FEW conditions strike greater fear into the heart of a cat owner than urinary tract problems. Myths and misinformation abound, and many people know at least one other person who has a cat with this problem or who has lost a cat because of it. Feline lower urinary tract disorders (commonly referred to as FLUTD, LUTD, or FUS–feline urologic syndrome) come in at least three distinct varieties.
All of them put together affect less than 3 per cent of cats, but for those who are affected, it can be a major problem.
Bladder diseases occur in both male and female cats, although males have a higher risk of life-threatening blockage of the urethra. It is usually first seen in cats between 2 and 7 years of age (though some very young and very old cats may develop signs). Episodes of FLUTD are usually triggered by stress, such as home remodelling, severe weather, or loss or addition of a family member.
The clinical signs of all the FLUTDs are very similar. Cats may go to the litterbox frequently, strain to urinate, pass very small amounts at a time, lick their genitals more frequently or more intensely than usual, or have blood in the urine. Look out for the cat squatting in corners, in sinks or tubs, on rugs, laundry piles, or beds.
Blockages can lead to kidney failure
It’s important to act quickly when you see any of these signs, because if a blockage does occur, the backup of urine toxins and pressure can lead to kidney failure and death in as little as 24 hours.
There are many medical diets made to dissolve struvite stones and to prevent recurrence of struvite and calcium oxalate stones. They are normally only available through veterinarians since they create specific acid-base conditions in the cat’s body that should be monitored by your vet. Canned versions of these foods are preferable to dry.
Homemade, organic, natural diets are always on the top of the “good” list for treating this and other chronic disease conditions, but only if they can be fed consistently. Diet changes must always be made gradually to minimize stress on the cat.
Diet is a component of FLUTD, though usually not the sole cause. Dry cat foods, particularly high-fiber “light” or “senior” foods, contribute to overall dehydration and high urine concentration. Cats with FLUTD should not be fed any dry food at all if possible. Canned or homemade foods help keep the urine dilute, minimizing irritation and the risk of crystal or stone formation. Feed in timed meals rather than leaving food available.
Antibiotics are often used to treat feline FLUTDs and are a standard first-line of conventional treatment. Even though bacteria are rare, some antibiotics have anti-inflammatory or analgesic (pain relieving) effects. Other anti-inflammatory drugs, such as steroids, are occasionally used when there is severe inflammation. Urinary acidifiers are sometimes given if the urine pH is very high. Steroids and acidifiers should not be used long-term. The anti-depressant amitriptyline is commonly used as a long-term treatment, but its effectiveness and safety are being questioned. For male cats who block repeatedly, there is a surgery to widen the urethra. This is a last-ditch option, and unfortunately some males will still block even after this surgery.
Alternatively, many herbal and nutritional treatments have been tried with varying success.