Cats frequently suffer from issues that affect their lower urinary tract, and all are categorized under one term—feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD). Our Colony Veterinary Hospital team explains this issue so you know what to expect if your cat is affected.

Lower urinary tract disease causes in cats

FLUTD is not a diagnosis but an umbrella term used to describe many conditions that affect the cat’s lower urinary tract. Common causes include:

  • Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) — FIC is the most common FLUTD cause and is diagnosed when an underlying cause cannot be determined. The condition appears to be related to stress, and possibly abnormalities to the cat’s bladder lining.
  • Bladder stones — Bladder stones (i.e., uroliths) are rock-like accumulations of minerals, crystals, and organic material that collect in the bladder. The most common stone types are struvite and calcium oxalate, which can irritate the cat’s bladder and potentially enter the urethra, causing a blockage.
  • Urinary tract infections (UTI) — The cat’s bladder can be infected by bacteria, although primary infections are rare in cats. UTIs are most common in cats older than 10 years of age who have diabetes or kidney disease.
  • Urethral plugs — Accumulated proteins, cells, crystals, and debris in the urine can form a plug that causes a urethral obstruction.
  • Cancer — Cats can develop a cancerous tumor, most commonly transitional cell carcinoma, in their bladder or urinary tract.
  • Anatomical defects — When a cat damages their urethra, scar tissue can cause a stricture, and further problems.

Lower urinary tract disease signs in cats

Regardless of the cause, cats with FLUTD exhibit similar signs, including:

  • Inappropriate urination — Cat owners most commonly report that their cat is urinating outside the litter box. The cat likely starts associating their litter box with pain and discomfort, so they look for a different place to urinate.
  • Vocalization during urination — Your cat may vocalize while they are urinating. Sometimes cats sit or stand next to the litter box and vocalize.
  • Increased urination frequency — Often the bladder and urethral inflammation cause irritation, which leads to an urge to urinate, and your cat may urinate more frequently. 
  • Behavioral changes — The pain and discomfort cause some cats to exhibit behaviors such as hiding, irritability, or aggression.
  • Excessive grooming — Affected cats may groom and excessively lick the area around their perineum to alleviate their discomfort.
  • Haematuria — This term means blood in the urine. You may notice your cat’s urine is pink tinged or contains small blood clots.
  • Straining to urinate — Your cat may strain to urinate if their urethra is obstructed.

Urethral blockage in cats

Urinary stones, urethral plugs, strictures, and urethral spasms can cause urethral obstruction in cats. Male cats are at higher risk, because of their long, narrow urethra. Overweight cats, and cats who eat only dry food, are also at increased risk. A complete urethral obstruction can damage the lower urinary tract and lead to kidney failure, resulting in toxin accumulation in the bloodstream and severe electrolyte imbalances. Urethral obstruction is a life-threatening situation, and your cat needs immediate veterinary intervention if you notice them straining to urinate. You should also have your cat evaluated by a veterinary professional as soon as possible if they exhibit any FLUTD signs.

Lower urinary tract disease diagnosis in cats

Since the conditions that cause FLUTD have similar signs, diagnostics are necessary to determine the problem’s source. Diagnostics include:

  • Physical examination — Our veterinary team will thoroughly examine your cat, including bladder palpation to help determine what is causing the issue.
  • Blood work — We may perform a complete blood count and a biochemistry profile to evaluate your cat’s overall health.
  • Urinalysis — We will perform a cystocentesis, which is a process that involves extracting urine directly from your cat’s bladder using a sterile needle, to ensure the sample we test is not contaminated.
  • Imaging — Our veterinary team may recommend X-rays or ultrasound to image your cat’s bladder and urinary tract to determine the cause.

Lower urinary tract disease treatment in cats

The treatment our veterinary team prescribes will depend on the cause of the FLUTD episode. Specific treatments by cause include:

  • FIC — FIC treatment involves a multi-pronged approach that includes environmental enrichment, decreasing stress, and a diet change.
  • Bladder stones — In some cases, struvite stones can be dissolved by changing your cat’s diet, but when this is not successful, or if the stones are composed of calcium oxalate, surgical removal is needed.
  • UTI — Our veterinary team will prescribe an appropriate antimicrobial based on our diagnostic findings.
  • Urethral blockage — When a cat has urethral blockage, our veterinary team typically removes the blockage using a catheter while the cat is under general anesthesia or heavy sedation. Your cat will also likely need intravenous fluids and additional medications to address inflammation and pain.
  • Cancer — Your cat may require surgery or chemotherapy to address their lower urinary tract cancer.

Many cats suffer from FLUTD, and discovering the underlying cause is key to proper treatment. If your cat is urinating outside the litter box or urinating more frequently, contact our Colony Veterinary Hospital team. We can determine what is causing your cat’s problem and devise an appropriate treatment plan.