Inflammation of the bladder (cystitis) is a relatively common problem in the cat. Symptoms include frequent urination, or repeated attempts at urination with passage of only small amounts, plus difficulty and pain on urination, and blood in the urine. Other signs include urination in places other than the litter box (often the bath or shower), or behavioural changes such as depression, aggression or urine spraying. In male cats, cystitis can be a sign of a blockage of the urethra (the tube connecting the bladder to the outside), caused by tiny crystals in the urine (crystalluria). The bladder then overfills, becomes increasingly painful, causes damage to the kidneys, and unless immediately treated, actually bursts causing rapid death from toxic shock. It is therefore vital that any cat which appears unable to urinate is seen by a vet urgently.
What Is Idiopathic Cystitis?
Idiopathic cystitis is chronic recurring inflammation of the bladder for which there appears to be no apparent cause such as infection, or crystalluria. The precise cause is unclear, but factors that contribute include chronic generalised stress, low water intake, obesity, inactivity and antisocial, introverted tendencies.
My Cat’s Not Stressed Out, Is He?
Cats today live very differently from their natural ancestors. Although wild and feral cats do sometimes meet and have cat friends, they are solitary hunters who prefer to eat alone. Cats are adaptable but in many domestic situations they find the pressure of living with people and other cats quite stressful. This is especially true if there is more than one cat in the household and if these cats are not related to one another in any way. The problem is made worse if the cats are forced to share important resources such as food and litter trays. The pressure of coming together into one room in order to have set meals provided for them can be particularly stressful.
How Does Stress Affect The Bladder?
The exact effect of stress on the bladder is not fully understood, but changes seem to occur in the nerve supply to the bladder wall, which sensitise it to pain and inflammation. The bladder’s protective lining loses its ‘waterproofing’ which means that urine, which is an irritant, penetrates the wall, worsening the inflammation.
Is There A Cure For This Condition?
Unfortunately there is no permanent cure, but the goal of treatment is to reduce the frequency of recurrences. A number of measures are recommended which can include the following:
• A wet food diet and more water intake
It’s A ‘Guy’ Thing, More Often Than Not …
Owners of male cats especially need to remain vigilant to ensure that their pets are able to urinate and to seek emergency veterinary treatment if they are in doubt. Cats fed sachet or tinned food have an overall higher water intake, particularly in the hotter summer months. However, the acidity of the urine, which affects crystal formation, can be related to the type of diet, and your vet may recommend a specialised ‘prescription’ food (wet or dry) for your cat.
Whatever your cat’s food, you should encourage water intake. Offer water at several locations, preferably not next to food, as hunters don’t naturally drink and eat at the same time, and preferably in a dog-size drinking bowl, as some cats don’t like their whiskers touching the sides.
You may not think your cat is stressed, but those who show the least signs may feel stress most. A cat’s natural response to a difficult situation is to hide or run away, so offering more hiding places, such as cardboard boxes placed on their side, can help. Cats like to sit on high places to watch over their territory, so provide shelves, or make the tops of pieces of furniture available for your cat. Increase their privacy by making sure that food bowls and litter trays are placed in locations free from disturbance, but not close to each other.Providing toys that require the cat to perform natural hunting behaviours can also help to relieve stress. Food can be concealed in boxes with holes in the side into which the cat has to insert a paw, or can be placed in containers such as small plastic bottles with holes in the side, which the cat can knock around so that food pieces fall out. Cats, like many other animals, are experts at producing scent communication signals, or pheromones. Synthetic forms of these chemicals are available and can be helpful to in making your cat feel more secure. The alternative is to rub a cloth round your cat’s head and chin, and then use it at cat height to mark the sort of prominent things that cats normally rub round.
Going The Medication Route …
Analgesics and antispasmodics are commonly prescribed to treat episodes of idiopathic cystitis. Steroids are sometimes given to reduce inflammation. In the longer term, capsules or injections of a substance that the body can use to manufacture the waterproofing layer of the bladder lining are also used. In cases where cats are found to be stressed by factors in their environment, specific antidepressant or anxiolytic drugs may be prescribed to aid in stress reduction. Medication is often tailored for the individual cat depending on what works best, and after initial diagnosis and treatment, may be administered on an ad hoc basis as and when the condition flares up again.Once again, if you’re at all concerned about your cat or his behaviour, don’t hesitate to visit your vet.