What Every Cat Owner Needs to Know-Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease
Have you ever had a bladder infection?
Mostly anyone that has is aware that it is an uncomfortable and painful condition that can potentially lead to further complications if left untreated. Just like us, our feline friends can be prone to conditions involving the bladder and urethra. The term used to describe this collection of illnesses is known as Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease or FLUTD for short. Below is all of the information you need to know to ensure prompt treatment of this common medical occurrence.
What are the symptoms associated with FLUTD?
- Straining to urinate or dribbling small amounts of urine
- Crying out during urination
- Bloody, strong smelling or discoloured urine
- Frequent urination
- Licking at privates excessively
- Urinating outside the litterbox or in unusual locations
- The inability to urinate at all
What factors increase risk?
- Age: being a young or middle-aged cat
- Weight: Being overweight and inactive
- Restricted access to the litterbox
- Environmental: perceived negative interactions with owner, multi-cat households, changes to routine (moving, new litter or litterbox, new addition to the family, new pet, etc.)
- Diet: eating a dry-only diet, poor water consumption or poor quality diet
- Previous occurrences of FLUTD
What are the causes?
- Urinary Stones: these are collections of minerals that look similar to a pebble or ‘stone’ that form in the urinary tract. The two most common types of stone are those comprised of Struvite or Calcium Oxalate.
- A urethral obstruction: this occurs when the cat’s urethra (tube that transports urine from the bladder to the outside of the body) becomes partly or completely blocked so that the cat is unable to expel urine. This is a very serious medical condition that requires immediate medical care. The most common culprits causing this type of blockage are stones (discussed above) or urethral plugs. Due to the length and diameter of their urethra, a urinary blockage is more common in the male cat. Failure to treat promptly can result in damage to the kidneys or even death.
- Bladder Infections
- Injury to the bladder
- Cancer or Tumors
- Feline Idiopathic Cystitis: This is a diagnosis of exclusion, when all other possible causes have been ruled out. (Idiopathic is a term that is used when the cause is unknown).
How is it Diagnosed?
- A complete physical exam
- Urinalysis: for this test, we check the urine for an increase in red or white blood cells, the presence of bacteria, crystals and any other abnormalities.
- Blood Tests: depending on the cause, these tests allow us to determine if the patient’s cell counts indicate infection, whether or not the kidneys are functioning properly and if any other internal organs are involved.
- X-Rays: if stones are suspected, a radiograph allows us to visualize and get an idea how many of them are present.
- Ultrasound: this test allows us to see the bladder, the thickness and shape of its wall, any abnormal structures as well as the presence of excessive sediment or stones.
- Urine culture and antibiotic sensitivity tests
- Endoscopy of the urethra and bladder
What is the treatment?
Treatment of FLUTD will depend on the underlying cause. If the patient has a urinary tract infection, then antibiotics will most likely be prescribed. For more serious underlying origins, treatment will be more invasive:
For cats with struvite stones, a special diet such as Royal Canin Urinary S/O may be prescribed in attempt to dissolve them. In the event that a change in diet is unsuccessful at dissolution or in the case of calcium oxalate stones which cannot be dissolved, a surgery called a Cystotomy is likely required. During this procedure, an incision is made into the abdomen and then into the bladder. Using special surgical instruments, the stones are removed manually. The vet will also flush the urethra to ensure that there are no stones trapped that could potentially cause a blockage.
When a cat becomes blocked it is imperative that it is treated immediately. To do this, the patient will be given a sedative and sometimes a general anesthetic. A long catheter is inserted into the urethra and up into the bladder in attempt to remove the blockage. Once this has been done successfully, the catheter is often left in and attached to a urine collection bag for a few days. This allows urine to pass freely and gives the bladder a chance to heal. Most patients are started on IV therapy to assure adequate hydration and normalize electrolyte imbalances if they exist. Antibiotics will be prescribed as well as some medications to aid the bladder with normal function. It is not uncommon for the pet to spend a few days in hospital for this treatment.
Can FLUTD be prevented?
While a large portion of felines with a history of FLUTD can be repeat offenders, there are certain precautions pet owners can take in order to reduce the occurrence or re-occurrence:
- Keeping the litterbox clean and in a quiet place to discourage any associated stress
- Access to clean water at all times
- Feeding a high quality diet, preferably canned and with an S/O index if your cat is prone to infections or Struvite crystals.
- Keeping to your cat’s routine
- Ensuring your cat maintains a lean body weight
Diana Hunsberger, RVT