Most indoor-cat owners deal with daily cleaning of at least one litter box. While some owners are disgusted by this “not-so-pleasant” cat-care duty, the reality is that you can learn a lot about your cat’s health from the volume and odor of urine. (Insights into feline digestive health can also be gained from the quantity, color, consistency and smell of cat stools!)
In fact, there’s a lot more to cat urine than meets the nose.
Did you know that cat urine is about 95 percent water? That’s right, water. And unless there’s a urinary tract infection, there are no bacteria — except what’s picked up from the surrounding skin and fur as your pet urinates.
So what gives cat urine its distinctive odor? Normal cat urine will have a distinctive, pungent and acidic scent. A couple components contribute to feline urine odor.
First, cat urine tends to be more concentrated than human urine — and even dog urine. Like other species’ urine, cat urine contains urea, ammonia, uric acid and creatinine. These are natural waste products of protein breakdown. Bacteria in the environment break urea down into ammonia, so if you don’t scoop the litter box daily, you may detect a strong ammonia smell.
What makes cat urine different from human or dog urine is the presence of a sulfur-containing amino acid called felinine, which is unique to domestic cats and their close relatives (e.g., bobcats and lynx). Felinine itself is odorless, but it breaks down into highly volatile compounds with disgusting odors. While felinine is found in the urine of all pet cats, it’s present at much higher concentrations in the urine of intact (unneutered) males.
How to tell if your cat’s urine is normal
Unless your cat is urinating outside of the litter box — which suggests a problem in and of itself — it’ll be challenging for you to check the color and clarity of your cat’s urine and possibly the odor. That’s because today’s litter and litter boxes do an excellent job of concealing sight and smell. Normal cat urine should be clear and pale yellow to amber in color. Any change in color — which you would notice if your cat urinates on the floor or in a sink — should be reported to your veterinarian.
Probably the easiest at-home way for you to know if your cat’s urine is normal is by monitoring the frequency of urination. Most healthy adult indoor cats will urinate twice a day on average. But frequency is also affected by water intake, heat and humidity, cat food moisture level and the presence of health conditions such as kidney disease and bladder infections. You’ll want to know your cat’s normal daily urination habits so that any change from normal can be spotted. And if your cat begins urinating more or less than usual, contact your veterinarian immediately.
Many abnormal urine odors are associated with a health concern, such as bladder infection, cystitis (bladder inflammation), dehydration, diabetes or even tumors. If you smell something unusual in your cat’s litter box, you should have your cat checked over by your veterinarian. An analysis of your cat’s urine can tell your veterinarian a lot more about your pet’s health. We’ll cover that topic in a future post.
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