Urinary tract infections are common in cats. However, while kidney and bladder infections frequently occur, many urinary tract issues in cats are not related solely to infections, but also to blockages from urinary crystals and stones.

Male cats are particularly susceptible to urethral blockages as the urethra is much narrower in male cats compared to that of females. Consequently, small bladder stones and crystals can obstruct the urethra of male cats as they are passed out of the bladder. Plugs can also form in the urethra, causing an obstruction that can be life threatening if not treated immediately.

Once an obstruction has formed in the urethra, a cat will have difficulty urinating. As a result, toxic waste products that are normally excreted in urine will build up in the body. These toxins accumulate in the bloodstream where they can poison the cat very quickly if left untreated.

Symptoms of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)

Symptoms of urinary tract disease vary depending on the issue, but can include:

  • Attempting to urinate often
  • Straining to urinate
  • Painful when urinating
  • Blood in the urine
  • Urinating outside of the litter box
  • Irritability
  • Loss of appetite

Cats suffering from an obstructed urethra will not be able to urinate. They will exhibit symptoms similar to the above, with frequent attempts at urinating, straining when urinating and clear indications that your pet is experiencing pain and discomfort. If left unattended, the cat will become lethargic and depressed, and will start vomiting due to the build-up of toxins in the body.

If you notice your male cat is having difficulty passing urine, this is a medical emergency that could be life threatening. You need to act quickly and get your pet to a vet as soon as possible, as any delay could prove fatal.

Treatment
If your pet is suffering from a bladder infection, treatment will typically consist of a course of antibiotics to fight the infection. If, on the other hand, your vet diagnoses an obstruction in the urethra, more invasive treatment measures will be needed. Your vet will try to remove the obstruction by passing a catheter tube through the urethra into the bladder while your cat is under a general anaesthetic. Blood tests and intravenous fluids will also be carried out to monitor the electrolyte levels in his blood and check whether his kidneys are functioning normally.

Bladder stones may need to be removed surgically, but in many cases can be relieved with a therapeutic diet recommended by your vet. A long-term change in diet may be necessary to prevent bladder stones from reoccurring after treatment.

Prevention
Feline lower urinary tract disease can affect cats of any age, but is more common in overweight, middle-aged cats that don’t get enough exercise, don’t have access to the outdoors, use an indoor litter box, or who’s diet consist largely of dry pelleted food purchased from the supermarket. Stress (for example, stress brought on by the addition of a new household pet or sudden changes in your pet’s daily routine) is also a contributing factor that can increase the risk of urinary tract disease.

While it is not always possible to prevent urinary tract disease in cats, there are measures you can take that will help reduce the chances of your cat suffering from urinary tract issues, including:

  • Encourage your cat to drink water by making sure that fresh water is always available for your pet. Cats are fussy and do not find stagnant water appealing, preferring running water from a tap or fountain instead.
  • Ensure your pet’s environment is as stress-free as possible, providing places for your cat to hide, as well as cat scratch pads and toys to keep him amused.
  • Ensure litter boxes are kept clean, that there are sufficient litter boxes for the number of cats in your household, and that your cat can do his ablutions in peace without being disturbed.
  • Speak to your vet about the best food to feed your cat to prevent bladder stones or blockages from occurring. Your vet will be able to recommend a diet that will help either prevent or treat urinary crystals. Some cats will need to remain on this prescribed diet for their whole lives.

Urinary tract disease in cats is not only an unpleasant and extremely painful health issue that can cause your pet immense discomfort and distress, it can also be fatal if not treated in good time. If you notice your cat displaying any of the symptoms listed, schedule an appointment with your vet immediately to get your fur baby checked out.

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