Urinary problems are one of the most common issues that affect cats, and cause their owners endless amounts of frustration. But, with a proper diagnosis, treatment, and preventive care, your feline friend won’t have to suffer from uncomfortable urination. Read on to learn more about feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), and for tips from our Village Animal Hospital team on how you can help prevent urinary issues in your cat.

What is feline lower urinary tract disease in cats?

Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is an all-encompassing term that describes a variety of bladder and urethra conditions in cats. Often, cats with FLUTD display issues, such as pain, difficulty, increased frequency, and blood in the urine, when urinating. 

Are some cats more likely to develop feline lower urinary tract disease?

While FLUTD can occur in any cat at any age, certain factors, including middle-age, being overweight, a sedentary lifestyle, being kept strictly indoors, and a dry diet, seem to predispose cats to developing this condition. Other factors, such as environmental stress, living in a multi-cat household, and abrupt changes in daily routine, can also increase a cat’s FLUTD risk.

What are feline lower urinary tract disease signs in cats?

FLUTD signs can indicate your cat requires urgent veterinary care, so monitor your pet closely for the following urinary issues:

  • Straining to urinate
  • Urinating small amounts
  • Frequent urination
  • Vocalizing while urinating
  • Excessive licking of the genital area
  • Urinating outside the litter box, particularly on cool, smooth surfaces
  • Blood in the urine

Left untreated, cats showing FLUTD signs may develop a life-threatening condition known as a urethral obstruction. Generally, affected cats will show the above signs, but then become increasingly more uncomfortable and distressed, progressing to passing little to no urine. If a blockage occurs, and the cat is unable to urinate, death can soon follow. 

What causes feline lower urinary tract disease in cats?

Since the term FLUTD includes a variety of urinary issues in cats, numerous causes are behind this condition. Some of the most common reasons a cat can develop FLUTD include:

  • Urinary tract infection (UTI) — UTIs are relatively uncommon in young, otherwise healthy cats, but more common in cats older than 10 years of age. 
  • Urolithiasis — When excessive minerals collect in the urinary tract, they can form together and create stones called uroliths. In some cases, a prescription diet can be used to dissolve the stones, but certain types require surgical removal.
  • Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) — FIC, which causes chronic bladder inflammation, is the most common cause of FLUTD signs in cats under 10. This condition has no known cause, but is thought to be the culmination of a variety of factors, such as stress, environmental changes, lack of enrichment, and diet. FIC frequently recurs during times of stress, change, or other unsettling events. Most commonly, this condition is managed through a diet change, increased play and interaction, and stress elimination.
  • Non-urinary diseases — Diseases that are not directly related to the urinary system, such as diabetes and hyperthyroidism, can cause FLUTD signs. 
  • Abnormalities and injuries — Urinary tract tumors, birth defects, or urinary tract or spinal cord injuries can cause urinary issues.

How does urethral obstruction occur?

A urethral obstruction can be caused by urethral stones or mucus plugs that block the urine flow. Oftentimes, a cat with a urethral obstruction will appear constipated, because they strain to produce urine in the litter box. Male cats are at a greater risk for urethral obstruction, because their urethra is longer and narrower. Once the urethra becomes completely blocked, the kidneys can no longer remove toxins from the blood or maintain the body’s fluid and electrolyte balance. Without treatment, death often occurs in less than 24 to 48 hours. Some cats continue to develop urethral obstructions after the blockage is removed, and surgery to open up the urethra may be recommended. 

How is feline lower urinary tract disease diagnosed?

If your cat develops urinary issues, your Village Animal Hospital veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam and recommend appropriate diagnostic tests. Common tests performed for a cat with urinary problems include:

  • Urinalysis — A urinalysis will assess urine pH and concentration, while also looking for crystals and inflammation or infection signs.
  • Urine culture — If a urinalysis identifies bacteria, a urine culture will determine the most effective antibiotic for treating the bacterial infection.
  • Blood work — Blood work will assess kidney health and function, and also determine other diseases, such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism, that can lead to urinary issues.
  • X-rays — Abdominal X-rays can evaluate the urinary tract size, and show any urinary stones.
  • Ultrasound — Since not all urinary stones appear on X-rays, an abdominal ultrasound can detect other stone types, as well as tumors and other urinary tract abnormalities.

How can I prevent urinary issues in my cat?

While not all urinary issues in cats can be prevented, you can take several steps to promote optimal urinary health.

  • Offer fresh water — Encourage your cat to drink as much as possible by changing their water frequently, or providing a drinking fountain.
  • Provide several litter boxes — The rule of thumb for the appropriate number of litter boxes is one box per cat, plus one. So, a three-cat household should have a minimum of four litter boxes that are scooped twice daily.
  • Reduce stress — Reduce stress by preventing bullying, providing plenty of environmental enrichment and interaction, and offering your cat safe hiding and climbing spots.
  • Feed an appropriate diet — Some cats need a prescription urinary diet to prevent stone formation, so check with our veterinarian for the best diet for your feline friend. 

Although urinary problems are one of the most common health issues affecting cats, they can be successfully managed and treated. Contact our Village Animal Hospital team as soon as possible, if you notice your cat developing FLUTD signs.