Cystitis in Cats

Portrait of cat sitting on table at vet clinic
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Cystitis can be a serious problem in cats so it is nothing to be ignored. Longterm management and short term treatment of cystitis is available for your cat but it's important for cat owners to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of this urinary issue. Knowing what to look for can help you get your cat the help it needs.

What Is Cystitis in Cats?

Cystitis is the inflammation of the urinary tract of a cat. It is also known as Feline Idiopathic or Interstitial Cystitis (FIC), Pandora Syndrome, Feline Urologic Syndrome (FUS), Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD), or Feline Idiopathic Lower Urinary Tract Disease (iFLUTD). This problem affects the bladder and urethra of a cat and makes it difficult, if not sometimes impossible, to urinate due to the inflammation and discomfort associated with it.

Cats with cystitis can exhibit a variety of symptoms that can also be an indication of other urinary tract issues in cats. While some symptoms of cystitis are purely bothersome to a cat owner, others are an indication of a life threatening issue. This is why it is extremely important to know what cystitis signs to watch for in your cat.

Signs of Cystitis in Cats

  • Crying when urinating
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Difficulty or straining while urinating
  • Small stream or interrupted stream of urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Abnormal smelling urine
  • Urinating outside of the litter box
  • Abnormally cloudy urine
  • Gritty urine
  • Excessive licking at the genitals
  • Inability to urinate
  • Large and firm bladder

The signs of cystitis involve your cat's urinations so any abnormal litter box behavior may be a sign of this issue. An increase in how often your cat urinates can be determined by more urine clumps in the litter box if you scoop it regularly and can be a beginning symptom of cystitis. As cystitis worsens, your cat may cry when it is urinating due to pain or discomfort and strain while squatting to urinate. Small squirts of urine may come out instead of a steady stream while your cat is urinating as the cystitis worsens until it is physically unable to urinate. As cystitis worsens, the inflammation prevents the urine from leaving the bladder and a cat is said to be "blocked." This is a life threatening issue requiring immediate veterinary attention. A "blocked" cat will have a large, firm bladder that is often able to be seen or felt in your cat's abdomen.

Other signs of cystitis include blood in the urine, an abnormally foul smell to the urine, cloudy or gritty urine indicating the prescence of crystals or small stones in the bladder, excessive licking and attention paid to the urinary tract opening, and most noticeably, urinating outside of the litter box. This inappropriate urination may be next to the box, on a sofa, a plastic bag, a clothes pile, or anywhere your cat sees fit to pee.

Causes of Cystitis in Cats

Most of the time, the reason why a cat develops cystitis is unknown. This is why it is often referred to as idiopathic which means an unknown cause. Stress, anxiety, other diseases, urinary tract infections, bladder stones, urinary tract tumors, and other things may all play a role in the develpment of cystitis. Some studies have shown that cats with cystitis also have low levels of a component of the cartilage in the bladder wall called glycosaminoglycans but the root cause of this is still a mystery.

Diagnosing Cystitis in Cats

The signs of cystitis are often obvious in a cat but a veterinarian will often run some tests to ensure there isn't an underlying disease that is contributing to the cystitis. X-rays, urine tests, ultrasounds, and even blood work may be recommended for your cat.

Treatment of Cystitis in Cats

Cystitis is first treated symptomatically to ensure your cat is able to urinate. If your cat is "blocked" and unable to pee, this is an emergency situation that will require immediate veterinary attention to "unblock" your cat. This will involve a urinary catheter, sedation and/or anesthesia, and sometimes a procedure called a cystocentesis which involves withdrawing urine out of the bladder using a needle and syringe. Pain medications, anti-inflammatories, and other drugs may be needed to help keep your cat comfortable. Close monitoring of your cat's vital signs will be necessary and IV fluids may also be administered. It may be hospitalized for several days with and then without the urinary catheter to ensure it can pee on its own before going home.

If your cat isn't blocked but has cysitis, various medications are often used to help your cat be able to urinate by decreasing inflammation, pain, stress, and spasms in the urinary tract. If crystals, stones, or bacteria are present in the urine, special diets, antibiotics, and other recommendations may be made by your veterinarian to help support your cat's urinary system.

How to Prevent Cystitis in Cats

Managing stress and anxiety is the most common way to help prevent cystitis. While no one fully understands what causes it, cystitis is often noted to go hand in hand with a stressed kitty. A variety of things can cause stress in your cat so the first thing you should do is figure out what your cat is stressed about. Then managing that stress can be done by utilizing medications, special diets, supplements, pheromones, distraction techniques, and sometimes changing things in the environment such as litter box placement and litter type. Some veterinarians also recommend encouraging water intake with the use of water fountains for cats and administering oral glycosaminoglycans such as sodium chondroitin sulfate to help keep your cat's bladder healthy.