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Common Causes of Urinary Issues in Cats

Urinary problems in cats

Your cat’s litter box habits can tell you a lot about their urinary tract health. A sudden change in your cat’s bathroom habits might be a red flag indicating an issue in the urinary tract that needs prompt veterinary attention. Keep reading to learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for urinary tract disease in cats.

Lower urinary tract problems are a common occurrence among cats of any age. Some cats appear to be more prone to urinary tract infections (UTI), while others experience recurrent blockages and bladder stones. There are appropriate medical interventions to address these issues, but first, a proper diagnosis must be made by your veterinarian. Knowing the early symptoms of urinary tract problems in cats will enable cat parents to seek veterinary assistance as early as possible. This can certainly help improve the long-term outcome of the problem.

Symptoms of Urinary Tract Problems in Cats

  • Frequent attempts to urinate but only passing dribbles of urine
  • Urinating anywhere except inside the litter box
  • Straining to urinate
  • Cry out in pain when trying to urinate
  • Blood in the urine
  • Urine may appear cloudy
  • Increased licking of their rear end
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Urine has a strong ammonia odor
  • Increased water intake
  • The abdomen may be large and distended

If your cat is showing these symptoms, you should bring them to your vet right away. Some urinary tract issues need immediate medical attention.

Causes of Urinary Tract Problems in Cats

Several conditions can affect the urinary tract of cats. These include the following:

1. Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

The urinary bladder is a common site of bacterial infection. Urinary tract infections can affect cats of any age, but the incidence is higher in cats that are 10 years of age or older and are often suffering from concurrent health issues such as diabetes and hyperthyroidism.

UTIs in cats are commonly treated with a round of antibiotics prescribed by your vet. In recurrent UTIs, there may be a need for urine culture and sensitivity tests to identify the specific bacteria that is causing the infection so the best antibiotic can be given.

2. Feline Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)

FLUTD is a term that includes several complex conditions that can affect the lower urinary tract of cats. These conditions range from mild to serious.

There are many causes and predisposing factors associated with FLUTD. The most common of which include crystals, stones, or debris that gradually accumulate in the urethra or bladder of cats. Some other causes include spinal cord problems, a weak bladder sphincter, congenital abnormalities, urethral plug, bladder infection, and urinary tract injury or tumor. FLUTD can also occur in cats that are exposed to emotional or environmental stressors.

Most cases of FLUTD affect middle-aged cats that are overweight or obese, on a kibble diet, or don’t get enough exercise and physical activity. Inadequate water intake is also a common predisposing factor. Male cats with their narrower urethras are more prone to obstruction than females.

Other important predisposing factors that can make cats more vulnerable to FLUTD include being confined indoors and using an indoor litter box, exposure to stressors, living in a multi-cat household, or sudden changes to the household’s daily routine.

FLUTD can lead to problems in the bladder and urethra. In some cases, a stone or plug can block the urethra and prevent proper emptying of urine from the bladder. Without any treatment, FLUTD can lead to serious complications and can even be life-threatening.

Any issue affecting the bladder and urethra requires appropriate medical attention as early as possible. If a cat is unable to urinate, there will be a build-up of toxins and metabolic wastes in the body. This could eventually lead to kidney failure or even rupture of the urinary bladder. If there is an obstruction in any part of the lower urinary tract (bladder or urethra), FLUTD can be fatal if the stone or plug is not removed immediately.

3. Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC)

This is the most commonly diagnosed problem in cats with lower urinary tract symptoms. Idiopathic means the cause is unknown. This means that all possible diagnostic procedures that have been performed fail to confirm other causes of disease. FIC in cats tends to resolve within a couple of weeks with appropriate treatment. If your cat has been diagnosed with FIC, your vet may provide treatment to prevent the recurrence of symptoms.

Stress appears to be an important predisposing factor for FIC. Common stressors in cats include sudden changes in their immediate environment, mealtime schedule, arrival or loss of an animal in the household, a new family member, or moving to a new home. Environmental enrichment and providing opportunities for your pet’s physical and mental stimulation can help reduce stress and decrease the frequency of FIC as well as its severity.

4. Urinary Stones (Uroliths)

Urinary stones or uroliths are formed when crystals in the urine clump together. A stone in the urinary tract can irritate or even obstruct a cat’s urinary bladder and/or urethra. Male cats are more predisposed to urolith obstruction because of their urinary tract anatomy.

Several types of uroliths can develop in cats, but the most common are struvite and calcium oxalate. Struvite stones are made up of magnesium, phosphorus, and ammonia. Identification of the type of urolith is very important so the appropriate treatment regimen can be given. Most cases of struvites can be dissolved by a special diet that will be prescribed by your vet. But if the change in diet fails to remove the struvites, surgical removal may be necessary.

As for other types of uroliths, surgery is often the favored option to remove them. Veterinarians may try to remove calcium oxalate stones by flushing the urinary bladder of affected cats with sterile fluids. But if the stones fail to pass or there is a recurrence, surgery may be required to remove the stones.

Recurrence is very common with uroliths. If your cat experiences a frequent recurrence of uroliths, your vet may recommend making specific dietary changes and/or medication to help prevent stone formation. Many premium cat foods are now formulated with less magnesium and ingredients that promote the production of more acidic urine.

5. Urethral Obstruction

A stone or plug that is lodged in the urethra can obstruct the passage of urine from the cat’s kidneys to the outside. This potentially life-threatening issue is quite common among neutered male cats because of their longer and narrower urethra.

Cats with urethral obstruction require immediate veterinary attention. Since urine can’t be voided, toxins that have been removed from the blood by the kidneys will build up in the cat’s body. Toxicity can cause the cat’s condition to deteriorate rapidly. Life-threatening electrolyte imbalances may also develop. There have been cases of urethral obstruction in cats in which death occurred in less than 24-48 hours, thus quick veterinary attention and treatment are absolutely necessary.

Read more:

Safety Considerations for Indoor and Outdoor Cats

The Cat-Lover’s Guide to Litter Box Bliss

Help! My cat is peeing outside the litter box. What should I do?

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