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Urinary Tract Problems in Cats

Urinary Tract Problems in Cats Urinary tract issues in cats can be broken down into three categories:

Kidney Failure

Kidney failure is a very common disease in cats. Usually seen in older animals, this chronic and progressive disease is one of the most common causes of death in senior feline patients. These cats lose both the ability to filter out toxins in the body and to maintain hydration. As a result they accumulate toxins in the blood stream that can make them feel ill. They also lose important electrolytes like potassium, which is critical to maintaining kidney and muscle function. These cats need to drink more water to replace what they lose in excess urine production.

There are various causes for kidney failure, though most of the time it is impossible to identify one specific cause of kidney deterioration in an individual patient. Certain household items are very toxic to kidneys such as lilies, antifreeze, and ibuprofen. These must be kept safely away from animals.

Symptoms of kidney failure may include:

  • Increased water consumption and urination
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Constipation
  • Increased vomiting
  • Diminished appetite
  • Weight loss and muscle wasting
  • Lethargy or weakness


Unfortunately there is no cure for kidney failure and severity of kidney disease varies. Your veterinarian will need to run several tests in addition to a complete physical examination to identify the degree of kidney failure. These tests can help identify acute vs. chronic kidney failure, which can give a rough idea of length of time your cat has been affected and prognosis (long term expectations/outcome). Close monitoring for electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, hypertension (high blood pressure), infections, constipation, and disease process progression is necessary to help treat affected cats and keep them feeling well. There are medications and special diets that may be used to slow the disease progression and keep cats with kidney failure feeling better for longer.

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Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)

Feline lower urinary tract disease is a term for a group of urinary diseases including:

  • Urolithiasis (urinary stones)
  • Crystalluria (crystals in the urinary tract)
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Sterile cystitis (bladder wall inflammation)

There are various causes for urinary crystals and stones including: insufficient water consumption, genetics, and inappropriate diets. Sterile cystitis is a disease that is not completely understood, and often stress may be a strong trigger for this problem. Urolithiasis, crystalluria and sterile cystitis are usually seen in younger animals. Other diseases like diabetes and kidney failure in older cats will enhance the probability of bacterial urinary tract infections.

FLUTD can also develop into a urethral obstruction, or the inability to urinate, which is a life threatening condition usually effecting male cats. These cats will strain to urinate without producing urine. If this condition is suspected call your Veterinarian immediately.

Symptoms of lower urinary tract disease:

  • Frequent trips to the litter box
  • Straining to urinate (straight back)
  • Bloody urine
  • Urinating small volumes
  • Over grooming the genital area
  • Vocalizing while trying to urinate
  • Urinating outside the litter box


First, the underlying urinary tract problem must be identified to determine proper treatment, and this is not always easy. A urine analysis is required to start and depending on your cat’s physical examination additional tests like x-rays, ultrasound, urine bacterial culture may also be necessary.

Prescription diets may be needed to help prevent recurrence of stones and crystals in affected animals. Antibiotics if there is a bacterial urinary tract infection. Increasing the cat’s water consumption is crucial regardless of the cat’s diagnosis. One way this may be done is by feeding appropriate canned or pouched foods or prescription diets that increase water consumption. Many cats prefer fresh running water and electric water fountains with charcoal filters (Drinkwell fountain) may be found in pet stores.

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Behavioral Causes of Inappropriate Urination

After medical problems have been ruled out, behavioral causes need to be looked for to identify why a cat is urinating outside of the box. The most common of these are territory marking and litter box aversion.

Territorial urination can be a complex issue and is most often seen in multi-cat households. To try and figure out why this is happening, a thorough discussion with the cat’s Veterinarian will be necessary. Details like exactly where and when this is happening, and how cats interact are crucial to getting to the root cause and coming up with a treatment plan. Sometimes medications can help, though these are not a replacement for behavioral modification techniques. The more cats there are within a household, the higher the probability that inappropriate urination will be a problem. Synthetic pheromones, Feliway, may be suggested by your Veterinarian to calm cats and reduce the desire to mark.

Litter box aversion occurs when there is something about the litter box that the cat finds distasteful. Examples of this are boxes that are soiled, old plastic boxes that have developed a bad odor, or locations that are loud or highly trafficked. Most cats prefer uncovered boxes replaced every 6 months that are scooped at least once a day and filled with a fine textured (clumping) litter. Litter boxes should be emptied, cleaned, and refilled every 1–2 weeks, this will make the litter box more appealing and cut down on odor development. Odor granules and baking soda, which are used to manage litter odor, may be distasteful to cats. If there is a problem with animals soiling outside of clean litter boxes, provide options – different types of boxes and litters – to see what is preferred and then use that litter. Be careful not to put boxes near loud machinery that turns on/off or high house traffic locations as the noise and activity can scare cats away. Multi cat households should have multiple boxes (one per cat plus one extra) that do not have a common access point that may be guarded by one cat.

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