It is one of the moments a cat owner dreads most- your very irritated kitty squats and urinates on the carpet in the living room. After some frantic cleaning of their private area, the cat walks a little bit and squats again. You know that something is definitely wrong with your normally well behaved kitty. These symptoms are all too familiar, like something you remember experiencing yourself. It must be a urinary tract infect, right?
The Truth About Urinary Tract Infections in Cats
According to WebMD, more than half of all human women will experience at least one urinary tract infection in their lifetime. The symptoms are very well known: itching, burning urine, abdominal pain, frequent urges to urinate, etc. It is very unpleasant and can become a kidney infection if it is left untreated.
Veterinary Pet Insurance names urinary tract problems as the #1 claim made on the insurance for cats. However, true urinary tract infections are very rare in cats that are otherwise healthy. In fact, only about 2% of cats presenting with symptoms consistent with a urinary tract infection actually have an infection. To be clear, a urinary tract infection is when the cells of the cat’s bladder are being damaged by microbes (bacteria, fungi, etc). Diseases in cats that can increase the likelihood of developing a urinary tract infection include diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and hyperthyroidism.
Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease
So what is going on with the other 98% of cats with urinary tract infection symptoms? Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) is an umbrella diagnosis for all of the diseases affecting a cat’s bladder and urethra; urinary tract infections, cystitis, bladder crystals/stones, urinary blockages, etc. The symptoms of these diseases are very similar, which makes them difficult to distinguish without clinical tests. Those symptoms include:
- Frequent urination
- Straining to urinate
- Blood in the urine
- Prolonged attempts to urinate
- Urinating outside the litter box
- Excessive licking of the genital area
If your cat is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it is important to make an appointment with your veterinarian right away. As mentioned above, these diseases are very difficult, if not impossible, to tell apart by symptoms alone so don’t attempt to treat your cat without consulting a veterinarian. Treating the wrong problem could have disastrous consequences.
Other Problems That Look Like a Urinary Tract Infection in Cats
Cystitis is the most common cause of FLUTD symptoms, up to 2/3 of cases. This is very painful inflammation of the bladder and/or urethra. In most cases of cystitis there is no infection present. Crystals may or may not be present with cystitis. It affects mostly middle aged cats and can become a chronic problem. Your veterinarian can determine whether or not your cat has cystitis by ruling out all other possibilities.
Unfortunately, no one knows what causes cystitis. It appears that a big factor is stress. Reducing environmental stress can reduce frequency and severity of cystitis. Pain relievers are often used in treatment of cystitis as well.
Bladder crystals are deposits of minerals in the cat’s bladder that have formed rock hard crystals. These too are very common and very painful. There are 2 different types: struvite crystals and calcium oxalate crystals. Struvite crystals can be treated with a diet formulated to dissolve them. However, if they are unable to be dissolved, they must be surgically removed. Oxalate crystals are less common and cannot be dissolved with special diets. X-rays or cat scans may be required to diagnose bladder crystals.
Cats should ideally have a slightly acidic urine PH (6 – 6.5). When the PH of the urine becomes alkaline (higher than 7 on the PH scale) it becomes easier for a urinary tract infection to occur and for minerals in the urine to begin settling in the bladder rather than passing out of the body. When those minerals begin to settle, they can become the crystals mentioned above. Therefore, treatments can include changes to the cat’s diet that will result in a lower, more acidic urine PH. Reducing carbohydrates, increasing animal protein, and increasing water intake all help in this process.
If your cat can not pass any urine, this is a very serious medical emergency. Call your veterinarian and tell them you are on your way. Crystals and other materials can block urine from being able to pass out of the body. This is more common in male cats because of their narrower urethra. These blockages can cause the kidneys to be unable to correctly do their job and as a result the cat’s electrolytes will become unbalanced, which will result in death if not quickly treated. Another possibility is that the bladder will rupture, also resulting in death. Either way, it is only a matter of hours between the time that the cat’s bladder becomes completely blocked to the time the cat succumbs to the resulting medical problems.
Your veterinarian can remove the blockage and save your cat’s life. It may involve using a catheter on your cat to get around the blockage. Intravenous fluids and electrolytes may have to be administered. Cats can survive if they are treated in time.
Have you ever had a cat with FLUTD?
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