Litter Box Problems? Feline Urinary Disease and Urethral Obstructions

Is your kitty having problems in the litter box? If so, it's possible that s/he is suffering from feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) or feline urethral obstruction (UO - a kind of FLUTD).  FLUTD and UO are, unfortunately, very serious - and relatively common - conditions we see in our feline patients. Luckily, these illnesses are treatable and, more importantly, preventable.


We typically see cats present with urinary issues when the weather changes abruptly or when there is a full moon (this is a common veterinary observation, though not a scientifically proven fact). Symptoms can include one or more of the following:

  1. Straining to urinate or the inability to urinate, sometimes vocalizing in or near the litter box (due to pain),
  2. Increased frequency of urination (or attempted urination),
  3. Blood in the urine (sometimes microscopic, sometimes visible in the litter box),
  4. Urinating outside the litter box (either due to urgent need or pain),
  5. Overgrooming of the perineum (area around the genitals) due to pain and irritation,
  6. Behavioral changes, vomiting, and lethargy.


While all urinary tract issues can be serious problems, UO is by far the most serious. Typically, cats with UO have sand or grit in their bladders that cause an obstruction within the urethra, which prevents them from urinating. Occasionally, cats will have actual stones form in the bladder that cause the obstruction. If the obstruction, whether from stones or from plugs of sand/grit, goes untreated long enough, cats can go into kidney failure and die. Therefore, if you notice your cat displaying these symptoms, it is an emergency, and you should contact your veterinarian immediately.


Risk Factors

While all cats are susceptible to FLUTD and UO, there are some predisposing factors.

  1. First, neutered male cats are more prone to urinary problems than female cats due to their narrower urethral openings.
  2. The diseases are most commonly found in "middle-aged" cats (4 years is the average age at diagnosis).
  3. Certain breeds, such as Himalayan, Burmese, Siamaese, and Persian, seem to be more prone to these problems, though every breed can be affected.
  4. Additionally, obesity, an all dry food diet, and stress (all very common in indoor cats) are risk factors.


Diagnosis & Treatment 

If your cat shows signs of an FLUTD or a UO, your veterinarian may do several different things to diagnose the underlying cause. Because some cases of FLUTD can be caused by bacterial infections, a urinalysis may be performed. If your cat is having problems urinating, X-rays and/or an ultrasound may be performed to see if kitty has a urethral blockage.

Treating a blocked cat involves passing a urinary catheter under sedation to relieve the obstruction and flush any sand or grit from the bladder. The cat is then placed on IV fluid therapy to correct the kidney failure. Most cats have the urinary catheter in place for at least 24 hours and the fluid therapy is continued until the kidney values normalize. Treatments for other FLUTD's will vary depending on the underlying cause.



Preventing UO's from recurring is an important part of your cat's health, and the prevention may take multiple forms. First, since a dry food diet may be a pre-disposing factor, many veterinarians recommend feeding a canned food diet (often prescription) - though prescription dry diets exist if your cat won't accept wet food. If struvite crystals were part of the obstruction, there are special diets (e.g., Hill's S/D) that can help prevent the crystals from re-forming. Because FLUTD's can have different causes, it's best to discuss your cat's new dietary requirements and options thoroughly with your veterinarian.

In addition to a canned food diet, cats should be provided with a lot of stimulation to help reduce stress. Cat trees and interactive toys help lower stress and encourage exercise. Enriching your indoor cat's life will help reduce his/her stress and make recurrence less likely. 

If you have questions or need to schedule an appointment for your cat to see his/her doctor, give us a call or fill out our form. And remember: if your cat starts showing signs of an FLUTD or a UO, we're here 24/7 every day of the year for emergencies.



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