Urinary conditions are the number one reason why cat owners seek veterinary care—and with good reason. Changes in a cat’s litter box routine can put an inordinate amount of stress on the cat-owner relationship—and a strong smell on your carpet.

Unfortunately, feline urinary issues are often influenced by a variety of factors, making them challenging to manage and difficult for owners to understand. At Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital, we’re committed to protecting your cat’s health and preserving your special bond. That’s why we’re addressing your most frequently asked questions about feline urinary health.

Question: What is feline lower urinary tract disease?

Answer: Most pet owners are familiar with urinary tract infections (UTIs), but UTIs are only one component of feline urinary health issues. This basic overview will help you understand the common terminology that pertains to your cat’s urinary health.

  • Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) — FLUTD is an umbrella term that includes all conditions affecting the lower urinary tract (i.e., urinary bladder, urethra). 
  • Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) — FIC, or interstitial cystitis, is a painful inflammatory condition of unknown cause (i.e., idiopathic), although stress is a likely factor. FIC is chronic, and 40% to 50% of affected cats relapse in the first year. 
  • Urinary tract infections — UTIs are the result of abnormal bacteria in your cat’s urine, often with inflammation.
  • Urinary crystals — Urinary crystals are abnormal, microscopic, mineral formations in your cat’s urine that can suggest an increased risk for kidney or bladder stones, as well as other diseases. Treatment is based on the crystal type (i.e., struvite or calcium oxalate) and your cat’s clinical signs, and may or may not always be necessary.
  • Urinary calculi — Calculi (i.e., bladder stones) are stone-like formations of urinary crystals that can irritate the bladder lining and cause life-threatening obstructions. Calculi can also form in the upper urinary tract (i.e., kidneys and ureters).
  • Urethral blockage —Urinary obstruction is a life-threatening emergency that occurs when a stone or mucus plug blocks the urine flow from the bladder to outside the body. When urine becomes trapped in the body, harmful toxins accumulate in the blood—creating a life-threatening emergency.

Q: Why are cats prone to urinary issues?

A: Cats are a uniquely complex species—so it’s no surprise that their health issues are anything but ordinary. And, although FLUTD risk factors risk factors aren’t well understood, most experts agree that the following elements play a role:

  • Anatomy — Life-threatening blockages are common in male cats, because their urethra (i.e., the tube that transports urine from the bladder to the outside) is exceptionally narrow, and longer than the female cat’s.
  • Emotional or environmental stress — Abrupt changes in a cat’s environment (e.g., diet change, new cat, inter-cat bullying) can trigger stress, a contributing factor to feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC). 
  • Indoor-only lifestyle — While an indoor-only life is the safest option, the lifestyle  provides inadequate mental stimulation. Cats need opportunities to practice instinctive predatory behaviors or they can experience significant stress.
  • Diet — Commercial cat foods with a high mineral content can contribute to urinary crystals, which become bladder stones. Also, drinking insufficient water can lead to concentrated urine that contains excessive debris and toxins and can irritate the bladder lining.
  • Health — Diabetes and hyperthyroidism can contribute to FLUTD.

Q: How do I know my cat is not house soiling out of spite?

A: A sudden change in your cat’s litter box routine may indicate a serious health issue, and you should not presume the change is behavior-related. A veterinary evaluation at Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital is essential to first rule out any medical problems. Our team will ask about your cat’s recent history and their urinary signs, including:

  • Increased frequency
  • Small urine amounts, or no output
  • House soiling
  • Abnormally colored or bloody urine
  • Straining to urinate
  • Vocalizing
  • Frequently licking the urogenital area
  • Appetite loss

Dr. Man will examine your cat from nose to tail to evaluate their overall health, including hydration, pain assessment, and bladder palpation. Diagnostic testing, including a urinalysis to look for microscopic bacteria and crystals, and imaging (e.g., X-rays or ultrasound) to assess the bladder and kidneys, is often necessary.

Q: When is my cat’s urinary condition an emergency?

A: Urinary blockage is a life-threatening emergency in cats—for a real-life perspective, check out this video by Dr. Man. to recognize the most common warning signs and seek fast treatment, and prevent a potentially tragic situation. Classic feline urinary obstruction signs include:

  • Frequent attempts to urinate
  • Straining to urinate
  • Producing little to no urine
  • Bloody urine
  • Vocalizing 
  • Painful abdomen

If you suspect your cat has a blockage, immediately contact Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital. Our team will triage your cat’s condition and, if we confirm an obstruction, Dr. Man will flush the blockage back to the bladder through a urinary catheter, and may perform emergency surgery to remove any stones. For male cats, a specialized surgery, known as a perineal urethrostomy (PU), reroutes the urethra to prevent future blockages.

Q: How can I improve my cat’s urinary health?

A: Some feline urinary conditions aren’t entirely preventable, but the following strategies can positively impact their urinary health.

  • Increase water intake — Feed a wet (i.e., canned) diet and use a cat water fountain to pique your cat’s interest.  
  • Avoid abrupt changes — Try to minimize stress-inducing lifestyle changes, (e.g., a sudden diet switch).
  • Reduce and prevent stress — Engage your cat with feline enrichment games and activities—including social interaction—and prevent inter-cat bullying by providing adequate resources.
  • Keep the litter box clean — Tidy litter boxes encourage proper use, prevent elimination-related anxiety, and reduce the likelihood that your cat will urinate inappropriately.

Watch your cat carefully for urinary disease signs and, if you suspect a problem, or need help because they have stopped using their litter box, contact the Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital team. We can consider your questions and find the right answers. 

Finally, the best way to protect your cat’s urinary health is with routine veterinary care and to contact Boca Midtowne Animal Hospital at the first sign of a urinary problem.