Contributed by Sarah Wooten, DVM, CVJ.
Does Your Cat Suffer From Feline Idiopathic Cystitis?
Sterile bladder inflammation is the most common cause of bladder problems in cats. This condition has had a number of names over the past decade as scientists have continued to study and figure out this disease. It is has been called feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) and feline idiopathic cystitis, and now it is being called Pandora’s Syndrome by some leading researchers because of a complex disease etiology. This is fancy doctor talk for when a disease has many causes and we haven’t figured them all out yet. Unbeknownst to many, however, the problem lies not in the bladder at all, but in the brain.
Feline Idiopathic Cystitis Symptoms
Feline idiopathic cystitis symptoms vary in cats, but most of the time, the signs of feline interstitial cystitis include straining in the litter box, bloody urine, having accidents in the house outside the litter box, decreased appetite, and increasing aggression or hiding behavior. The problem may come and go, but it makes your cat miserable, which is why he is peeing on your bed.
Believe it or not, the main cause behind feline interstitial cystitis is stress. Cats with feline interstitial cystitis have different brains and nervous systems than normal cats. Leading feline specialist Dr. Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, MS, DABVP Feline, reported in a recent veterinary continuing education lecture that these cats often have a history of trauma or stress as a kitten. Cats that get feline interstitial cystitis are more easily startled, feel pain more acutely and tend to have overactive stress hormones.
What does that all mean for your cat?
It means that these cats are in a constant, hyperexcitable state of fight, flight or freeze, and they feel pain more acutely than normal cats. Feline idiopathic cystitis is similar to a condition seen in women called stress cystitis, where stress causes the bladder to spasm, resulting in pain and increased need to urinate. The nervous system in cats with feline interstitial cystitis is primed for an exuberant stress response, and when these cats are stressed by something, you get urinary signs.
What are some potential stressors for a cat with feline idiopathic cystitis?
Well—pretty much anything can stress a cat out. The struggle is real—our cat friends can’t talk, and sometimes it can be difficult to determine what is setting a cat off. Here are some examples of what can stress your cat out:
- Being bullied
- Being kept away from food or the litter box by the other cat(s) in the household
- There is a new cat in the neighborhood that is leaving behind scent markers
- You are renovating, or moving furniture, or have had visitors over
- A change in litter or food
- Being too overweight to groom
- Their toes hurt from being declawed
- They are arthritic
The big picture here is that there are a lot of things that can stress cats out, and all these things have the potential to cause feline interstitial cystitis in sensitive cats.
Managing Feline Interstitial Cystitis
In order to manage feline interstitial cystitis, you have to manage potential stressors in your cat’s life. So do your best to think like a cat and see the world through their eyes to identify what might cause stress or pose a threat. By identifying the stressors, you can then modify the environment to make your cat’s nervous system less hair-triggered.
If you have multiple cats, it is very important to have enough resources for everybody, and to make sure that no cat is being kept away from them by another cat. In a cat’s mind, their most important resources are cat food, water, litter boxes, resting/hiding spots and their toys. Cats are happiest when they have uninterrupted access to these things, so make sure to have one more cat litter box than cats and enough resources to go around. This will minimize inter-cat stress.
If your cat is having a urinary episode, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to discuss management, pain control, nutrition and long-term stress management. Ask your vet about utilizing anti-anxiety medications if needed, and also about using Feliway, a feline stress pheromone spray that is designed to help cats relax.
Nutrition is a key component of management of FIC. Urinary therapeutic diets—especially the ones that manage stress, like Hill’s Prescription Diet c/d Multicare Stress formula—have been shown to reduce the incidence of FIC. Increasing water intake helps speed resolution of signs during an episode and can help prevent future reoccurrences as well.