Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is a complex syndrome describing a cat who is in pain or discomfort when trying to urinate. It includes several conditions such as inflammation of the bladder itself (cystitis), different types of bladder stones, blockages of the urethra (which connects the bladder to the penis or vagina) or the cause may be indeterminable in which case it is termed ‘idiopathic’. Cats suffering from one or more of these conditions may strain before or after urination, pass only small amounts of urine more frequently than normal, urinate in places they normally would not and may or may not have blood in their urine.
As well as there being several conditions which contribute to FLUTD, it can be triggered by a number of different factors. For example, cats with FLUTD often do not drink enough water to meet their daily needs. This is especially a problem in cats eating primarily dry diets. Other risk factors include:
- Stress/Anxiety – such as from a strange or new cat, moving house.
- Diet – Cats fed primarily a dry diet are typically at greater risk, but it depends on overall mineral balance, urine pH and water intake.
- Urinary Tract Infection may produce swelling and the formation of pus which can block the cat’s urine tubes (ureter and urethra). Diabetes and some viral diseases may make cats more vulnerable to infection.
- Obesity – problems are more common in overweight and inactive cats
- Urine retention – cats which urinate less frequently, allowing urine to accumulate to large volumes in their bladder; or they may have restricted access outdoors
- Anatomical abnormalities or tumours may make it difficult for some cats to pass urine.
Cats may start displaying signs of discomfort quickly, and the condition can last anywhere from 3-10 days. In some cases, your cat may require emergency treatment to treat an obstruction that is preventing them from properly emptying their bladder – we refer to these cats as being ‘blocked’. This is seen most frequently in male cats. As well as making more frequent attempts to urinate, these cats may also cry out in pain and lick their penis or vulva.
Emergency treatment involves passing a catheter to relieve the pressure of urine within the bladder, and various medical treatments to help ensure normal urinary function resumes. The urine is tested for the presence of bacteria or crystals, and an x-ray is taken to assess the bladder and urethra for the presence of stones. Sometimes these stones will need to be surgically removed immediately. The majority of cats we see with crystals or stones will be discharged with a prescription urinary diet which alters the pH of the urine so that stones are less likely to form, and to try to dissolve existing stones. Another x-ray is taken in one month to determine whether to remain on the diet or progress to surgery.
All cats displaying signs of FLUTD should be seen by a veterinarian to have their symptoms assessed and appropriate treatment initiated. Many can be treated and then monitored at home, but some cats will be admitted for monitoring by the veterinarian and for further treatment.
Unfortunately, some cats may be affected by FLUTD throughout their lives. Ensuring there is always plenty of fresh drinking water available, and finding what drinking preference your cat has is one of the best ways of both helping to treat and prevent FLUTD at home. If your vet recommends a special diet for your cat is it important they remain on this diet for optimum urinary health.