Bladder Health in Cats

Cats of any age can experience issues with their urinary tracts, and some cats are predisposed to repeat cystitis. Urinary tract issues are typically diagnosed in indoor, middle-aged male cats who are overweight and eat a dry diet, though cats of either sex and any age can experience bladder issues. It makes sense because cats evolved to get most of their hydration from their prey and did not evolve to rely on drinking a lot of water.

While chronic urinary issues can be very frustrating and concerning for a guardian, with proper diet and care, there is much hope for caring for cats with bladder issues. 

The Role The Urinary Tract Plays

The urinary tract system includes the kidneys, tubes connecting the kidneys to the bladder called ureters, the bladder, and the urethra– the tube that allows for urine to pass from the bladder out of the body. Your cat’s urinary system is broken down into the lower and upper urinary tracts. The lower urinary tract includes the bladder and urethra, and the upper urinary tract includes the kidneys and the ureters. 

Your cat’s urinary system has several critical responsibilities. First, the kidneys filter the blood and get rid of waste products that are created when food is transformed into energy. The kidneys filter the blood and remove waste. Second, the urinary tract also maintains the correct balance of water, electrolytes, and salts which are needed for the body’s cells. 

In addition to these two important functions, the kidney also produces erythropoietin and renin, which are important hormones that help maintain healthy blood pressure, produce red blood cells, and absorb salt correctly. Kidneys also ensure calcium to phosphorus balance.

Common Feline Bladder Conditions

There are numerous different urinary issues a cat can experience, and most of them are grouped under a term called Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). FLUTD actually refers to a variety of different clinical symptoms and covers a range of disorders of the urinary system from mild to serious. The signs of FLUTD are usually referred to as lower urinary tract signs. Cats with FLUTD typically show signs of difficulty and pain while urinating, increased frequency of urination, and blood in the urine. Surveys and research shows that FLUTD is the number one reason cats visit the veterinarian.

Common Causes of Bladder Issues in Cats

The domesticated cat originated from the desert cat and as such has the genetic ability to concentrate urine in the face of dehydration. When concentrating urine, the cat is also concentrating minerals that make up crystals in the urine that can eventually congregate into bladder stones. Concentrated urine is also more caustic and can lead to irritation of the bladder and urethra. 

Urinary issues may have more than one potential cause, which makes it complex to diagnose and treat. 

Some potential causes of urinary issues in cats include:

  • Poor diet with excessive intake of carbohydrates and not enough fluids
  • Dry Diet
  • Not enough fluid consumption
  • Stones, crystals, or debris building up in the urethra or bladder
  • Congenital abnormalities
  • Spinal cord problems or injuries
  • Obesity
  • Emotional or environmental stress
  • Diseases such as diabetes and hyperthyroidism

What are some symptoms of urinary tract issues?

There are a wide variety of different symptoms of urinary tract issues, but there are several signs very prominent when a cat is suffering from anything involving the urinary tract. 

Signs of urinary tract issues most commonly seen include:

  • Straining to urinate both with and without production of urine
  • Frequent trips to the litter box, both with and without production of urine
  • Urinating in places other than the litter box
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Crying or vocalization while urinating
  • Blood in the urine or cloudy urine
  • Excessive licking or grooming of the genitals
  • Squatting and straining in the litter box for long periods of time
    • This may appear to be constipation, but in many cats, it is actually straining to urinate or feeling like they need to urinate when they do not
  • Strong ammonia odor in urine or foul-smelling urine
  • Lethargy
  • Decreased appetite in some cases
  • Vomiting in some cases

How Can You Help Your Cat’s Urinary Tract?

Diet is critical in managing urinary tract issues and improving the overall health of your cat. 

Ensuring your cat has enough fluids is the number one thing you can do to help your kitty. Increased water intake leads to increased urine output which is essential for urinary tract care. Cats are used to getting most of their moisture from their food such as mice and birds. So ideally, the food they consume is moist. Feeding them a high-quality meat-based diet will hydrate them properly and ensure that the urine doesn’t become either too alkaline or too acidic.

 

For those feeding a freeze-dried, whole food diet, it’s strongly recommend you add warm water, warm bone broth, clam juice, or sardine water etc. to rehydrate the nuggets. Freeze-drying only removes the moisture so when you rehydrate it, it becomes like the original meaty ingredients it started as. The time to rehydrate can be determined by your cats’ preferences. Some cats like crunch so you can add some dry nuggets for the preferred texture. 

 

Whether you feed a freeze-dried diet, raw, or canned, remember the key is moisture, moisture, moisture. 

  

Another way to help is to ensure you provide enough litter boxes that are in accessible places. This is so your cat will have constant access to them and be less likely to hold their urine. The boxes should be kept clean and should be big enough for your cat to feel comfortable using them. Clumping (scoopable) litter will help you monitor your cat’s urine production. Any changes should be noted.  

 

Diet’s Role in Bladder Health

A Bladder Health Diet aims to nourish and hydrate the body, lower the components that make up struvite crystals, maintain proper pH, protect the bladder wall from irritation and decrease inflammation.

 

There are several important aspects of a diet suitable for a cat with urinary issues:

 

  • It should be high protein and made with mostly meat and animal-based proteins 
  • It should be high in moisture when served 
  • It should moderate the pH of the urine  
  • It should have reduced levels of calcium and phosphorus and moderate levels of magnesium 
  • It should be low in carbohydrates 
  • It should contain antioxidants 
  • It should contain healthy fats with good ratios of Omega 6: Omega 3 fatty acids 
  • It should encourage urination and protect the bladder wall 
  • Minimally processed and high quality without any artificial preservatives or synthetic ingredients  
  • Food must also be nutritionally complete, species-appropriate, and balanced, so your cat receives all the nourishment they need

All ingredients in your cat’s food should be fresh, highly bioavailable, easily digested, and highly palatable.

The Importance of Real Whole Food Nutrition in a Bladder Health Diet

In a cat with bladder issues, the goal is to protect the bladder and decrease the factors that contribute to struvite crystals. All of these goals can be accomplished with the correct proportions of whole food ingredients.  

 

The key to achieving this is a high-moisture diet with a high amount of good quality proteins, foods rich in antioxidants to reduce inflammation, and a diet balanced in vitamins and minerals to reduce crystal and urolith formation. 

 

The quality and source of protein are very important for the carnivore feline suffering from urinary issues. Clean, wholesome meats and organs are easily absorbed. Plus, it gives them needed nutrients that they can only get from meat sources, preventing nutritional imbalances. Meats also contain a lot of fluid in a form cats are designed to utilize.   

Good, quality meat like pasture-raised, cage-free chicken is an optimal protein because it contains a wide variety of vitamins, minerals, and bioavailable protein. Providing organs like chicken liver and gizzards is crucial too, because organs are basically a bioavailable multivitamin for your cat. Your cat’s digestive system is designed to absorb almost all of the muscle meats and organs. Eggs are also the perfect protein which is easily absorbed. 

 The correct blend of skeletal meats (chicken), organs (liver and gizzards), and rice can nourish the carnivore without adding excessive amounts of the elements that form crystals in the urine and stones, such as calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium. 

Small amounts of apple cider vinegar and cranberries are excellent real food additions for urinary tract inflammation. Because they are slightly acidic, they can be used to create proper pH balance in your cat’s urine and help maintain it. Proper pH, not too high and not too low, also prevents formation of crystals and uroliths. 

Omega-3 fatty acids help decrease inflammation throughout the body. All cats can benefit from them, but especially cats with chronic diseases caused by inflammation such as cystitis.  

 

Ideally, these omega-3 fatty acids will come from marine sources. Omega-3 fatty acids are some of nature’s strongest anti-inflammatories and are very important for cats. In addition to being anti-inflammatory, Omega 3s fatty acids are crucial for immune and nervous system functions.  

Ground krill is a rich source of these omega-3 fatty acids. And unlike fish oils, krill is low in the food chain that they do not accumulate toxins that can be found in larger fish.

Though cats do not have sweet taste receptors, they can still benefit from the small inclusion of fruits into their diets. Cranberries are a well-studied powerhouse of urinary tract care. The acidity of cranberries can lower the pH in your cat’s urine while also preventing bacteria from clinging to the bladder walls. Cranberries are also high in antioxidants which reduce inflammation. Blueberries are also incredibly high in antioxidants and support the body’s healing by reducing inflammation.  

Potassium chloride, lite salt, and sodium chloride, sea salt naturally moves fluids and dilutes urine by increasing urination. Plus, salts improve the overall acceptance of the diet to the neophobic cat. 

 Glucosamine helps to protect the bladder wall from the irritation of cystitis.  

B vitamins are added for extra support as they are critical in numerous cellular functions. These vitamins are essential to a healthy cat. The freeze-drying process can affect these fragile vitamins and therefore they are added back in to balance the diet.

Water helps with digestion, circulation, and other bodily processes like perfusion (movement of fluids through the organ). When water is flowing, it helps move crystals and other debris through the bladder, making a buildup less likely.

 

When you have the right nutritional framework, adding more moisture, maximizing nutrient absorption with clean, digestible proteins, and reducing excessive minerals in the cat’s diet, you not only support the proper urinary environment but minimize the likelihood of chronic urinary issues.

Note: The information provided is educational and does not represent medical advice regarding pets. Please see your vet for an accurate diagnosis of your pet’s condition.

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