Cats are great pets but they can sometimes be a little prone to having urinary tract problems. If we rule out those (preventable!) hassles caused by nasty old entire male cats spraying smelly urine on everything all around the neighbourhood, we are left with a group of diseases we call Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (or FLUTD).

Generally, cats affected by FLUTD urinate small amounts frequently (very different to the entire tom cat issue mentioned above). With FLUTD, the urine can often smell bad or contain blood. If the cat is urinating in the garden, you won’t know it’s happening until the cat is quite ill. It is interesting to note that they will sometimes come into the house and urinate in a sink or bath tub as if to show their owners that there is something amiss. At this point, they are also often meowing lots, off their food, licking their back end, painful when you pet them and may simply disappear as sick cats often want to hide.

In addition to urinary tract infections, cats can also get urinary crystals and stones that can plug up their urinary system. Inflammation without infection can cause similar problems. If they are unable to urinate due to a blockage of crystals, stones, or inflammatory cells or if they are severely dehydrated, the toxins they usually eliminate get built up in their system causing them to become very ill. They begin to feel as someone would that needs dialysis for failing kidneys. Needless to say, they feel quite ill. Without rapid treatment, electrolytes become very erratic causing the heart to beat irregularly and the cat can die. This cycle can proceed very quickly, so this is why it is recommended to have cats checked very quickly rather than doing the “wait and see” method.

After urinalysis and perhaps bloodwork, a veterinarian can often rule out other problems such as diabetes and determine the severity of illness. Radiographs (x-rays) may be needed if bladder or kidney stones are suspected. If we’re worried about blockages, the cat may be hospitalized with intravenous fluids and an indwelling urinary catheter to make sure the cat is well hydrated and able to eliminate toxins properly. Antibiotics may be required, depending on the problem.

Cats that are affected are often stressed easily and overweight, but it can happen to any of them. Males are at highest risk for blockages in their urinary tract. The pH of the urine often plays a part in FLUTD, and some of the inexpensive supermarket brand cat foods are often high in minerals that throw the pH for a spin. This is often why prescription foods and a strict diet are required for affected cats in order to prevent them becoming repeat offenders. These cats also need to drink lots of water, so a well-cleaned water dish with constant supply of fresh water is a plus.

Cats with blockages can sustain irreversible damage to their kidneys. However, if symptoms are recognized and treatment is begun early, cats often bounce back well. With a combination of proper diet, exercise, water consumption, and regulation of stressful events, many of these cats can be managed well. While requiring rechecks once stabilized, their quality and length of life is often that of any other cat.