Feline Cystitis and Lower Urinary Tract Disorder


Cystitis (which literally means inflammation of the bladder) is a problem that we see in many of our feline patients and it affects male and female cats of any age and breed. Cystitis and Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disorder are general terms that are often used to describe problems associated with the bladder or difficulty urinating. There are several possible causes for cystitis in cats but the actual reason that these happen is unknown.

Urinary crystals or stones – these grow in the bladder and can obstruct the urine flow. This is very painful and possibly life threatening for the cat.

Bacterial infection – This problem is not often seen in cats but is usually the cause of cystitis in dogs and humans.

Idiopathic cystitis – Cystitis not linked to bacterial infection or crystals. We don’t know exactly what causes it but it is thought to be triggered by several possible factors including

  • Stress – this could be caused by a new cat in the neighbourhood, disputes with the other household cats or changes to home life i.e. a new baby, moving house, building work.
  • Obesity – many of the cats we see suffering from cystitis are also overweight
  • Holding on to urine for long periods – there are many reasons for this including no access to the outdoors or the litter tray, arthritis or old injuries causing pain when the cat squats.
  • No access to a litter tray – closed door, inappropriately placed tray or another cat in the household preventing access (resource blocking!)
  • Inappropriate diet – some diets may change the urinary pH causing the urine to become more alkaline or acidic than normal, which can lead to crystal and stone formation or infection.
  • Illness – this can be a cause of stress to the cat or the pain from the illness may make them reluctant to pass urine.
  • Not drinking enough – cats become dehydrated and urinate less often.
Signs to look out for

The symptoms of cystitis vary depending on the severity of the problem but some of the more common ones are listed below;

  • Frequent trips to the litter tray
  • Straining to pass urine (this is often mistaken for constipation because the cat will squat for long periods of time in the litter tray)
  • Urinating onto walls because it is a more comfortable position for a cat in pain (this can be mistaken for territorial spraying)
  • Blood in the urine
  • Excessive genital licking
  • Crying when urinating
  • Crying when near the litter tray
  • Urinating indoors when they normally go outdoors
  • Urinating in unusual places around the house – behind or on the furniture or even on top of kitchen counters or cookers. This may be because they are associating the litter tray with the painful process of urination or it may just be because they are getting ‘caught short’ and needing to urinate more often and more urgently.
  • Irritability or behavioural changes due to the pain of the condition
  • Strong smelling urine

If you notice any of these symptoms it is very important that your cat sees the vet; a cat that cannot urinate properly can become seriously ill very quickly and may even go into kidney failure because the body is unable to remove waste in the urine and the toxins build up in the blood stream. This is often seen in cats that have bladder blockages caused by urinary crystals or stones. 

If you think that your cat is not able to pass any urine at all it is an emergency and your cat needs to be seen by a vet immediately.
Normal and abnormal urination (pictures courtesy of Hills Pet Nutrition)

Normal and abnormal urination
(pictures ourtesy of Hills Pet Nutrition)

Diagnosis of Cystitis

Your vet may want to do a few or all of the following examinations and tests depending on the severity of your cat’s problem

  • Perform an abdominal examination and try to feel your cat’s bladder.
  • Test your cat’s urine – To look for bacteria, blood, pH levels and urinary crystals
  • Blood test – To check for infection and kidney function
  • Ultrasound or X-ray – to check for inflammation, bladder stones or other possible causes of cystitis

cat stethescope crop

Treatment of Cystitis

This will depend on the severity and the cause of the problem for each individual cat.

  • If your cat has become completely blocked and cannot pass urine at all, he or she may need to have a urinary catheter placed temporarily and/or surgery to remove the blockage.
  • Your cat may require hospitalisation for a few days to be closely monitored.
  • Medications such as anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and anti-anxiety drugs may be prescribed.
  • Dietary changes or a special prescription diet may be advised so that any crystals can be dissolved in the bladder and prevented from re forming.
What you can do to help prevent Cystitis 

Try to  increase your cat’s water consumption by making a few changes to water provision

  • Have more water bowls and put them in various places around the house
  • Place water bowls well away from food bowls and litter trays (most cats prefer this)
  • Change the water twice daily
  • Consider using a cat water fountain because some cats prefer to drink moving water

Consider your cats food and feeding habits

  • The vet may have recommended a special diet, this should gradually be introduced over a week by mixing it with your cats current food until he or she is completely onto the new food.
  • Increasing the amount of wet food will increase your cat’s water consumption as tinned foods and pouches often contain a lot of water.
  • Place food bowls away from water bowls and litter trays.
  • If your cat is overweight he or she may be more likely to suffer from cystitis, so consider reducing calories by cutting down on treats or feeding a low calorie diet.

Lower stress levels by improving your cat’s core territory

  • Make sure there are lots of hiding places that your cat can retreat to if he or she is frightened.
  • Add extra feeding stations (there should be at least one per cat in a multi cat household) and place them well away from each other.
  • Add another litter tray to the house (perhaps upstairs) so the cat has a choice about where to go to the toilet depending on how busy the household is. This is especially important in a multi cat household.
  • Consider using a covered litter tray to give your cat more privacy.
  • Feliway diffusers can be great for helping to lower anxiety levels
  • Cats feel secure in high places so consider adding some perches or shelves for them (cat towers work well too) or make a space on top of a wardrobe for them.
  • Make sure that your cat is getting exercise, even if he or she lives indoors.
  • If your cat is spending large amounts of time indoors for any reason ( he or she may not want to go outside because of poor weather or perhaps you need to confine them for another reason) make sure that you provide a litter tray.
  • If you have 2 or more cats, spend some time watching their behaviour towards each other. Cats have very subtle body language and bullying or resource blocking could be going on without you even being aware of it. A cat can prevent access to a resource with just a warning stare! Examples include sitting between the other cat and it’s food/litter trays, staring at the other cat or hissing and swiping at the passing cat. More information can be found on the International Cat Care website.

If you have any questions about cystitis or would like more information, please contact Castle Vets and we will be happy to help you.

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