If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection, you know how distressing the signs can be. It hurts, and you feel the urgency to urinate but can release only a few dribbles. Cats can also have urinary signs, although infections are less common than in humans.
The discomfort of LUTS, as veterinarians call lower urinary tract signs for short, can cause cats to avoid using the litter box because they associate it with painful urination. Here’s what you should know about recognizing these signs so they can be treated early. Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian if your cat shows any of the following signs:
- Frequent visits to the litter box
- Blood in the urine (you may notice this if your cat has an accident on a light-colored carpet or floor)
- Straining to urinate, especially if the cat cries out in pain
- Urinating outside the litter box
- Excessive grooming around the rear end
- Behavior changes such as hiding, increased sensitivity to touch, or reluctance to move
Diagnosing the cause of your cat’s LUTS can be tricky. Sometimes the problem can be found from a medical history and physical exam, but diagnostic tests may be necessary to rule out other conditions or to narrow down the cause. For instance, your veterinarian may order a urinalysis to test for the presence of blood or bacteria and measure urine pH, which can indicate the types of stones that may be found in the bladder. Radiographs (X-rays) or ultrasound can show stones in the bladder or indicate the presence of a tumor in the bladder.
Two kinds of diseases can cause urinary tract signs: those that directly affect the bladder and those that affect another part of the body, indirectly resulting in urinary signs. Feline idiopathic cystitis (the term idiopathic means the cause is unknown) is the most common reason for LUTS in cats younger than 10 years. It’s called FIC for short, and it seems to flare up when cats feel unsafe in their environment or don’t have their basic needs for activity or play met. Think of it as a disease affecting the bladder rather than a bladder disease.
Drugs and diet don’t play much of a role in the treatment of cats with FIC. Your veterinarian may recommend evaluating your home to be sure your cat’s resources–food and water dishes and litter boxes, for instance–are in safe, quiet places. Other prescriptions for FIC may include a tall cat tree, interactive toys, or short, regular playtimes of five to 10 minutes daily. Keeping the litter box scrupulously clean is also important. Cats who are fearful, anxious, or stressed because of changes in the household may benefit from pheromone diffusers, which are thought to spread a natural sense of calm. Meeting cats’ needs in these ways seems to reduce the incidence of FIC.
The most common diseases directly affecting the bladder are urinary stones and urinary tract infections. Urinary stones are seen in 10 to 20 percent of cats with LUTS. They can be found in the kidney, bladder, ureter or urethra. In male cats, stones or mucus can block the urethra—the tube that carries urine out of the body—and is a real medical emergency. If your cat is unable to urinate, he can die within 72 hours. Cats with urinary stones may benefit from a change in diet.
Urinary tract infections are most common in cats 10 years or older, especially if they have kidney disease. They are most common in cats 10 years or older, especially if they have kidney disease. Your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics to treat these infections.
Keep your veterinarian informed about how your cat responds to treatment. Cats are individuals, so if one thing doesn’t work, ask your veterinarian about other options.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.