Cystitis and Urinary Problems in Cats


Cystitis (which literally means inflammation of the bladder), Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) and Idiopathic Cystitis are terms that are used by veterinary surgeons to describe the problems associated with the bladder or difficulty urinating. We see urinary problems in many of our feline patients, both males and females, of all ages.

Urinary crystals or stones

These grow in the bladder and can obstruct the urine flow. This is very painful condition and possibly life threatening for the cat as any blockage of the urinary tract by the stones or crystals can lead to a dangerous buildup of toxins within the body, not to mention the severe pain from a full bladder that cannot be emptied.

Urethral plugs

This is usually seen in male cats, when there is a buildup of proteins, cells, crystals and debris in the urine that combines together to form a ‘plug’ that cannot be passed.

Muscle spasm of the urethra

This can occur with severe inflammation or irritation

Bacterial infection

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

Idiopathic cystitis

This is the term for Cystitis that is not linked to bacterial infection or crystals.


In older cats with urinary problems, the possibility of a tumour affecting the urinary tract needs to be investigated, although it is not very common.

What Causes Urinary Problems?

The cause of these problems are not always apparent but may be related to 

  • 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. (we often see an increase in cases around the Christmas holiday season, which may be linked to an increase in visitors or the increased activity around the home.
  • Obesity – many of the cats we see suffering from cystitis are 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.
We often see urinary problems in overweight cats

We often see urinary problems in overweight cats

Signs To Look Out For

The symptoms of a urinary problem will 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 can often be 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 toilet 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. 


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

Normal and Abnormal Urination
(pictures courtesy of Hill’s Pet Nutrition)

How is Cystitis Diagnosed?

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

  • Abdominal examination – the vet will palpate the cat’s tummy to feel their bladder.
  • Cystocentesis – The vet will obtain a urine sample from your cat by inserting a needle into the bladder an collecting a sample into a syringe. This procedure is fairly quick and straightforward (as long as your cat is cooperative!) and results in an uncontaminated urine sample.
  • Urine Test – 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
  • Biopsy – may be performed, especially if Cancer is suspected

cat stethescope crop

Obtaining a urine Sample From Your Cat

A fresh urine sample can really help the vet with your cat’s diagnosis.

  • The easiest way to obtain a sample is by using a specially designed cat-litter which does not soak up the urine in the same way as normal cat litter. These types of litter should be available from your vet, in larger pet stores or online.  Katkor or Mikki Non-absorb cat litter are used at castle vets – we throw them out after they have been used, but if your cat is prone to problems then both of these litters can be cleaned, sterilised and reused at home.
  • You can also try an empty litter tray with no litter at all.
  • Urine samples should be stored in a clean container with a lid. A sample pot can be provided by your vet or you can use a container from home, but make sure it has been thoroughly cleaned with boiling water and that you have rinsed any detergent away.
  • Ideally the sample needs to be at the veterinary practice within 2 hours of it being passed and should be stored in the fridge until then. This is because changes to the sample can occur over time such as bacteria can multiplying or crystals dissolving or forming; all of which can lead to inaccurate test results.
  • Don’t panic if you cannot get a sample from your cat – Many cats will just refuse to pee as soon as they get suspicious about what their owners are doing! In this case your vet can get a urine sample through a procedure called Cystocentesis in which a sample is collected via a needle into a syringe.

Non Absorb Cat Litter

Treating Urinary Problems

treatment 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.
  • Intravenous fluids may be required
  • 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 Your Cat

1. Try to  increase your cat’s water consumption by making a few changes around the home

  • 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
Encourage your cat to drink more water

Encourage your cat to drink more water

2. Consider your cat’s food and eating habits

  • Your 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. This is particularly useful if your cat does not like to drink much 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. Enrolling your cat onto our Healthy Weight Clinic will help ensure you get the right advice about their weight loss.
Microchip reading food bowls are great solutions for cats on special diets

Microchip-reading food bowls are great solutions for cats on special diets, whether it be for urinary problems or weight loss.

3. 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. We can give you advice about their use if you speak to one of our veterinary nurses.
  • 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 enough 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.
Reducing stress by offering a variety of hiding places and perches can make a big difference to your cat's health

Reducing stress by offering a variety of hiding places and perches can make a big difference to your cat’s health

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


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