and magnesium in the diet were once thought to cause crystal formation. More recent work indicates that urine pH and concentration are more important factors in the development of FLUTD. Increasing water intake is highly recommended to help reduce the risk of FLUTD.
Diagnosing your cat’s urinary problems
To determine the type and severity of your cat’s urinary disorder, your veterinarian will conduct a thorough physical exam. This includes gently feeling your cat’s abdomen to determine if the bladder is full, a possible sign of a blocked feline urinary tract.
Your veterinarian may also recommend tests such as a urinalysis to evaluate any crystals, blood cells and bacteria in the urine, as well as urine pH and concentration. If stone formation is suspected, an x-ray will help determine if stones are present. Not all types of urinary stones can be seen on x-rays, but struvite stones are generally visible.
Helping your cat recover from FLUTD
If your cat has an obstruction, your veterinarian will need to remove it immediately. Most cases of FLUTD are not caused by infection, but if infection is present, your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics.
If there are struvite crystals in your cat’s urinary tract that aren’t blocking the flow of urine, a special diet can help dissolve those crystals and reduce crystal formation. Diets that help create urine that’s slightly acidic have a positive effect on reducing struvite crystal and stone formation. If signs persist beyond 5–7 days of dietary therapy, consult your veterinarian.
Regardless of the type of feline urinary disease your cat is experiencing, increased water intake is recommended to increase urine volume. Your veterinarian may recommend a special diet that promotes increased water intake.