Most pet parents don’t pay much attention to their cats’ bathroom habits. Until they start noticing dramatic changes, that is. Kitties who are straining to urinate, vocalizing upon urinating, urinating outside the litter box and excessively licking or grooming their perineal areas may be suffering from a urinary tract infection or cystitis. But although the symptoms of both can be similar, the causes — and treatments — are quite different.
The first step in diagnosing a urinary tract infection, or UTI, is detecting bacteria. If you suspect something is awry, go to your vet, who will send a urine culture to a laboratory. Once the lab determines the specific bacteria, your vet can prescribe the right antibiotic treatment. When treated appropriately, most UTIs resolve without complications. When they become recurrent, however, it’s time to look beneath the surface for additional underlying causes, such as the presence of bladder stones, tumors or anatomical abnormalities.
In about 50 percent of cases, reasons for recurring UTIs remain a mystery. In these cases, cats are often diagnosed with “feline lower urinary tract disease” or “feline idiopathic cystitis” (FIC). This complex condition is extremely frustrating for pet owners and vets alike, as it is a multifactorial disease with no clear-cut treatment.
Because the condition ebbs and flows, it’s important to not only treat your pet when she is experiencing pain or inflammation, but to also try to prevent future episodes. Encouraging your kitty to stay hydrated can help reduce symptoms by diluting irritants in the urine. Place extra water dishes around the house or try a pet fountain (many cats find running water irresistible!). Offering wet food is another option your cat may enjoy. Oral medications such as buprenorphine help alleviate pain, and anti-inflammatories may help prevent flare-ups.
FIC usually occurs in younger cats, but it can persist throughout a cat’s life. It is often associated with environmental stress, so if the direct source of stress cannot be found, the problem may keep floating to the surface. Some cats are unusually sensitive, which is why one cat in a household may be affected while another is not.
Anti-anxiety medication and environmental enrichment may help to alleviate built-up stress. Try to engage your cat in frequent play, rotating toys to keep her interested, and provide plenty of places for her to climb, perch or curl up.