Best ways to help a cat with feline cystitis

Vets Corner

Feline idiopathic cystitis’ (FIC). This is a very common condition in cats and, although definite causes of this condition have not yet been established, they are thought to include viral infections, immune dysfunction, a deficiency of the glycosaminoglycan layer that protects the inside of the bladder and an abnormally permeable bladder.

We do know that these signs tend to recur, with episodes decreasing in frequency as cats get older. There’s also an extremely strong link between its development and environmental stress. Cats are very sensitive to stresses like moving house because of the unique way a cat’s brain works. A clear neurohormonal link has now been discovered, and stressful situations tend to manifest themselves in the urinary tract.

Many vets will tackle this problem by using a cocktail of pharmaceuticals such as antispasmodics and tranquillizers to help the urethra relax and dilate, antibiotics, urine acidifiers aimed at dissolving any struvite crystals, steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, narcotic analgesics for pain relief and anti-anxiety medications.

Naturally, all of these drugs come with side-effects; urine acidifiers, for instance, can cause breathing difficulties, swelling around the mouth, tongue and face, and hives, and gastrointestinal upset if taken on an empty stomach, and anti-anxiety drugs only mask the cat’s discomfort while causing excessive purring and rubbing as signs of affection, constipation, drowsiness, lethargy, aggressive behaviour, liver failure and, ironically, difficulty passing urine or retention.

I always look for natural alternatives to all of the above and would suggest addressing three key areas: food and water consumption, environmental enrichment, supplementation aimed at fortifying the protective lining of the bladder and finding natural ways to reduce your cat’s stress.

Food and water

Increasing the amount of water consumed by your cat will cause its bladder to become more distended and urine more diluted. A simple way to increase a cat’s water intake is to switch from dry food to wet food, as wet cat food can be up to 80% water. But if you’re going to change the food source, allow your cat a choice of the new food alongside the old food at least for a short period of time, and don’t make more than one change per month. Also ensure that her bowl is constantly topped up with fresh water.

Cats are solitary animals and naturally need space, free access to resources like food, water, litter tray, bed, the outdoors and privacy, and somewhere to escape when necessary.

Unfortunately, stress-related problems are now very common in domestic cats as all their natural needs are rarely, if at all, met by today’s modern lifestyles. Having to cope with sharing their homes with us humans and perhaps other pets in the household in itself can be a significant source of stress for many cats.

Other major causes of stress include moving house, decorating, moving furniture, the arrival of a new household member such as a new baby or another pet, or even something as simple as changing the placement of the litter tray.

You can minimize your pet’s stress by giving her a choice of where to play, rest, eat and eliminate. In general, all cats should: other animals or family members when they choose where they won’t be disturbed cooler areas within the home located in well-ventilated areas, kept clean and in a private area away from outside windows bowls.

Many cat owners are surprised to learn that allowing a cat to control its own space can be effective in preventing conditions like cystitis—a fact that demonstrates the link between the neurochemicals involved in stress and kitty cystitis. While it might be impractical for you to move back to your old house, you can help to give a cat a sense of ‘power’ by giving it control over its own environment and reproducing old routines as much as possible.

Glycosaminoglycans are primarily used in osteoarthritis, but they may be helpful in some cases of this form of cystitis as well. N-acetyl-d-glucosamine (NAG) is the acetylated derivative of the amino sugar glucosamine. It is required for the synthesis of glycoproteins, glycolipids and glycosaminoglycans. Breakdown of the glycosaminoglycan layer lining the inner bladder wall seems to play a significant role in the development of this condition.

I suggest giving your cat a supplement that contains at least 125 mg of NAG per capsule. Give one capsule per 5 kg (11 lb) of weight twice a day for the first week, then reduce that to one capsule per 5 kg of weight once daily for the next three weeks.

Other supplements I have used successfully for this condition are those aimed at naturally reducing the cat’s stress levels. I also recommend getting hold of a supplement that contains both l-tryptophan and valerian. l-Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is converted to 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) and then to serotonin, a hormone that transmits signals between nerve cells and also causes blood vessels to constrict.

Changes in serotonin levels are thought to alter mood, and I have found l-tryptophan to be highly effective in lowering stress levels in both cats and dogs.

Valerian contains a number of compounds with a range of sedative, anxiety-reducing, antidepressant and antispasmodic properties. I have found that this herb combined with l-tryptophan reduces stress in cats and dogs very effectively and should help Hazel adapt to her new environment in the short term.

If you take your time and a bit of care to ensure you don’t change your cat’s routines and environment too drastically, I’m sure you can help your cat overcome cystitis— without resorting to drugs.

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