Cats and Urinary Tract Problems – What is FLUTD?
Basic Anatomy and Physiology
The urinary tract system is responsible for the creation, storage and elimination of urine. It comprises of the two kidneys which filter and clean the blood, forming urine by removing excess water and waste products. The two ureters are tubes which transport urine from the kidneys to the bladder. The bladder stores urine until it is voided. The urethra is a single tube structure which originates from the bladder and transports the urine to the outside.
What is FLUTD you might ask… Feline Urinary Tract Disease formerly known as Feline Urologic Syndrome is a group of clinical symptoms relating to your cats lower urinary system. Sometimes it may be called a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) There may also be numerous causes of the disease as well.
Feline Urinary Tract Disease is seen more often in middle aged to senior cats. FLUTD is rarely diagnosed in animals younger than one year, the average age is typically four years. A UTI usually occurs when the usually sterile urinary tract is colonised by bacteria or viruses. The common bacteria types found to cause infections are E. Coli, Staphylococcus spp, Steptococcus spp and Proteus spp. Some studies have suggested that 10% of senior cats with or without urinary blockages have the presence of bacteria in their urine.
FLUTD usually occurs spontaneously and the cause may be unknown. The causes could be many, see the list below. Other factors which may cause FLUTD can include obesity, too much acidity or alkalinity of the urine, dehydration or a diet high in magnesium or other minerals. On the other hand Idiopathic Lower Urinary Tract Diseases can occur without significant signs of bacteria or white blood cells in the urine.
Stones, crystals or debris accumulation (mucous or cells) in the bladder or urethra
Interstitial Cystitis (painful bladder syndrome)
Urethral plug accumulation of debris from urine
Bladder inflammation or infection
Incontinence from excessive water drinking or weak bladder
Injury to or tumor in the urinary tract
Spinal cord problems
Male cats who have had a perineal urethroscopy
Cats who have been catheterised
Other conditions which may lead to Lower Urinary Tract Problems
Male cats are generally more prone to urethral blockages because of their narrrow urethras. Female cats are at a higher risk of infection due to their shorter urethra as bacteria descending from the perineum are the greatest cause of urinary tract infections in cats.
Cats who hold onto urine for too long are at greater risk of infection, the cause may be poor weather, dirty litter trays, poor location of litter tray and different types of litter materials
Endocrine diseases such as hyperthyroidism
Diabetes mellitus can cause lower urinary tract problems in cats due to the fact that glucose and protein in the urine, along with lowered immune response can produce a favourable environment for bacterial growth
Inability to urinate or only passing small amount of urine
Bloody or cloudy urine
Loss of bladder control, dribbling urine
Straining and/or crying in pain when trying to pass urine
Prolonged squatting in litter box
Strong odor of ammonia in urine
Increased water consumption
Hard and distended abdomen
Frequent or painful urination
Frequent licking of the urinary opening
Discomfort when petted
Urinating outside of the litter tray
If the cause of these symptoms cannot be determined then the cat may be considered to have bladder inflammation otherwise known as cystitis.
A diagnosis is usually reached by eliminating other disorders. Obstructions such a Kidney stones and other disorders are usually eliminated first. Diagnostics such as urinalysis, blood tests, xrays and scopes may be used to detect obstructions and determine the presence of bacteria or parasites for example. The cat will be physically examined and a history of behavior leading to the visit will be obtained from the cat’s parents.
If you suspect that your cat has any of the symptoms of FLUTD please visit your veterinarian immediately. It may be considered a medical emergency. Your vet will ask you questions and conduct a thorough physical examination including pathology and radio diagnostics. Depending on assessment and cause your cat may be treated as an out-patient or hospitalized.
Chronic blockages may require changes to the diet. Canned food which contains high levels of water is the usual dietary change recommended by veterinarians. Increased intake in drinking water is also recommended to flush the bladder of impurities.
Antibiotics may also be prescribed as treatment for bacterial and parasitic infections.
Treatment should provide and resolution to symptoms within 7 days. If you notice continuing signs and symptoms or new symptoms please notify the veterinarian as soon as possible.
Depending on the actual diagnosis treatments will differ. Treatments may include.
Antibiotics or other medication
Recommended increase in water intake
Expelling of small stones through the urethra
Surgery to remove bladder stones or tumor or the correction of congenital abnormaliities
Urinary catheter or surgery to remove urethral blockage in male cats
Treatment of bladder stones may include a prescription diet which may help to dissolve stones. Large stones require surgical removal.
Encourage frequent hydration by replenishing water regularly.
Clean litter trays regularly.
Above all, be alert to changes in your cat’s behavior as prompt detection can result in a better outcome and or prognosis.
Switching the cat from a dry diet to a wet diet either canned or raw which has a higher water content. This increases overall fluid consumption.
If left untreated complications may arise causing partial or complete obstruction of the urethra, this can prevent a cat from urinating. This is a medical emergency that can lead to Kidney failure and or rupture of the bladder, and can prove fatal if the obstruction is not removed.
Depending on the cause and treatment, prevention may be as simple as being vigilant about your cat’s diet. Other ways which may discourage reappearance are;
Smaller meals more frequently
Commercial canned food – clean food bowls regularly
Provide plenty of fresh drinking water
Provide clean litter boxes
Limit events that may prove to be stressful to your cat