FLUTD: A Common Feline Emergency

Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is a syndrome with multiple conditions that can affect the urinary bladder and urethra of cats.

There are two categories of FLUTD: obstructive and nonobstructive. Although the condition has many different causes, affected cats usually exhibit similar clinical signs. These include straining to urinate, urinating frequently, producing small amounts of urine, urinating in abnormal locations, blood in the urine, and vocalizing during urination due to pain and discomfort.

Nonobstructive FLUTD can progress to the obstructive form, in which case more serious signs of systemic illness may be observed, including vomiting, poor appetite, dehydration and lethargy, or decreased activity. In most cases, the exact cause of FLUTD is difficult to identify. Contributing factors include bladder stones, urinary crystals, and urinary tract infections.

Obstructive FLUTD most commonly occurs in male cats because of the small diameter of their urethras. Urethral plugs, the most common cause, may contain inflammatory cells, cellular debris, tissue that has sloughed off of the lining of the lower urinary tract, and crystals. Urethral plugs usually consist of a combination of these materials. Inflammation within the urethral wall then contributes to the obstructive process.

If signs of FLUTD are not detected early and carefully monitored, then the syndrome can lead to complete urinary obstruction-a medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary care. Cats left untreated will become systemically ill from the buildup of toxins in the body, and acute renal failure -a life-threatening disease -can occur. Another complication of an obstruction to urinary outflow is filling of the bladder with urine to the extent that the bladder tears, allowing urine to leak into the body cavity. This causes an overwhelming inflammation of the abdominal space and is also life-threatening. Emergency care may include IV fluid therapy, anesthesia to place a urinary catheter, medication to reduce urethral inflammation and spasms and improve bladder function, and close monitoring of urinary output. In some cases, nutritional support may be required.

There are many ways to help prevent or control FLUTD. Special diets may be formulated to create an environment in the bladder that helps to reduce crystal formation. Sufficient hydration is also important. Always provide your cat with access to clean, fresh water. Some cats may prefer a pet water fountain with running water. Adding tuna juice or chicken broth for flavor may encourage cats to drink more. Feeding your cat canned food or adding water to dry food may also help to increase daily water consumption.

Each cat in the household should have at least one litter box in a safe, quiet environment. The box and the urine-soiled areas around it should be cleaned on a daily basis. Reducing stress -by providing quiet rest areas, cat trees or perches, scratching posts, games, and toys -also helps to prevent FLUTD.

Be sure to monitor your cat’s urinary habits at home and to contact your veterinarian if you notice any changes in behavior or have any concerns.

Information Provided by Alicea Klemas, DVM and Shannon Ryan, DVM of The Hope Center for Advanced Veterinary Medicine

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