Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is a broad term used to describe a range of clinical signs related to abnormal urination, caused by many conditions that affect the lower urinary tract (the urinary bladder and urethra).
Lower urinary tract disease is very common in cats, but can be challenging to treat because it often doesn’t have one identifiable cause.
When no cause can be found, the condition is known as feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC). This condition is similar to interstitial cystitis, a human chronic pelvic pain syndrome.
Cats Affected by FLUTD
FLUTD can affect cats of any age or breed, but the condition is especially common in:
- Young to middle-aged cats
- Overweight or inactive cats
- Cats that live with other cats (in a multi-cat household)
- Those that have previously had bladder or urination issues
- It is believed that up to 3% of cats may be affected by FLUTD annually, and may account for about two-thirds of all FLUTD cases.
Signs to Watch Out For
Clinical signs of lower urinary tract disease in cats include:
- Frequent urination
- Painful urination
- Straining to urinate
- Passing a small volume of urine frequently
- Urinating outside the litterbox or in unusual locations
- Discoloured or bloody urine
- Overgrooming (because of irritation and pain in the urethra and/or bladder)
- Changes in behaviour, including aggression
- Inability to urinate/urinary blockage (more common in male cats)
If your cat can’t pee (even once), don’t wait to see if anything changes. Contact us right away, or if it’s after hours, take your cat to an emergency veterinarian.
What Causes FLUTD?
Lower urinary tract disease in cats can be caused by:
- Bladder infections or inflammation
- Bladder stones/crystals
- Urethral plugs
- Benign tumours or cancer of the urinary tract (uncommon)
- Stress or anxiety
The Role of Stress in FLUTD
Stress may play an important role in lower urinary tract disease in cats. Not only can stress trigger an episode of FLUTD or FIC, but some cats that have these conditions may have an abnormal stress response. This may make them more likely to respond to stress in a way that increases their chances of getting lower urinary tract symptoms (easily stressed and taking longer to recover from a stressful event).
Your veterinarian will investigate the potential causes of feline lower urinary tract disease by asking questions about your cat’s medical history and performing a physical examination. Some of the things your veterinarian may ask you about include:
- Changes in your cat’s routine or environment
- Feeding practices
- Other pets or new pets in the household
- Other possible stressors
They may recommend additional testing, such as:
- Urine culture
- Blood tests
- X-rays (radiographs) of the bladder and urethra
- Ultrasound of the bladder
Treatment Options for Your Cat
FLUTD is treated based on the underlying cause or, without a known cause, by treating pain and managing the stressors that may have triggered your cat’s clinical signs. FIC or FLUTD treatment often involves a multimodal approach (incorporating several types of treatments), such as:
- Prescribing anxiety-reducing medications.
- Adding pain medications as recommended to alleviate discomfort during flare-ups.
- Switching to a prescription urinary and stress-reducing diet, such as one from Royal Canin, or increasing canned food consumption.
- Other specific treatments if an underlying cause has been identified.
Dialing down the stress level may involve:
- Keeping a regular daily schedule for feeding, rest/sleep, and play/affection.
- Making any necessary changes in routine slowly.
- Being consistent with “rules” for your cat.
- Scooping litterboxes regularly to keep them clean (at least once or twice a day) and changing clumping litter completely every couple of weeks (at least once or twice a week for clay litter).
- Keeping strange cats from wandering through your yard so your cat can’t see or sense them.
- Reducing competition in a multi-cat household by ensuring your cats have enough litterboxes (at least one more litterbox than the number of cats), as well as easy access to food and water.
- Ensuring that your cat has enough safe resting spaces (places to retreat to or hide in).
- Adding toys, scratching posts, and cat trees/condos as needed to keep your cat physically and mentally stimulated.
- Incorporating feline pheromones at home or during travel.
Unfortunately, once a cat shows signs of FLUTD or FIC, the condition often recurs, which can be extremely stressful for both the cat and owner. The treatments and management approaches mentioned above can be helpful for reducing the frequency of FLUTD. Specifically, focus on reducing your cat’s stress, addressing behavioural issues, and making dietary changes that your veterinarian recommends.
If your cat is showing signs of urinary tract disease, schedule an appointment with us. We’ll work with you to determine a possible cause, help your cat “to go”, and provide some relief.