It can sometimes be difficult to determine whether your beloved kitty is suffering from any sort of health problems, primarily because they are unable to communicate about any of the symptoms they are experiencing. Unfortunately, these health problems can be quite uncomfortable or even painful, and may sometimes lead to severe and even life-threatening health issues if left untreated. This is why regular veterinary physical exams are so important, and why an owner who recognizes that something just seems a little “off” about their cat should take action to determine whether their cat may be suffering a health issue–like a urinary tract problem.

Understanding Feline Urinary Tract Problems

Urinary tract problems are, unfortunately, somewhat common among domestic cats, especially when they are middle-aged, overweight, have limited or no outdoor access, and eat a dry food diet. A cat that has a urinary tract problem is not usually able to empty their bladder correctly, and may even have a urethra blockage that can potentially be fatal. The most common urinary tract problem is Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease or FLUTD. FLUTD is rarely caused by a single problem in a cat’s lower urinary tract, but rather is the result of several problems that must be determined, addressed, and resolved in order to bring about better urinary tract health. A well-informed owner is, therefore, better able to take action to prevent urinary tract problems from occurring in their cat, or address such problems as soon as they arise.

Some of the most common causes of urinary tract problems in cats include stones, crystals or debris accumulation either in their bladder or in their urethra, a urethral plug caused by accumulated urine debris, bladder inflammation, bladder infection, incontinence caused by excessive water consumption or a weak bladder, injury to the urinary tract, tumor or cancer in the urinary tract, stress, spinal cord problems, or a congenital abnormality. Cats that suffer from endocrine diseases like hyperthyroidism and diabetes mellitus may also develop lower urinary tract problems as a result of these diseases.

Cats that are under one year of age rarely contract FLUTD. Male cats that have narrower urethras than female cats are more likely to suffer from urethral blockages, but this does not mean that female cats are entirely immune to these problems. A cat that is suffering from some type of urinary tract problem is likely to display at least one of the following signs: inability to urinate or reduced quantity of passed urine, bloody or cloudy urine, incontinence–loss of control over bladder, increased urination frequency, difficulty or pain when urinating, excessive time spent squatting in litter box, bathroom accidents–urinating in inappropriate places in the home, constant licking of the urinary opening, excessive ammonia smell in urine, lethargy, vomiting, abnormal increase in water consumption, and a hard, distended abdomen.

If your cat is showing any of the signs of a urinary tract problem, it is very important to get them to the veterinarian immediately. Some signs may seem to obviously indicate a greater problem than others, but even some of the lesser signs can indicate a medical emergency that needs immediate address. Your veterinarian will complete a full physical examination of your cat, and may also run a urinalysis, a urine culture, blood work, radiographs or an ultrasound to determine the presence of a urinary tract problem, its extent, and its cause.

If your cat is diagnosed with a urinary tract problem, you need to get as much information as possible from your veterinarian about the full extent of the problem, and the suspected cause, so that you are better able to understand the recommended course of treatment. Depending on the problem and its cause, your veterinarian may recommend a variety of treatments, including antibiotics or other medications, a change in diet, an increase in water intake, urinary acidifiers, small stone expulsion through the urethra, surgery to remove bladder stones or tumor, surgery to correct a congenital abnormality, surgery to remove urethral blockage, a urinary catheter, fluid therapy or some combination of these. It is important to get all of your questions answered immediately because delaying treatment is simply not an option. If a urinary tract problem, even a more minor one, is left untreated, it can cause a partial or complete obstruction of the cat’s urethra. This obviously prevents them from urinating, which in turn can quickly result in fatal kidney failure or bladder rupture.