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Feline Urinary Problems

Added/Modified on December 13, 2016

Recent ground-breaking research has shed much needed light on cat urinary issues. If your cat suffers from urinary problems, read the advice here and then work with your veterinarian to tailor a plan specifically for your cat.

Common urinary problems
The most common feline urinary tract problem, accounting for 50-70% of all cases, is called Idiopathic Feline Urinary Tract Disease (iFLUTD). iFLUTD is also known by the following names: Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC) or Feline Urologic Syndrome (FUS). Bladder stones and urinary mucus/crystal plugs together account for 40% of cat urinary issues and bladder infection (UTI) accounts for only 2-3% of problems.

Common urinary signs
The most common urinary signs that cats exhibit are straining to urinate and blood in the urine. All cats with urinary signs should undergo a thorough veterinary examination that includes a urinalysis, urine culture and x-rays (or ultrasound). These tests help to eliminate the possibility of bladder stones or bladder infection (UTI). If your cat is diagnosed with one of these conditions, it often requires specific therapy such as surgery or antibiotics. Some urinary problems can cause blockages and become life threatening, so contact your veterinarian immediately if your cat begins showing urinary signs.

The remainder of this article will focus on iFLUTD and urinary mucus/crystal problems as these are the most common cat urinary ailments and also the most frustrating and difficult to treat.

Recent research on iFLUTD and urinary crystals
A one-year controlled clinical study of cats with these urinary problems was recently conducted. The only treatment that resulted in significant improvement in urinary signs was increasing daily water intake. Urinary signs occurred less often and were much less severe in cats that ate exclusively canned food. This study revealed no change in signs based on varying the magnesium or “ash” content of the food. Many veterinarians used to focus on the ash content of food for the prevention of crystal development, however, all leaders in this field now agree that diets intended to minimize the production of urinary crystals have no scientific rationale in the management of this condition. Simply put, ash is just not important.

Recommendations for treating iFLUTD and urinary crystals
The best recommendation we can make for cats with urinary issues is to increase their daily water intake. How do you do this?
Feed exclusively canned food. This has been proven to be the most effective way to increase water intake in cats. Increase the frequency of feeding. Cats fed several times each day drink more than cats fed only one meal.
Add additional water or broth to your cat’s food. If you have a cat that absolutely refuses canned food, adding water to dry food can be hugely beneficial.
Try ice cubes or ice chips as “treats”
Use unique water bowls or provide free flowing water fountains to stimulate your cat’s interest in drinking.

In addition to increasing your cat’s daily water intake, the feeding of a “pH neutral” diet that avoids extremes of urine pH were also proven to be of benefit. When cats eat a “natural” diet of rodents or other small prey, their urine pH will be in the region of 6.3. For best urinary health, it is best to maintain this pH and Halo foods were designed with this in mind.

Interestingly, another factor that improved control of cat urinary problems was environmental enrichment. Cats tended to have worse urinary signs if they were stressed or their home environment was not stimulating enough for them. A leader in the field of feline urology has worked on an “Indoor Cat Initiative” to give owners tools to create a unique and stimulating environment for cats to minimize urinary problems. Please visit to read more about this initiative.

These urinary conditions, if severe, can be painful and debilitating for cats and unfortunately are a leading cause of euthanasia in companion cats. Although the recommendations above will improve signs in many cats, they may not eliminate the signs altogether. There are other treatments available (pain medications, anti-inflammatories, etc) that your veterinarian may also recommend depending on the severity of your cat’s condition.

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