Feline Urinary Tract Health

By: Mary Newell Sanders, DVM

TVMA Member
Bellville, TX

Published April 2014

Urinary tract health is an important issue for our feline companions. Some of the more common urinary tract issues veterinarians see in cats are urinary tract inflammation (also known as cystitisInflammation of the urinary bladder. It is often caused by infection and is usually accompanied by frequent, painful urination.), urethral obstructionIs a blockage in one or both of the tubes (ureters) that lead from the kidneys to the bladder. and, less commonly, urinary tract infection (UTI). These issues can occur anywhere along the urinary tract, from the urethraThe duct by which urine is conveyed out of the body from the bladder. up to the kidney. Signs that your cat may have any of these problems include straining to urinate, frequent trips to the litter box without much urine production, crying when urinating, blood in the urine and urinating outside the of the litter box.

Concerns and Causes of Urinary Tract Issues

Contrary to popular belief, 99 percent of cats that show signs of urinary tract issues do not have an actual infection. In an otherwise healthy feline, UTIs are rare. This is because they naturally have very concentrated urine that does not support bacterial growth. Most cats are, instead, suffering from bladder wall inflammation, also known as cystitis or interstitialOf, forming, or occupying interstices (an intervening space, esp. a very small one). cystitis. The most common cause of cystitis in your feline is stress. Examples of causes for feline stress include illness, pain, an owner who goes on vacation, boarding, change of litter or food and introduction of a new pet into the house. Cystitis is very painful, and your cat may begin to associate the litter box with pain. This can lead to litter box aversion, causing your cat to start urinating in other places. Left unchecked, inflammation can progress to a UTI, urinary crystals and even bladder stones due to a pH imbalance.

Urinary crystalsExcretion of crystals in the urine. can be the cause of urethral obstruction, which is a condition in which the urethra becomes completely occluded (obstructed) and your pet is unable to pass any urine at all. Urethral obstruction occurs most commonly in neutered male cats but can happen in any cat with urinary tract issues. Urethral obstruction is considered an emergency, so any cat exhibiting signs of this problem should be seen by a veterinarian quickly so issues can be addressed before they become life-threatening.

Diagnosing and Treating a Urinary Tract Issue

In order to properly diagnose and treat your cat, your veterinarian will collect a urine sample, preferably sterile, so that he or she can fully assess the state of your cat’s urinary tract health. Your veterinarian will be looking for signs of infection or inflammation, crystals, urine concentration, pHA figure expressing the acidity or alkalinity of a solution on a logarithmic scale on which 7 is neutral, lower values are more acid, and higher values more alkaline. and whether or not the urine contains protein or sugar. If the veterinarian suspects that your cat may have an infection, a urine culture may be recommend to ensure that the proper antibiotic is used. Your veterinarian may also recommend x-rays and/or abdominal ultrasoundSound or other vibrations having an ultrasonic frequency, particularly as used in medical imaging. to look for bladder stones. Pain medications, fluid therapy and, if indicated, antibiotics may be prescribed to treat your cat’s urinary tract issues. Diet modifications for your cat and ways to reduce your cat’s stress will also be discussed upon discharge.

Preventing Urinary Tract Issues in Felines

The No. 1 way to increase your feline’s overall urinary tract health and prevent UTIs is to increase your cat’s water intake. Cats are obligate carnivores with a very low thirst drive. This means that they derive most of their water intake from their diet. Think about what a cat in the wild would eat, such as birds, mice and other small rodents, all of which are approximately 70-percent water. Now think about what most pet owners feed cats—dry kibble, which is approximately five- to 10-percent water. When pet owners learn that the amount of water flowing through a cat’s urinary tract is the most important factor in promoting urinary tract health, we also realize that cats fed dry kibble, which is by definition water-depleted, may not be eating the best diet. Cats fed a canned diet are shown to consume double the amount of water when compared to cats fed a dry diet. Double your cat’s water intake, and you double the amount of urine flow, which is the easiest way to keep your cat’s bladder flushed out and healthy. Therefore, the best diet recommendation for a cat with urinary tract issues is a high protein, low-carbohydrate canned diet. If a canned diet is not an option for your cat, there are other ways to increase water consumption, including pet water fountains and freezing tuna juice or low-sodium chicken broth into ice cubes.

Urinary tract issues in cats can be frustrating to treat but are relatively easy to prevent. Talk to your veterinarian today about how to transition your cat to a canned diet and reduce stress. Both of these things will go a long way toward keeping your cat’s urinary tract happy and healthy.


Dr. Mary Newell Sanders practices at Marek Veterinary Clinics in Bellville and Sealy, Texas.

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