One of the most common conditions affecting cats is problems with their urinary system. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) is a group of diseases affecting about 1 in 25 cats. It comprises many different conditions such as cystitis and urinary stones.
As with many diseases, urinary tract disease can be affected by diet. In this article we’ll explore how your cat’s diet and feeding habits can impact on their urinary health.
- 1 Which urinary conditions affect cats?
- 2 How Does Diet Affect Urinary Disease?
- 3 Which diets help urinary disease?
Which urinary conditions affect cats?
Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) is a range of diseases affecting the lower urinary tract of cats. The lower urinary tract includes the bladder and urethra (the tube that takes urine from the bladder and empties it into the litter tray), and as such the diseases affecting this area include:
- Cystitis, or inflammation of the bladder. In cats this is usually ‘idiopathic’ or without known cause
- Urinary tract infections – although these are rare in cats and commonly occur secondary to another problem such as kidney disease or diabetes
- Bladder and urethral stones and/or crystals
- Urethral spasm – sudden closure of the urethra due to muscle spasm
- Urethral plugs – a thick plug of mucus that blocks the urethra and stops it from emptying the bladde
Please note that many of these conditions are at the least painful and can even be fatal in some scenarios, so we strongly advise visiting your veterinarian and getting treatment if you suspect any of these conditions.
Cats are also prone to diseases of the upper urinary tract, most commonly kidney failure. One in three cats will get kidney failure, properly called ‘chronic renal insufficiency’ or ‘chronic kidney disease’. Again, this can make cats very ill, and whilst your veterinarian cannot fix the disease, they can help you to manage it, so we recommend a trip there first.
How Does Diet Affect Urinary Disease?
Diet effect on crystals and stones
Your cat’s diet affects the acidity of their urine. It also affects exactly what is dissolved in the urine, and the dilution of the urine. Concentrated urine with lots dissolved in it is more likely to allow stones and crystals to form. Crystals and stones also form better in acidic or alkali environments, depending on the type of crystal, and the food your cat eats is what dictates how acidic the urine is.
Diet, obesity and urinary tract disease
Cats that are overweight or obese are significantly more likely to suffer with urinary tract problems. This occurs for a few different reasons, from chronic inflammation throughout the body caused by excess fat to compression of the urethra by fat nearby. Cats are generally lazy, so their diet is a really important cause of obesity.
Dry cat food and urinary tract disease
Cats that are fed entirely on dry food have a higher incidence of urinary tract disease. Naturally, cats would be eating food with a moisture content of about 80%, so they’re not very good at drinking enough water.
When on a dry-food only diet, cats don’t always adapt to take in enough water and produce very concentrated urine, which increases the chance of inflammation and crystal formation. Dry food also increases the likelihood of obesity, so causes further problems for urinary disease.
Protein and phosphorus content and urinary disease
Although high levels of protein themselves aren’t a concern for urinary disease, very high levels of protein in a cat that also has renal disease is thought to be a big no-no, as this puts excess strain on the kidneys. The same goes for phosphate levels – in cats with renal disease the kidneys become less capable of controlling phosphate levels, so high levels of phosphorus can cause damage.
How feeding habits affect urinary tract disease
It’s not just about what you eat, it’s also about how you eat it – your cat’s feeding habits can impact on their risk of urinary tract disease.
Firstly, stress is a big risk factor for FLUTD, so feeding your cats in a way that reduces stress can help to reduce FLUTD. Since cats naturally feel the need to hunt for their food, using bowls and feeders that allow them to express these normal behaviours can reduce stress.
Secondly, obesity is a big risk factor, too, so using feeding habits that reduce the risk of obesity also impact on FLUTD. This includes not leaving a bowl of food down at all times, and encouraging hunting behaviours.
Which diets help urinary disease?
Reducing obesity, encouraging a stress-free environment, and increasing water intake are all things you can do to help your cat with urinary problems. But there are also specific diets that can help.
Prescription Urinary Diets
If your cat has been diagnosed with urinary crystals, your veterinarian may suggest changing the diet to one that encourages crystals to dissolve. These usually involve changing the pH of the urine, but may also contain ingredients to encourage an increased urine output – following the theory that dilute urine doesn’t produce as many crystals. It also encourages them to urinate more often, meaning the urine isn’t sitting around in the bladder for too long.
Diets that fit into this category are all prescription diets and should only be fed under the supervision of a veterinary surgeon. Examples include Hills C/D, Royal Canin Urinary SO and Purina Pro Plan UR ST/OX, although other brands and variations within these brands are available and are suitable for different conditions.
Extracts and Supplements
Contained within many of these diets, and also available separately, are supplements for bladder health. These include ingredients like glucosamine and L-tryptophan, which are believed to be important nutrients for maintaining the health of the bladder lining.
Some also contain herbal extracts known for stress-relieving properties, which play a part in reducing the stress that contributes to many of these urinary problems.
The majority of urinary issues can be helped (or hindered!) by your choice of diet, so having a good, honest chat with your vet about your cat’s diet is an excellent way to ensure you’re doing the best you can for them.
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