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Preventing Urinary Tract Disease in Cats

While genetic factors play a prominent role in whether or not a particular feline may develop urinary tract disease, understanding the reasons why cats as a species carry a markedly increased risk of urinary tract disease in comparison to other mammalian species [already established in my last post], there are steps feline owners can take to reduce the prevalence of urinary tract disease.

Our first concern is diet.  As per my previous post, feline diets, both canned and dry alike, have ash.  Ash is the inorganic mineral content left behind in the food after it has been heated.  Ash is an important consideration with regard to the urinary health of cats, as the ash can lead to fluctuations in urinary pH outside of the ideal physiological range of 6.2 – 6.4.  High urine pH predisposes to infection, as well as the precipitation of struvite crystals.  Low urine pH can lead to the precipitation of calcium oxalate crystals.  The passage of urinary crystals irritate the lining of the urinary tract, as well as over time bind together to form stones.

While I am not a proponent of the feeding of raw meat due to the risk for raw meat bacterial food poisoning and intestinal parasites, we can eliminate the potential problems associated with ash content by choosing pet food manufactures that balance mineral content to promote ideal physiological urine pH.  Do not be fooled by so many diets out there that claim that the diet “promotes urinary tract health” or makes claims of having low ash content.  The pet food industry is by in large unregulated.  There is no regulatory agency that holds pet food manufacturers accountable for substantiating claims on the labels of their products.

As such, it is best to stick with reputable pet food companies that have well established names to protect.  Generally, pet food companies that are not just involved in the manufacture of commercial diets, but also manufacture prescription veterinary therapeutic diets tend to be among the best choice.  Since even these companies are not all created equal, it is still best to ask your veterinarian what manufacturers he/she favors [I generally do not get involved in promoting individual brands in my blog].

The next consideration is promoting overall health through yearly well visits to have physical examinations, stool analysis for intestinal parasites, and inspection of the teeth.  If your veterinarian recommends a dental cleaning, do not hesitate to have it done.  There is a direct correlation of chronic periodontal disease and kidney and lower urinary tract disease.

Another commonly overlooked health concern in cats is obesity.  Obesity leads to stress on every organ system of the body including the kidneys and lower urinary tract.  Stress leads to break down in overall organ function and predisposes to disease.  Fat folds that commonly cover the genitalia in obese patients increase the potential for ascending urinary tract infections.

Stress may play a role in feline urinary tract health.  If you have a particular “scaredy cat,” who spend his/her time hiding a lot, may be skittish or frightens easily from loud noises, it may contribute to all manner of disease, as chronic stress is known to reduce overall health.  In particular, male cats between the ages of 3-10 years of age commonly develop a lower urinary tract disease that involves painful episodes of inflammation of apparent unknown cause, called idiopathic cystitis.  Stress is believed to play a significant role in the physiology of this disease, as more often than not, these kitties tend to be high stress cats, and many respond to treatment with anti-anxiety medications, such as amitriptyline or Prozac.

Stress reduction can be accomplished by engaging with the cat, such as laser pointer chasing or kitty toys.  Providing them window platforms where they can lay and look outside and observe their outdoor surroundings is another common way to reduce stress, as is kitty exercise towers that can be purchased at pet stores (I call them kitty jungle gyms).

If these techniques do not help, you can try natural stress reduction by placing feline plug in diffusers that produce a calming feline pheromone in the air (these detectable to the feline olfactory system, but are not datable by humans).

Finally, encourage water intake.  By their nature having been descended from desert creatures, cats generally are not big drinkers.  This trait may have made their ancestors well adapted for life in the desert, but it is not well suited for a healthy urinary tract in the modern domestic feline.

The old saying, “you can bring a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink,” applies even more so with cats.  You can refresh a cat’s water hourly and still may not entice them to drink.  Sometimes you can encourage water intake by using a water bowl with a kitty water fountain…something about these types of bowls that create flowing water, makes the water more attractive to some cats.

While I generally like cats to be fed a dry kibble diet for the dental health benefits, for cats that have shown a predisposition to urinary tract disease, I prefer a canned diet, because the moisture content effectively also increases their water intake.  I will often take it a step further and have the owners add water to the canned diet and make it as soupy as the cat will tolerate…again, helping to maximize water intake.

This post is about general guidelines to promote healthy feline urinary tracts, but sometimes despite our best efforts, disease still occurs.  As such, if you suspect urinary tract disease in your cat despite doing all the right things to prevent I, do not hesitate to get your kitty to the veterinarian.

Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital and CEO/Chief Editor of the veterinary information and blog online community, Web-DVM.

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