Up to 10% of all cats admitted to veterinary hospitals are affected with Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, or FLUTD. The most common finding is irritation and inflammation of the lining of the bladder and urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside) associated with the formation of crystals. Crystals form when the urine is too concentrated.
Building blocks for various crystal types include magnesium, ammonium, calcium, oxalate, urate, and phosphate. Crystals (most often struvite) may imbed in an inflammatory protein matrix, much as bricks are embedded in mortar.
Although there is no single cause of FLUTD, various risk factors have been identified that predispose cats to the disease.
- urine too alkaline or too acid
- high urine concentrations of magnesium
- foods with excess protein
Factors that cause high urine levels of magnesium include high magnesium content in the food, infrequent urination caused by a dirty litter tray, and reduced water intake caused by unavailable or poor-quality water and dry food.
Factors that contribute to an alkaline urine pH include the size and frequency of meals, the type of food eaten, and bacterial infections of the bladder.
FLUTD is a serious condition that can be fatal if untreated. Therefore it is important to recognise its signs in your cat. Signs include:
- prolonged squatting and straining to urinate
- more frequent urination
- urination outside the litter box
- bloody urine
- painful abdomen
Your veterinarian will palpate (examination by touching) your cat’s abdomen to see if the bladder is enlarged and painful. Another important part of the physical examination will be an inspection of a male cat’s penis. Obstructions may be apparent, or a drop of bloody urine may be present. Other tests that may need to be performed by your veterinarian include examination of urine with the aid of a microscope to reveal the presence of crystals, urine culture, x-rays, ultrasound and blood tests.
The number of male and female cats affected with FLUTD is equal, but the disease is much more serious in male cats because they have a longer, narrower urethra. The protein matrix/struvite crystal complex or calcium oxalate formations may partially or completely obstruct the urethra in male cats. This obstruction makes urination impossible. As a result, wastes that are normally passed in the urine build up in the cat’s body causing life-threatening changes.
For information on steps to reduce occurences and signs of feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) check out the Cornell University website.