Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Stress Linked to Feline Lower Urinary Tract Diseases

Pet Column for the week of October 19, 2009

Related information:

Related site - Cornell Feline Health Center
Related site - Ohio State University Indoor Cat Initiative

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Ashley Mitek
Information Specialist

Source - Dr. Julie K. Byron, DVM, MS
You might blame your teenager for your ulcer, or even your high blood pressure, but researchers now know that stress can cause many medical problems for companion animals, too. One of the most frustrating disorders veterinarians commonly treat in cats is feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), which is the broad term for diseases including, urinary stones, urethral obstructions and cystitis (inflammation of the bladder). Despite years of research, experts still do not know what causes the mysterious disease.

Dr. Julie Byron is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana. She says that "although we do not completely understand the disease, we believe it is related to an increased sensitivity to stress." Flare-ups of the disorder also seem to be brought on by high anxiety levels. Interestingly, a virus or bacterial infection does not cause FLUTD. Instead, experts blame it on an inflammatory process gone awry.

To diagnose the disease and rule out a different disorder your veterinarian may run blood work, a urinalysis, a urine culture, and look for stones with an ultrasound or an X-ray. If, at the conclusion of all of those tests, your feline friend is suspected of having FLUTD, environmental modification to decrease stress levels may be recommended.

So what could possibly be stressing out your pussycat? For starters, a multi-cat household could be to blame. "Cats are not pack animals," says Dr. Byron. Cats that live with other cats are more likely to develop FLUTD than those that live in a single-cat family.

Litter boxes can also be a significant stress point for our feline friends. "Cats will usually present with urinating outside of the litter box, crying and straining while urinating, and they typically groom their genitals frequently since they are painful," notes Dr. Byron. To help make sure your cat has the most stress-free powder room, there are a few simple steps to try:

  • Make sure you have enough litter boxes for your cats. The rule is one litter box for each cat plus one. So a two-cat household should have a minimum of three litter boxes.
  • Try different litter box sizes and styles. Some cats may object to the hooded variety.
  • Test different types of kitty litter to see what your cat prefers.

Despite your best efforts to redecorate and rearrange to your feline friends liking, clinical signs of FLUTD may still persist. Another step Dr. Byron recommends is "to try and increase water intake to dilute out the particles that may be irritating to the bladder wall." Buying a water fountain or feeding wet food may help. Pain medications for the painful urination and anti-anxiety drugs may also be necessary. But Dr. Byron cautions owners that once an anti-anxiety regimen is initiated, you cannot abruptly stop.