Lower urinary tract disease is common in cats. Young to middle-aged felines are most often affected, showing signs of painful urination (straining or yowling), bloody urine, frequent urination or pottying anywhere but the litter box. Cats may also overgroom their lower bellies, presumably in response to pain in the area.
In most cases, no obvious cause can be found, and a diagnosis is made of feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), or inflammation of the urinary bladder with no identifiable cause.
It’s believed that multiple factors may contribute to FIC. Signs are often self-limiting, meaning they resolve on their own without treatment within five to ten days. Cats may have other episodes throughout the year, and a few may have chronic issues.
Stress is an important factor
On the surface, your cat may not seem stressed, but just about anything can make them anxious. A new baby or pet in the household, or workers in their environment. A change in your work schedule. Conflict with other cats in the house. Separation anxiety when you leave. Or any number of litter box factors the cat finds unsuitable: It’s not clean enough, the litter contains too much perfume, it’s located in a high-traffic area and other issues. So, what can you do to help?
Promote urinary health
If your cat has had urinary issues, the goal is to minimize stress and reduce the severity and frequency of these episodes. Here’s what you can do to help:
- Check in with your veterinarian. If your cat is showing signs of lower urinary tract disease, visit your veterinarian to make sure your cat doesn’t have a bacterial infection, crystals or stones, or other issues that can be easily resolved. For cats with chronic FIC, the doctor may recommend a medication to help reduce pain.
- Keep your cat at a healthy weight. Felines who are overweight or get little exercise are more likely to experience FIC.
- Reduce stress with pheromones. Cats rub their cheeks and paw pads on surfaces to leave their scent there to provide a sense of security. Products like Feliway, which is a synthetic version of the cat’s facial pheromone, are thought to boost emotional stability. Spraying pheromones on soiled areas and on vertical surfaces may discourage urinary accidents and encourage more cheek rubbing.
- Feed a diet that promotes urinary tract health. Ideally, the food should help produce dilute urine with a neutral pH. Encouraging your cat to drink more may also help: add water to the food, feed canned food that has a higher moisture content, or use an enticing water-fountain-style water dish.
- Provide a sanctuary. Cats need a quiet place where they can escape from children, dogs and other cats. They especially like to rest in elevated nooks, shelves and the perches of cat trees.
- Make sure there are plenty of resources. Cats in multi-pet households can compete for resources such as food bowls, water stations, litter boxes and resting places, which can create stress. Make sure there are enough resources for everyone.
- Provide environmental enrichment to prevent boredom. That means cats should have opportunities to climb, scratch, play and interact. See which kinds of toys your cat prefers and rotate them to keep things interesting. Food puzzles can also engage your cat’s mind and promote exercise.
- Let your cat express their natural prey drive. Use toys such as feather wands or wind-up mice that bring out the predator in your cat. You can even split your cat’s meal up into small portions and hide it around the house, so they have to “hunt” for it. A perch near a window or a “catio” (a fenced-in cat patio), can enable them to watch birds and squirrels in the yard.
- Provide daily, one-on-one human interaction. Cats are creatures of habit, and they prefer routine, consistent interactions rather than unpredictable schedules. Take time to love up your cat each day.
- Tend to the litter box. Make sure you have one litter box for every cat in the household, plus one more. Place boxes in easy-to-access but low traffic areas. Cats tend to prefer scoopable litter with little or no scent. The litter should be scooped at least once a day.
By minimizing stress and enriching your cat’s environment, you may be able reduce or eliminate further episodes of FIC. And that should make you and your cat very happy.