Feline fret: Preventing urinary tract disorders in cats
By: Professor Ricardo S. Vasconcellos, Universidade Estadual de Maringá, Brazil
Because cats originated from arid regions, they have a superior ability to adapt to a low consumption of water in comparison to other species, such as humans and canines (NCR, 2006). Although this could be perceived as an advantage, a low water intake has a high impact on the development of urinary tract diseases such as urolithiasis and idiopathic cystitis (Little, 2016).
These two diseases commonly affect young cats and are frequently related to nutritional and environmental management deficiencies. It is estimated that between 1.5 percent and 3 percent of clinical cases are caused by these two urinary illnesses (Forrester et al., 2010). It is also estimated that these two diseases are responsible for 80 percent of all related urinary tract issues in felines. However, this can be reduced or even prevented through nutritional intervention and environmental management.
The most common clinical signs of urolithiasis or cystitis are (Little, 2016). Although diagnosis and clinical treatment are relatively simple, it is very common to see recurrences of these illnesses. Nutritional and environmental strategies should therefore be constant to reduce the possibility of reappearing problems.
On nutrition, there are two crucial aspects to consider when preventing issues in the lower urinary tract, including controlling salt levels and the pH of the urine. It is recommended to promote water intake, as this is the best way to avoid supersaturation of salts in the urine and the eventual development of crystals and urinary stones. Managing urinary pH, will help avoid formation of kidney stones. The general rule is to keep urinary pH between 6.2 and 6.8.
Different strategies have been implemented to promote water intake, such as providing access to water around the house, offering clean and fresh water, palatable drinks, wet diets and the increase of salt levels in dry food. All these strategies have been proven to work successfully in cats facing urinary issues. The use of one or more strategies combined could be beneficial (Forrester, 2010).
Different types of kidney stones can be developed depending on the level of pH. The pH conditions, combined with salt saturation in the urine, promote the precipitation of salts and therefore the development of uroliths. The most effective strategy to regulate the pH through diet intervention is by adjusting the composition of macroelements (e.g., sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, chlorine, sulfur and phosphorus). Cationic macroelements such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium promote urine alkalization, while anionic elements such as chlorine, sulfur and phosphorus favor acidification.
The levels and concentration of these macroelements could be formulated in the diet. Salts with acidification or alkalization properties are frequently used (Jeremias et al., 2013). In conclusion, promoting water intake and controlling urinary pH are the foundation to preventing urinary tract infections in felines. It is also important to look after the environment, as urolithiasis and cystitis are correlated to environmental stressors such as addition of a new pet into the household, extended stays of guests or home renovation.
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