Feline Interstitial Cystitis – Bladder disease without the infection

Feline Interstitial Cystitis –
Bladder disease without the infection

By Dr. Ed Mapes
Stonebridge Animal Hospital
McKinney, Tx.

Urinary disorders in cats are often caused by bladder infection, urinary stones, or abnormalities of the bladder wall (urachal diverticulum). We remove bladder stones and repair wall defects surgically, and the cats usually do well afterward. We treat cases of suspected bladder infections with antibiotics that usually work; but sometimes they don’t. Some cats have recurrent bouts of symptoms, and antibiotics just don’t provide relief. These patients, in the past, were plagued by intermittent, chronic cystitis, and treatment became stymied.

We now have a handle on these cases, most of which suffer from a disorder called Feline Interstitial Cystitis (FIC). Symptoms can include straining to urinate, sometimes with only small amounts of urine produced. There may be blood in the urine, and cats sometimes begin to urinate outside of the litter box. They can lose appetites, begin to vomit, and become lethargic or more aggressive.

While infection, bladder stones, or cancer are common in older cats, those younger than two years of age are more prone to FIC.
Research has shown that stress is often a factor in these cases. Whatever mechanism is used to explain this disease, we believe that the inner lining of the cat’s bladder becomes pervious to urine, which then damages the bladder wall. This leads to inflammation, pain, and chronic signs of cystitis.

Cats are far more susceptible to the ravages of stress than many other species, and our understanding of their unique nature is important in coping with this illness. In the wild, cats are instinctive hunters, defend their home turf, and must be wary of predators. They stalk prey, rub their scent or urinate on objects to claim territory, and are free to roam their private realms and climb at will to observe their surroundings. They choose what they eat, and drink only fresh water.

Cats living indoors must adjust their natural instincts to behavior that is acceptable to owners in the home, and some are less able to adapt than others. These cats can become overwhelmed with the necessity to overcome their innate instincts, and the consequences can take a toll on them with stress that leads to physical illnesses.

Obtaining a history that includes the home environment and diet is very important when veterinarians are presented with a cat with urinary symptoms – especially in the younger cases. Seemingly (to us) insignificant changes around the home – litter pans too close to an air conditioning vent, a neighbor’s barking dog, or a new baby in the home – can trigger problems in these sensitive individuals.

There is a battery of tests at our disposal for determining causes of bladder disease, but many times young cats require only a thorough history, physical exam, and urinalysis before we decide to treat its stress instead of its bladder. We suggest changes in the environment, canned food to provide more liquid in the diet, and sometimes medications to decrease anxiety. In many cases, these changes alone will resolve the problem.

Some tips for a healthy indoor environment:

  • Physical activity and play is very important to most felines. This can include play with other cats or the owner, but it must be a daily activity.
  • Scratching posts can provide cats with activity that diminishes the need to mark territory by urinating around the house. Cats “mark” the posts by rubbing pheromones from cheek glands.
  • Dry food contains no moisture; cats with FIC must have increased consumption of liquids to help flush crystals from the bladder and prevent bladder wall irritation. Feed canned food and ensure a source of clean water.
  • Climbing is a natural activity of wild cats, and indoor cats should be able to climb as well. Provide them with avenues to safely climb.
  • Each cat should have access to private rest areas where other animals do not intrude.
  • Each cat in the home should have its own litter box in a clean, ventilated area free of odors and noise. Non-scented litter is thought to be best. These should be cleaned daily to avoid odor accumulation.
  • Food and water bowls should not be adjacent to litter pans; they should be in quiet areas where the cat will not be disturbed, and must be kept clean. Each cat should be able to choose warmer and cooler areas within the home.

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