Feline lower urinary tract disease can devastate a cat’s health. This became crystal clear to me when my beautiful cat Sugar Bear became ill with this condition. Sugar has a sunny personality and is a happy, affable little guy, but when he became sick, that changed quickly. He crouched in the corner of his litter box crying and straining to urinate. When he finally managed to do so, his urine was red with blood.
To make things worse, this was the weekend–a Friday night as luck would have it–and of course, there were no vets available. Where we live, there is no such thing as an emergency vet. Thankfully, Alonso, our kind veterinarian, is at the office on Saturday mornings. Poor little Sugar had an uncomfortable night, but we raced him in first thing in the morning. After my husband described what was going on, our vet put Sugar through his paces and gave him a good examination. He noticed Sugar’s bladder was very full. After anaesthetizing him, Alonso carefully slid a catheter inside his urethra. He diagnosed Sugar with a bladder infection and prescribed a full course of the antibiotic Baytril. It was very likely, he told my husband, that Sugar was dealing with feline lower urinary tract disease. He also gave us an herbal remedy, which we administer twice daily.
It would be nice to say that everything went smoothly after that, however, there were still a couple of bumps in the road. Sugar dealt with this two more times, and it was the third time that was the proverbial charm. This time, Alonso kept Sugie at his house for nearly a week, and with that, as well as the medication, the urinary problems vanished.
It was extremely obvious by now that Sugie did indeed have feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD).
What is FLUTD?
Turns out that it’s a whole bunch of conditions, all of which can affect a cat’s bladder and urethra. Afflicted cats generally show the same symptoms, according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. These symptoms include:
- Difficult and painful urination.
- Increased frequency of urination.
- Blood in urine.
- Cats afflicted with this often urinate outside the box and often prefer surfaces that are smooth and cool, like a bathtub or tile floor.
- They may also lick their genital area repeatedly.
While this can occur in cats of any age, this condition most frequently occurs in cats that are middle-aged, or are overweight and don’t get enough exercise, or in cats who use an indoor litter box and have little access to the outside. Dry food diets likely worsen this condition. Environmental factors can play a role, especially in households with more than one cat. Changes in routine can also bring this on.
While Sugie certainly wasn’t middle-aged (he’s just over two years old)–or fat, we do have several cats, and I think this, plus being a dry food junkie, is what brought trouble for a visit. Also, this condition is far more common in male cats.
What causes FLUTD?
This is a rather mysterious disease, but there are several contributing factors that explain why some cats get FLUTD, according to pets.webmd.com. What are some of the contributing factors?
- In cats, sometimes the urethra gets plugged by gritty or sandy material that consists of mucus or struvite crystals. These crystals, which are about the size of grains of salt, constitute the majority of most plugs. Sometimes they also consist of other types of crystals such as calcium oxalate, or primarily of mucus, blood, and white cells. Diet, along with the pH factor plays a huge role in the formation of these crystals.
- Bacterial infections, infrequent urination due to the litter box being dirty, reduced physical activity and lack of water can also influence the formation of uroliths. Dry food has also been implicated in the formation of uroliths.
- A cat’s urine is normally acidic, and this typically makes it antibacterial. Nevertheless, FLUTD does occur sometimes in cats with acidic urine. In these cases, it may mean that calcium oxalate uroliths have formed, and if this is the case, this is a life-threatening veterinary emergency.
- Lack of crucial water in a cat’s diet. When cats crunch up dry food, they take in less water than they would with canned food. Also, more water winds up being excreted in the stools. It’s thought that dry food diets lead to urine that’s more concentrated and filled with more sediment. Cats who eat a lot of dry food don’t urinate as much, and as a result, bacteria and sediment are flushed out less often, pets.webmd reports.
- Bacterial cystitis and urethritis have long been considered to be major causes of FLUTD. While current research shows that bacteria aren’t involved in most cases at the beginning, they often set up shop during recurrent attacks, and the potential for infection increases if there’s an obstruction involved. On top of that, recurrent infections can also be the result of antibiotic resistance. This means that the urine should be tested before beginning treatment.
The most common form of cystitis is feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), Cornell reports. FIC is usually diagnosed if tests fail to confirm the presence of another disease–such as urinary stones, for instance.
How is FLUTD treated?
FLUTD is always considered to be a medical emergency. A kitty can die from this in as little as 24 hours. When a urolith blocks a cat’s urethra, the kidneys aren’t able to remove toxins from the bloodstream and can’t maintain a proper balance of fluids and electrolytes. If this isn’t treated, the cat will lose consciousness and die. Heart failure is the usual cause of death. If your cat is experience problems that you suspect might be FLUTD, it’s imperative that you bring your cat to the vet’s office as soon as possible.
Treatment at the vet’s:
- Your vet will administer a catheter to remove blockages so that the cat’s urine can flow freely.
- Antibiotics will also be provided in order to kill any bacteria that might have formed in the cat’s bladder.
- Oral urine acidifiers are frequently prescribed to maintain a cat’s urinary health and these can help to prevent the formation of crystals. Alonso prescribed an acidifier thats completely herbal. Sugie takes one bright green pill twice daily. He’s not thrilled about this, but the pills seem to be helping him and he’s back to being the cuddle bug he normally is.
- Perineal urethrostomy, a type of surgery that widens the urethral opening may become necessary in cases where urinary blockage becomes chronic. It might not prevent the formation of uroliths but it will lessen a cat’s chances of suffering from a life-threatening blockage.
Treatment and prevention at home:
- A diet change is in order. Toss the dry food, or cut way back on giving it to your cat. While dry food doesn’t cause FLUTD, it lessens your cat’s intake of fluids. Canned food provides extra fluids that can help keep your cat’s urinary system healthy. Keep in mind that trying to change your cat’s food from dry to canned food can be stressful, so it’s best not to try to do this overnight. If your cat isn’t an avid water drinker, you can mix beef or chicken broth or clam juice in with his canned food to encourage him to lap up the food.
We’ve been fortunate with Sugie, he adores his canned food. With 14 fuzzy little cat mouths to feed, we still have to rely on dry food, but we have definitely cut way back. We’ve gone from feeding it to them whenever they want to only giving it to them twice per day. So far, nobody’s complaining. Our sweet boy can spend his days outside playing with his buddies and zipping around chasing butterflies and then turn into a cute cuddle bug at night. Knowing that we have saved Sugie from pain and possibly an early death makes us rest easier at night as well.