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Everything you need to know about cystitis in cats

Black and white kitten in litter box advice
© Shutterstock

Is your cat peeing more often, crying out when using the litter box and seems unsettled? They may have feline interstitial cystitis - here’s everything you need to know about cystitis in cats

By Alice Lang

We all know how painful bladder or urinary infections are - ouch! Unfortunately, cystitis is actually quite common in cats, too.

When a cat’s bladder becomes inflamed, it can become painful to urinate and there might even be blood present in the urine. Poor kitty!

Thankfully, in most cases, the condition is very easy to treat and prevent with some simple home tactics and remedies.

What is feline interstitial cystitis?

cystitis in cats Nooo, not cystitis... it hurts! ©Pexels
 

“Feline cystitis is a nonmalignant inflammatory condition, which occurs frequently in cats. The disease appears to be self-limiting in cats, with clinical signs subsiding within 1 week to 10 days” says Alleice Summers in Common Diseases of Companion Animals.

Cystitis in cats is basically an inflammation of the bladder. Fortunately, it’s not a serious health concern and normally clears up on its own accord. However, it can be extremely uncomfortable for your cat. We’d advise you to head to the vet if your cat is struggling, as the symptoms of cystitis are similar to those of serious bladder infections.

Feline cystitis is far more common in younger cats than older. If your cat suffers from regular bouts of cystitis, you’ll probably find the conditions resolves as your cat grows older. However, elderly cats sometimes develop cystitis due to existing conditions such as kidney disease.

Causes of cystitis in cats

The medical cause of feline interstitial cystitis remains a mystery. Unlike dogs and humans, cats with cystitis don’t tend to have bacteria in their urine whilst suffering from cystitis.

So what actually causes a cat urinary infection? It’s widely believed that the biggest trigger is stress. Anxiety, fear or stress can cause a protective layer of the bladder to become patchy. Then, once urine hits the bladder tissue, inflammation occurs, causing cystitis.

Sometimes, owners can pinpoint a stressful event which could have triggered the cystitis flare-up. Indoor cats who share their home with other animals are also at risk.

If your cat has a dry food diet, they may be more prone to cystitis. There’s barely any water in dry food, and it’s also chockablock with bladder-irritating minerals. Wet food has a much higher water content, so you might want to make the switch. Overweight cats are also more prone to the condition.

Symptoms of cystitis in cats

Cystitis in cats causes inflammation and irritation of the lower urinary tract, so the signs and symptoms you can expect are:

  • Blood in urine or pinkish urine
  • Pain when urinating
  • Inappropriate urination (floors, furniture, bathtub)
  • More frequent urination
  • Small volumes of urine
  • Licking the urinary opening
  • Straining in the litter box
  • Reduced appetite
  • Mood changes

Complications of cystitis in cats

cystitis in cats Your cat might strain to pee, but not be able to go ©Shutterstock
 

Feline interstitial cystitis in itself isn’t a life-threatening condition - in fact, it normally causes absolutely no long-term harm. However, the straining to pee which is involved in the condition can actually be a sign that cystitis has lead to something more serious.

Cystitis can cause a secondary condition, where a blockage occurs in the urethra, preventing urine from passing through. This is often referred to by vets as ‘blocked’ and is far more common in male than female cats.

If left untreated, a blockage can be fatal. If you see your cat consistently straining to pee, with nothing actually coming out, it’s time to head to the vet immediately. A procedure called a urinary catheter may be needed to clear the blockage.

Treatment for cystitis in cats

If your cat has had a bout of cystitis, it will likely clear up on its own. You can help your cat at home by getting rid of any dry food and encouraging them to drink more water by adding a few drops to their meals (more on this later).

However, if your cat is clearly in pain, you should still take them to the vets.

Your vet may run some tests to rule out any other infections or conditions - this could be a physical exam, a urine analysis or a blood test. If cystitis is to blame, the normal outcome is a pain medication or anti-inflammatories, and in some cases antibiotics, on an outpatient basis.

Home remedies and prevention of cystitis in cats

There are a few things you can do at home to relieve a cat urinary infection. If your cat is prone to bouts of cystitis, you should continue this regime once the flare-up has resolved, to prevent another bout from occuring.

Increase water intake

Add water to cat food, whether it is dry or canned. Start slowly, and proceed as your pet’s appetite permits. Place water next to the food. Some animals prefer a full, shallow dish; others seem to like reaching down into a container,” explains Douglas H.Slatter in Textbook of Small Animal Surgery.

“Add ‘wet’ foods to your pet’s food, like water-packed tuna or clam juice. Another option is to try a ‘pet fountain’ that can be purchased from pet stores.”

“Or, make ice cubes out of meat or fish broth. Bring the contents of a 6-ounce can of tuna or salmon, or a cup of ground meat, to the boil in 2 cups water, simmer for 10 minutes, and strain through cheesecloth into an ice tray. A broth cube added to your pet’s water bowl will flavour it and increase water intake in some cats.”

Reduce stress

cystitis in cats Cats love hideaway spots! ©JANNIK SELZ on Unsplash
 

The impact that stress and anxiety can have on a cat is intense. If your cat is suffering from recurrent bouts of cystitis, have a think about what could be causing them to feel stressed.

Cats are creatures of routine, so anything outside this could make an impact. Keep things consistent - feed them at the same time each day, and let them in and out at the same times each day. If you’re getting a new pet, introduce them to your cat slowly.

Make sure you’ve got some cosy hideaway spots for your cat to rest - this can make a huge difference! It doesn’t have to cost the earth - a soft blanket placed under a table or in the corner is all you’ll need. Baskets or boxes filled with cosy materials are a great option, too. When your cat wants to be left alone, leave them be.

You should also ensure that your cat’s food bowls, water bowl and litter tray are easily accessible to them, but not to other animals. Some cats can even become stressed by eating next to a window - keep it private.

Switch up their diet

If your cat eats a lot of dry food and suffers from cystitis, it’s a good idea to gradually transition them over to wet food. As previously mentioned, wet food contains much more water than dry, which will help to keep your kitty healthy and hydrated. The higher the moisture content of the food, the better - check the labels!