Contributed by: Dr. Heather Poncelow, Emergency Veterinarian

Bladder inflammation (cystitis, also called Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disorder, or FLUTD) in cats is a common problem that may come and go. It is common for affected cats to experience their first episode when they are relatively young (1-6 years old). Male cats suffering from this problem may develop a complete urethral obstruction, preventing them from voiding urine (females can also develop cystitis, but it is uncommon for them to become obstructed unless there is also a bladder stone present). Urethral obstruction is very painful, and causes dysfunction of the kidneys and electrolyte abnormalities that can rapidly be fatal. Affected cats have to be anesthetized and have a urinary catheter placed to empty their bladder, and then remain in the hospital to treat kidney and electrolyte problems while the bladder inflammation is treated.

Symptoms

  • urination out of the litter box
  • going in and out of the litter box frequently
  • pain when urinating (usually indicated by vocalization of some sort when they urinate)
  • bloody urine
  • Obsessive grooming of the genital area
  • straining to urinate with no actual urine production

What To Do

  • If your cat has one of the previously mentioned symptoms then you should take it to a veterinarian.
  • There are other problems that may cause these signs, but it is very important to know if an obstruction is present. If the problem is caught early (prior to an obstruction) then there are medicines that may make obstruction less likely.

What NOT To Do

  • If your cat is having urinary problems, especially if they involve bloody urine or straining to urinate, do not wait to see if it clears up on its own. A complete urethral obstruction can become life-threatening overnight.
  • Do not assume that straining indicates constipation.
  • Don’t assume that urinating outside of the box is a behavioral problem. While this is possible, it is important to rule out a medical problem.
  • Do not punish your cat for urinating outside of the box. This will increase the cat’s stress and make the problem worse.

Prevention

  • Anticipate stressful events (like having houseguests, adding a new pet, having an owner away, or being boarded) and plan ahead to minimize your cat’s stress. This may include providing a quiet, dark place for the cat to be away from the excitement, and using calming pheromone diffusers or collars. It may also include anti-anxiety or muscle relaxant medicines from your veterinarian.
  • Keeping the cat well hydrated, including feeding a quality-canned food, may decrease the risk of obstruction.
  • In some cats, feeding a prescription food is indicated. Your veterinarian will determine this, usually through urine testing.