By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 4 April 2011)
Feline lower urinary tract disease, a common cause of house soiling in cats, may be triggered by a variety of issues.
Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), previously known as feline urologic syndrome (FUS), causes abnormal urine pH and chronic or recurrent inflammation of the urinary tract and bladder. Afflicting approximately 1.5% of all cats, it is a serious condition that can lead to life-threatening urinary obstruction (Eric Barchas, DVM).
Symptoms of FLUTD in Cats
According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, FLUTD is actually an umbrella term encompassing a number of health problems. The three most common causes of FLUTD are:
- Feline idiopathic cystitis
- Urolithiasis (urinary stones)
- Other urethral obstructions
Symptoms of FLUTD, which vary depending on the disorder involved, include the following:
- Crying during urination
- Straining to urinate
- Inability to urinate
- Frequent urination
- Blood in the urine
- Excessive licking of the genitals
- Having accidents outside the litter box
In some cats, the only signs of illness are behavioural changes such as soiling around the house or aggression.
Cats suffering from urethral obstruction will either be unable to urinate or only pass a tiny bit of urine, and are usually very distressed. Urethral obstruction is a life-threatening emergency that requires immediate veterinary care.
Non-obstructive FLUTD, by contrast, tends to resolve on its own in 5-10 days, but many afflicted cats have recurring episodes. The Feline Advisory Bureau recommends seeking treatment rather than allowing the illness to run its course, because:
- It is distressing and painful for the cat.
- It can lead to aggression, litter box avoidance, or loss of appetite
- It may develop into a life-threatening urethral obstruction.
- The risk of relapse is higher without treatment.
Causes of FLUTD
Risk factors developing feline lower urinary tract disease include:
- Age (3-7 years is the most common age range for onset, according to veterinarian Eric Barchas)
- Being overweight/lack of physical activity (indoor cats are more likely to have these risk factors)
- Eating dry, carbohydrate-rich cat food (such diets alter urine pH and are linked to both chronic dehydration and obesity)
- Stress due to multicat conflicts, routine changes, moved litter box, switch to a new litter, dietary changes, or new people or pets in the household
- Personality factors (aggression, nervousness)
- Hereditary factors (Himalayans and Persians are more commonly afflicted than cats of other breeds)
Treatment of FLUTD
Veterinary treatment and home care vary based on the underlying cause of FLUTD. Treatments that are usually effective include the following.
The most important dietary change that owners can make to reduce the risk of FLUTD is to switch from dry to wet food, though there are also prescription diets designed to alter urine pH and special supplements that may be recommended by a veterinarian. Switching cats from a high-carbohydrate to a high-protein diet is also beneficial, particularly if they are overweight.
Owners should also encourage more fluid intake by adding water to the food, placing water bowls at multiple locations around the house, or investing in a fountain-type water bowl (many cats prefer moving water).
Cats don’t cope well with change, so keeping the environment and routines as consistent as possible is beneficial, as is reducing the likelihood of conflicts in multicat households by providing each cat with his own food bowls, bed, and other items.
Litter box issues are a common cause of both house soiling and FLUTD. Providing at least one litter box for each cat (and preferably a spare as well) and keeping boxes very clean and separated from one another in quiet, low-traffic areas of the house can reduce the risk significantly. Owners should also ensure that children and other pets don’t bother cats while they use their boxes.
Other effective stress-reduction strategies include:
- Spending more quality time with the cat
- Playing with the cat using interactive toys and providing solo toys such as catnip mice to encourage hunt simulation activities
- Building or purchasing a cat tree for climbing
- Adding a window perch to a screened window for fresh air and scenery (placing a bird feeder nearby provides a bonus, as cats will enjoy the view)
Many owners have had luck relaxing their cats with catnip or feline pheromone products such as Feliway, though not all cats are responders.
Medications that a veterinarian may prescribe include:
- Pain relievers, which not only aid in pain management but also reduce stress
- Tranquilizers or antihypertensives to relax the urethra
- Tricyclic antidepressants (in extreme cases) to reduce anxiety and provide anti-inflammatory and pain-reduction benefits
- Antibiotics if the disease has been triggered by a bacterial infection
Never give your cat medication without first consulting a veterinarian.
If your cat has been urinating outside the box, in addition to treating any underlying medical problems, there are effective strategies to eliminate this behaviour. See How to Stop Cats Soiling Outside the Litter Box for more information.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for veterinary consultation and care.
- Barchas, E., DVM. (n.d.). “FLUTD/FUS (Urinary Tract Irritation in Cats).” DrBarchas.com.
- Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. (8 January 2008). “Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease.” Vet.Cornell.edu.
- Feline Advisory Bureau. (November 2008). “Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD).” Fabcats.org.
- Fox, M., B.Vet. Med., PhD, DSc, MRCVS; Hodgkins, E., DVM; & Smart, M.E., DVM, PhD. (2006). Not Fit for a Dog: The Truth About Manufactured Dog and Cat Food. Fresno, CA: Quill Driver Books.
- Nash, H., DVM. (2011). “Cystitis and Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease.” PetEducation.com.
- Plotnick, A., MS, DVM, ACVIM, ABVP. (9 February 2006). “Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD).”