This happened to us one evening several years ago when we rushed Bubba to the veterinarian, near-death from a blockage of his urethra. It was touch-and-go for over a week, but he recovered, and has been on a special diet, since then. Since Bubba is still an indoor-outdoor cat, we missed the symptoms (another good reason for cats to be kept indoors). FLUTD (formerly known as FUS) causes urination to be difficult and often painful. Cats will strain to urinate and often only produce a few drops, sometimes with blood present. The cat will also spend a great deal of time licking his genitals (a sign we missed with Bubba.) A big indication is when a previously well-trained cat suddenly stops using the litter box - because he associates it with the painful urination. Finally, as was the case with Bubba, the cat will become extremely lethargic.
FLUTD can be caused by several contributory conditions:
- Bladder Stones, AKA Uroliths: These take the form of crystals of struvite or calcium oxalate. It was once thought that excessive amounts of ash and/or magnesium in cat food was the primary cause of uroliths. Pet food manufacturers addressed this concern by developing special foods, which did decrease the incidence of struvite crystals. However, at the same time, FLUTD from oxalate crystals increased.
It is now believed that urinary pH is the key to a healthy lower urinary tract, and that an acidic urine of 6.4 or less is desirable. Again, there are many pet foods that will help attain this goal.
- Infection: Bacterial, fungal, or viral infection may be present along with uroliths, or may present as a singular cause.
- Urethral Obstruction: This is more common in male cats because their urethra is longer and narrower than that of females. Urethral obstruction commonly comes in the form of uroliths (most often struvites), or plugs, which are made of a soft compressible material composed of "variable quantities of minerals, cells and cellular debris, and mucus-like protein," according to Cornell Feline Health Center.
Urethral obstruction is a serious condition, and left untreated, can be fatal. When the normal flow of urine is obstructed, toxins build up in the blood and uremic poisoning sets in, with death resulting within 72 hours, according to some experts. It was this condition that put our Bubba in the hospital for a week.
- Idiopathic: This is a catch-all phrase from the medical community meaning "unknown cause." Idiopathic Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disorder is assumed when diagnostic tools fail to find any specific cause. Cats with IFLUTD will exhibit many of the same symptoms mentioned above.
Treatment of obstruction often consists of catherization, fluid therapy, antibiotics, and in rare cases, surgery. Home care following treatment consists mainly of a change of diet, with frequent small meals rather than just two daily, and plenty of water. And of course, watching, always watching for future symptoms.
Knowing your cat's "normal" physiology and behavior is extremely important, as is observing his behavior for any unusual variations, and following through with a veterinary examination when "red flags" present themselves. If I could name only two factors in promoting good health in cats, they would be "observation" and "diet," and urinary tract health is no exception.
Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian. This article is meant only to give you a starting place to do your own research so you can make an informed decision, should it ever become necessary. The bottom line is that when a cat displays inappropriate elimination, pain or difficulty in urinating, or any of the other symptoms mentioned above, your veterinarian needs to eliminate FLUTD as a potential cause. Please do not delay that vet appointment!