How to identify urinary disease in cats

How to Identify and Mediate Urinary Disease in Felines

If there’s one health problem that cat owners seem to consistently struggle with, it’s urinary problems. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease or FLUTD is a common and often recurring disease in cats that affects the bladder and urethra. FLUTD can occur at any age but it is most common in middle-aged, obese cats.

What causes FLUTD?

FLUTD is a blanket term for multiple urinary conditions including the following:

  • Urolithiasis (urinary stones)
  • Urinary infections
  • Urethral obstruction
  • Feline idiopathic cystitis

With multiple underlying diseases, this means that there can be multiple causes. As such, the primary cause can sometimes be difficult to diagnose. 

One such cause of FLUTD is the collection of minerals in the ureter or bladder. This leads to the formation of urinary stones, the most common being calcium oxalate and struvite crystals. The primary mineral culprits for these stones are calcium and magnesium. Urinary stones can often be managed with a special urinary diet and in certain cases, surgery is required.

Microbial infection may also be the cause for FLUTD. Bateria, fungi and viruses can infiltrate the urinary tract, resulting in infection. Less common in cats, urinary infections are usually a secondary effect of another primary disease like uroliths and diabetes. Rarely is a urinary tract infection the primary cause of FLUTD but it can contribute to the overall symptoms and conditions of the disease. Antibiotics and fluid therapy are the best way to tackle a urinary infection. 

The most concerning disease causing FLUTD is a urinary obstruction. This life-threatening condition is caused by a mineral, protein or mucus blockage in the urethra, which limits or completely inhibits urine output. While urinary obstructions still occur in female cats, it is male cats that are most at risk. Male cats have a longer narrower tract, making them more susceptible to blackages. Without treatment, toxins cannot be filtered out and electrolytes are not balanced. This can lead to heart failure and death within 24-48 hours. Treatment for obstructions is critical and usually involves surgery and fluid therapy.

Feline idiopathic cystitis is a disease of younger cats. The most common feline disease in cats less than 10 years of age, stress and diet changes increases the risk of feline idiopathic cystitis. Cats that are diagnosed with Feline idiopathic cystitis often end up relapsinging. This is a chronic disease, with an overall goal being to decrease the frequency of episodes.

Symptoms of FLUTD

Possible symptoms of FLUTD are:

  • Straining to urinate
  • Small urination volume
  • Frequent trips to the litter box
  • Urinating in abnormal areas, outside of the litter box
  • Licking of the genital region
  • Vocalization or crying while urinating
  • Blood in the urine

If you notice any or all of these symptoms in your cat, make an appointment to see your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Food that can help reduce the incidence of FLUTD 

Fortunately, there are a few dietary changes that can be made to help reduce the frequency of FLUTD. The first is feeding smaller meals more frequently. This can help to reduce the build up of minerals and eases their excretion in the urine. In addition to this, supplying them with fresh water and ensuring they are drinking an adequate amount will help to flush the urinary system and prevent blockages.

One of the leading causes of FLUTD is improper hydration. Cats being solely fed a dry kibble are more likely to develop a urinary disorder. This is not to say that pet parents shouldn’t feed their cats kibble. Kibble can still be very nutritious for cats but may be best substituted with canned or fresh-cooked cat food every other meal, if urinary conditions persist. Canned and fresh food contain a higher moisture content, which helps to dilute and flush minerals out of the system. Soaking kibble in water can also be beneficial, however this may affect the palatability of the food.

Avoid plant-based or vegan diets if possible. Plant products can make the urine more alkaline and lower the pH, promoting the formation of urinary stones and crystals. Make sure that the first ingredient listed on your cat’s food is a meat-protein source, followed by plant ingredients. This will ensure a more adequate balance. In contrast, some plant products actually help to decrease the instance of urinary problems. Acidic fruits like cranberries help to lower the pH of the urine and contain antibacterial properties to reduce the incidence of urinary tract infections. When it comes to plants in pet food, balance is key.

If you have a senior cat, switching them from an adult maintenance diet to a senior diet may also be beneficial. Specialized urinary diets are also specially formulated to reduce urine pH, as well as contain a lower concentration of minerals, to decrease the potential for blockages. 

Take home message

Urinary diseases are very common in cats. However, even though they are commonplace, the signs of urinary distress should not be downplayed. If your cat is showing symptoms of FLUTD, you should seek out veterinary care. Since FLUTD is a recurring disease, ensuring that your cat is well hydrated and is getting a non-alkaline, low mineral diet is essential.

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