As strange as it may sound, a fairly common problem we see among house cats is something called feline idiopathic cystitis, or feline lower urinary tract disease. This problem, which is not completely understood, causes cats to have inflamed bladders and sometimes urinary obstructions. It affects an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 cats in the United States every year, and the obstructions usually happen in male cats since they have smaller urinary openings.
What causes this painful problem? Sometimes crystals form in the cat’s urine due to things like diet, insufficient water intake and genetics. At other times, a urinary tract infection is the culprit. Obesity can also contribute to this disease.
But believe it or not, one of the most common causes of this problem is related to stress. All cats are wired differently, and not all will respond to stress this way, but some develop bladder inflammations because of stress, the same way some people get upset stomachs in stressful situations. In my practice, I see more cases of feline lower urinary tract disease when the weather changes from warm to cooler. I’ve also heard it can be triggered by a change in the brand of food a cat is fed and by other disruptions such as new people or pets moving into or out of the home, construction in and around the home or other types of unnerving activity.
How can you tell your cat has this problem? You may notice it straining to urinate and producing only small amounts of urine each time. Some cats will urinate in unusual areas. You may see some blood in its urine. Many cats will cry in pain, and if the problem goes on long enough, they will be depressed and may start to vomit.
Most cats adapt well to a domestic lifestyle, but a cat with a urinary obstruction is special.
I can usually tell if a cat has cystitis by palpating the bladder area. It will be sensitive if there is a urinary obstruction, and the bladder will be firm and tender rather than small. We usually run a urine analysis and blood tests, mainly to check kidney function and electrolyte levels. We may take radiographs to look for possible bladder stones or masses.
If you see your cat licking its urinary opening a lot or having any urination problems, see your veterinarian as soon as possible. If your pet has a urinary obstruction, it is a medical emergency. The blockage can damage the bladder, kidneys and, secondarily, other organs. We will give your pet an analgesic or anesthetic so we can place a urinary catheter as soon as possible. We must also give intravenous fluids to diurese or flush out any toxins and rehydrate the pet. This usually requires at least a few days of hospitalization and care.
Several things can be done to prevent recurrences. Many people are surprised to learn that environmental enrichment can provide effective prevention. A domesticated cat is often less active than one in the wild, which is naturally hunting for food throughout the day. Most cats adapt well to a domestic lifestyle, but a cat with a urinary obstruction is special. More toys can help increase movement, and so can providing a separate place for the cat to have “me time.” Feeding it canned foods that have more water content can also help. If part of the cause is deemed to be crystal formation, then special diets and filtered water are now on the menu. Most cats can also benefit from supplements to help decrease anxiety. These can be given in the form of pheromones (by collar, spray or diffuser) or by Rescue Remedy drops in the water or by another supplement.
Keep your eye out for signs of this important problem — so your cat can experience real relief.
Dr. Ron Resnick has been in practice for more than 32 years and previously operated two veterinary hospitals. He taught at Harvard University and graduated from Tufts University, considered the best veterinary school in the world. He operates an animal hospital in Simi Valley.