Ginger cat stood on back legs

Kittens and cats are among the cleanest of animals and are very easy to litter train when young. However, you may not be aware that cats can suffer from debilitating urinary problems which can cause a great deal of pain.

As your cat cannot tell you what’s wrong, the first sign you notice may be a change in behaviour. If toileting habits change significantly the first thing you should do is arrange a check-up with the vet. Urinary problems can be serious, but the good news is that they are treatable.

Spot the signs

Problems in urinating occur most often in male cats but females can be affected too. Male cats can often develop urinary crystals or stones which block the urethra and prevent urination. This is a painful and distressing condition for the cat and is frequently life-threatening if left untreated. Here are five signs to look out for which may indicate a urinary problem:

  1. Your cat is straining to produce any urine. Straining can lead to the formation of stones.
  2. Your cat makes frequent unsuccessful attempts to wee. This can lead to a build-up of dangerous toxins within the body.
  3. You may notice your cat licking excessively at his abdomen or genitals to try and relieve the pain.
  4. There may be pink urine – an indication of blood. 
  5. Your cat may try to urinate outside the litter tray and in inappropriate places.

What are the causes of urinary problems in cats?

Our poor cats are prone to developing problems of this type and these can range from cystitis to feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) which actually comprises a range of issues including bladder stones or infections. Other causes can include:

  • Bacterial infection
  • Neoplasia (urinary tract tumours)
  • Trauma, often resulting from a road traffic accident for instance where in the severe cases the bladder can rupture
  • Anatomical defects of the urinary tract.

Sometimes no specific cause can be found however it is believed that stress can play a large part and some cats are more prone to stress than others. A stress-related urinary problem is typically one symptom in a range of stress-induced disorders, mostly relating to the digestive and urinary systems such as:

  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Skin problems like hair loss or acne. This is due to a stressed cat grooming itself excessively
  • Changes in eating habits like becoming picky over food or refusing to eat at all
  • Aggressive, anxious or avoiding behaviours like refusal to interact with people or other animals
  • Inappropriate urination or defecation in areas other than the litter box

What happens at the vets?

At the first sign that your cat is straining to pass urine or showing abnormal behaviour take him to your vet for examination and diagnosis. If possible, take a fresh urine sample with you. To collect this, you could use a special kit for collecting cat urine – your vet will be able to advise where to get one of these. 

Your vet may test the sample on the premises although sometimes they may have to send it away to a laboratory. The sample will be tested for the presence of blood, bacteria, crystals or excessive protein and the acidity will be measured. Other tests may be necessary such as blood testing, stone analysis or x-ray or ultrasound scanning. Pain relieving medications may be prescribed.

How can you help your cat?

As part of the ongoing treatment of your cat’s urinary problem and as a tool to help prevent a recurrence your vet may recommend a specific diet designed to improve urinary health. These diets are available in both wet and dry form although it is more helpful to feed the wet form to ensure your cat takes in enough water. Ensuring your cat doesn’t become obese is also advisable.

It will help greatly to reduce any stress your cat is feeling in order to minimise the incidence of him developing a urinary problem and to help during treatment. On visits to the vet take him in a secure, comfortable and covered carrier and keep him as calm as possible. In the home you could use Feliway, in spray or plug-in form, which mimics the feline scent hormone, and which is said to induce calmness. 

Place his food and water bowls in a place where he feels secure and ensure he drinks plenty of fresh water. You could try hiding some of his food so that he has to use his hunting instinct to find it. This can help to stimulate his mind and tire him out. Provide toys such as ping-pong balls or catnip mice for him to play with. Groom him regularly if he’s happy for you to do so. Place his litter tray in a private, secure spot and clean it out every day. If your cat flap is used by neighbourhood cats, consider decommissioning it or use one activated by your cat only.

Finally, allow him a quiet space away from the family and other pets; somewhere above floor level and where other cats can’t get to is preferable.