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Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease

Author: Dr. Nicole Fenner, DVM

If you have ever owned a cat, then chances are you have dealt with the following scenario:  you come home from work, finally able to relax, glance over and find “Tiger” spending an awfully long time in the litter pan.  Then he gets out of the litter pan only to climb right back in it again.  On closer inspection, he is only producing a few drops of urine and the urine is tinged with blood.   Sadly, in between visits to the litter pan, he is licking his genitals like a mad kitty.  Have you ever experienced this scenario or one very similar?  If you answered “yes”, then welcome to the world of feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) aka idiopathic cystitis.   It doesn’t matter what you decide to call it, because it is one of the most frustrating medical problems a cat owner can encounter.  We all know that the issue can linger LONG after the problem is addressed.  Here are some key points about idiopathic cystitis:


  • STRESS!!! It plays a MAJOR role in the occurrence of this disease.  There are some cases where we can determine a cause (i.e. crystals in the urine, bladder stones), but in the majority of cases we don’t find an obvious reason for the cat’s symptoms.  In these cases, stress is suspected to be the trigger.  You must do everything in your power to find your cat’s happy place.  Try to enrich his/her environment with scratching posts, window perches, several food and water bowls, kitty condos, etc.  Provide a suitable number of litter boxes with suitable litter.  Clean the litter pans once daily and always have one more litter pan than number of cats in the household.  Reduce overcrowding and bullying.  Think about using a pheromone diffuser or spray like Feliway.  This is a synthetic cat pheromone that is believed to reduce feline anxiety.  Consider playing games with your cat to promote mental stimulation or tucking food into something called a “food puzzle.”  Be aware of changes in the home that can incite stress such as moving, a new baby, addition of another pet, visitors, etc. and make sure the cat has a safe area where they can escape in the midst of the chaos.
  • HYDRATION!!!  Making sure your cat is staying hydrated by encouraging increased fluid intake.  For instance, cats prefer cool, fresh water so investing in one of those water fountains can really go a long way.  Switch your cat to a canned food diet because canned diets have higher water content.  If you can’t switch entirely to a canned food diet, then consider cutting back on the dry food and adding in canned food as a complement to the kibble. 
  • FEED FOR HEALTH!!!  In many cases therapeutic diets for urinary tract health are employed.  Urinary diets have antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids to reduce inflammation, carefully measured levels of minerals and vitamins to maintain a precise urine pH, and these diets may be necessary to prevent future episodes.
  • SUPPLEMENTS FOR BLADDER HEALTH!!!  The most popular supplement used in these situations is a glucosamine-chondroitin supplement called Dasuquin.  Dasuquin helps by decreasing the frequency of episodes of cystitis and promotes healing of the bladder wall.  There is evidence that Dasuquin may have analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects.
  • MAINTAIN A HEALTHY WEIGHT!!!  Obesity is terrible.  It predisposes cats to urinary tract disease and other health issues.  Moral of story: keep your cat at an ideal weight!



If you only take one thing away from this article, then remember this fact.  If your cat is trying to go to the bathroom and nothing is produced, then this is considered a medical emergency, so get your cat to a veterinarian ASAP.   Due to differences in anatomy, male cats can develop a blockage in their urinary tract that prevents the bladder from emptying.  A urinary tract blockage can cause urine to build-up in the bladder and eventually the bladder ruptures — which is fatal. Male cats may be more likely to develop urinary tract blockages, but female cats with symptoms of cystitis also need to go to the veterinarian right away.   Why?  This disease can be extremely painful.  If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection, then you know how uncomfortable it can be.  Cats experience the same degree of pain and this can be very distressing leading to self-traumatization of the genital area and/or long-term behavioral changes, including loss of litter box training.


For resolution of urinary issues the best results are gained by pursuing a number of changes.   Those changes need to include reducing stress, feeding a canned diet, using a supplement for bladder health, and maintaining an ideal weight.  Be proactive!  Look for events that can foreshadow the development of a urinary issue.  A couple of examples of warning signs are increased grooming around the hind end and altered behavior (i.e. urinating outside the litter pan).  If those early signs are witnessed, make management changes at that time – don’t wait until signs progress.


For more information about feline urinary tract health call Calvert Veterinary Center at 410-360-PAWS.

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