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Your Cat's Urinary Tract Health and Litter Box Problems

There is often a Connection Between the Two

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Most healthy indoor cats would prefer to use a clean litter box than the floor, because the cat litter resembles the sand or dirt they would use outdoors to cover their waste. Covering waste is an ingrained habit to keep predators from following their spoor.

However, a cat who is experiencing pain and burning when passing urine may associate that pain with the box, and urinate elsewhere. It is the first cause to eliminate when trying to deduce the reason for the cat's peeing outside the box. The second possible cause to eliminate is the cleanliness of the litter box itself.

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disorder (FLUTD)

Bubba, Who Almost Died From FLUTD
Photo Credit: © Franny Syufy

FLUTD is not a disease in of itself, but is a collection of symptoms, which added together can lead to a diagnosis and treatment. Symptoms may include:

  • Straining to urinate
  • Meowing or crying while in the litter box
  • Excessive licking of the genitals
  • Blood in the urine
  • Urinating outside the box
The first three symptoms are evidence that urinating is painful for the cat. Blood in the urine may or may not be visible to the eye, but can be detected with a urinalysis. Urinating outside the box, coupled with the other symptoms, is a sure indication that the cat is avoiding the box because he is associating it with the painful urination.

FLUDT is always the first cause to eliminate for out-of-the-box "accidents," and signals a veterinary emergency.

Cystitis in Cats

Bubba didn't use a litter box, so we missed the symptoms of cystitis
Photo Credit: © Franny Syufy

Cystitis is closely related to FLUTD, but can also involve the bladder, as crystals in the urethra collect to form stones, which may eventually block the opening between the urethra and the bladder. Crystals can also form within the bladder and cause irritation and infection. The symptoms of cystitis are easier to recognize with indoor-only cats who are accustomed to using a litter box. In fact, one of the clues that a cat may have cystitis is that he suddenly avoids the litter box in favor of other areas of the house. The pain and discomfort of cystitis is such that cats will associate it with the litter box, thus avoiding it.

Symptoms of cystitis should be considered a veterinary emergency, and immediate treatment should be sought.

The Importance of Urine pH to Your Cat's Health

Cat food manufacturers used to brag about "low ash content" in their foods, a statement which is now disallowed by the FDA on cat food labels. Why? Because ash is only the residue left by the body's burning of minerals in the diet. It is now recognized that the targeted pH in cats' urine is the important factor, and responsible manufacturers of pet food are developing formulas to help keep a cat's urine pH to the desirable range: generally agreed to be from 6.0 to 6.5.

The targeted urinary pH in cat food is so important that in my opinion ALL cat food manufacturers should disclose it in clear print on their products. It is important to know that the pH of the cat food itself is different than the targeted urinary pH the food aims for.

Cat Food to Correct Urinary Problems?

Wellness Core Grain-Free Cat Food
Photo Credit: Courtesy of PriceGrabber

A reader has a one year cat who she wants to protect against FLUTD, although she does not refer to any signs or symptoms of a current problem. She prefers to feed dry food and I suggested she also feed canned with the idea of making a complete switch to canned gradually.

Targeted urinary pH is still of prime importance along with some minerals. Some manufacturers recognize that importance and disclose those numbers, either on the product bag or on their web sites. Innova EVO is one, and its targeted pH level is around 6.2 to 6.4. Wellness CORE publishes a 3-point program for urinary health on its web site by targeting a urine pH of 6.1 to 6.6, limiting magnesium in the diet, and adding cranberries for urinary tract health.

Dirty Litter Box = Out of the Box Urinating

Scooping Waste Into 1-gallon Zip-Lock Bag
Photo Credit: © Franny Syufy

You wouldn't want to use a filthy public toilet, and your cat will snub his nose at an overflowing litter box in favor of a nice clean laundry hamper, rug, or the middle of your bed (often on your side). A quick scoop and a promise just won't cut it.

This step-by-step- illustrated tutorial will guide you through the process, and give your cat one less reason to urinate outside the box. There are a couple of extra steps necessary if your cat has recently had radioactive iodine therapy. Federal law has mandatory requirements for the disposal of radioactive cat waste, and there are large penalty fines for violating this law. I have created a special method of handling this waste to comply with both federal law and California law (my state.)

Perfect Litter Alert Monitors Urinary pH

Perfect Litter Alert cat litter contains special granules which turn various shades of pink to magenta red when a cat's urinary pH is out of the normal range. Cat urine should normally be acidic, ideally between 6.0 and 6.5 pH. Since strees, or a change in the cat's food can cause the pH to increase temporarily, Perfect Litter Alert uses a urine pH of 7.2 as an indication that a veterinary appointment is immediately indicated. The packaging of the Perfect Litter Alert has a patented "Wellness Alert System" color indicator on the side, which can be used to gauge the color of the urine clumps. Extreme humidity can also affect the color of the urine clumps, and in communities with extremely hard water, the flushed clumps may change color.

Kit4Cat - Hydrophobic Litter Box Sand for Urine Collection and Analysis

Dr. Janet Crosby, About.com Guide to Veterinary Medicine, has written a review of Kit4Cat, which is a specialty cat litter used for collecting urine for laboratory testing. The traditional method of collecting a clean sample, i.e., urine not degraded by external dirt, hair, or bacteria, is to inject a sterile needle directly into the bladder. Not surprisingly, this method contributes to the pain and stress of a cat, whereas the Kit4Cat method is non-invasive.

Clean urine samples are usually used for monitoring cats with diabetes mellitis, kidney failure, including chronic renal failure and acute renal failure, and other urinary tract problems, so Kit4Cat serves a valuable purpose in helping veterinary personnel, cats, and their owners.

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