Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) is a term used to describe a number of conditions affecting the lower part of the urinary tract (bladder and urethra). As with any animal, cat urinary health is a big issue. Obstruction of urine can be excessively painful and life threatening for cats, so if you notice any signs of discomfort, or an inability to pass liquid seek veterinary assistance immediately. FLUTD is common and complex, involving medical and behavioural parts; it’s rarely a single cause issue.
Signs of cat bladder problems
Signs of problems with your cats’ bladder include straining to urinate, painful urination (crying out in the litter tray), licking their genital area frequently, blood in urine, producing little or no urine after straining and, in some cases, loss of litter training. As this can be a very serious and life-threatening condition, particularly in male cats, contact your vet immediately if any you notice any of these symptoms.
There are several different reasons for your cat to have problems with urination. These include:
Idiopathic cystitis - a common condition causing painful inflammation of the bladder. The inflammation of the bladder causes leakage of proteins and blood into the urine which can block the urethra in male cats. This is a life threatening complication.
Bladder stones in cats - A less common problem. Cats can be affected by several types of bladder stones (most commonly struvite and calcium oxalate) all of which can lead to urethral obstruction in male cats.
Anatomical abnormalities - Cats can either be born with abnormal lower urinary tract anatomy or can develop abnormalities secondary to trauma. Symptoms depend on the location and type of abnormality present.
Bacterial urinary tract infection - very unusual in cats without other health problems. Cats with conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease may be more prone to infection but this is a very rare primary cause of FLUTD.
Age and Weight – Overweight and/or older cats can also suffer from urinary complications as can cats with a stressful lifestyle. Idiopathic cystitis is known to worsen with stress such as house moves, new feline or human additions to the household and even inclement weather!
Your vet will perform a few tests to confirm the specific diagnosis. Blood tests may be performed to rule out some underlying problems and a urine sample will be tested for the presence of inflammatory cells, blood and crystals and to assess urine concentration.
If your cat is suffering a blockage to the urethra, then your vet will need to act quickly to remove the blockage. Your cat will need to be heavily sedated or anaesthetised and a urinary catheter inserted to dislodge the blockage and allow normal urine flow to resume. Your cat may require intravenous fluids via a drip) and other medications and may be hospitalised for several days. Bladder stones may need to be surgically removed, with some types of stone requiring a diet change. In rare cases of bacterial infection, antibiotics may be required. Idiopathic cystitis is challenging to treat and involves the following approach:
- • Pain relief - FLUTD of any cause is very painful and distressing for cats. Pain also causes the urethra to narrow further, thus the likelihood of blockages increases.
- • Medications - to relax the urethra in male cats to prevent or treat blockages. Drugs to support the bladder-wall lining may be recommended by your vet. Other medications may be discussed depending on each individual case.
- • Reduction of stress - stress has a role in idiopathic cystitis and so you and your vet need to discuss causes of stress in your cat’s life; consultation with a veterinary behaviourist may be required. Synthetic pheromone treatments may help anxiety and are available from your vet. Healthy exercise will also help to alleviate stress.
- • Reduction in the concentration of the urine - by, for example, changing cats on dry food to wet food or adding a little water to wet food.
FLUTD is challenging to treat and requires much patience. You may need to think about stress in your cat’s daily life and how to reduce it, and also consult with a feline veterinary specialist or behaviourist should you notice a big change in your cat’s behaviour.