What is feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD)?

FLUTD describes a collection of conditions that can affect the bladder or urethra (the tube leading from the bladder to the penis/vulva) of cats. Several different conditions can cause similar clinical signs.

If your cat starts straining frequently in their litter tray (or anywhere else) then they may be suffering from cystitis, cat urinary crystals or bladder stones. Bladder stones and crystals can block the flow of urine and prevent the bladder from emptying. This can be very painful and blockages are a life-threatening emergency.

What causes FLUTD?

In most cases, straining to urinate is caused by a straightforward but painful cystitis, which literally means irritation of the bladder.

FLUTD can be seen in cats of any age, breed and sex, but is more commonly seen in middle-aged, overweight, neutered, indoor cats and cats fed on a dry diet.  Stress is also recognised as a contributing factor.

What is a blocked cat?

In some cases (usually male cats), cystitis can lead to a more severe and emergency condition where a blockage forms in the urethra.  This prevents your cat from passing urine and emptying his bladder – you may hear your vet use the term “blocked cat”.   If left untreated this condition is fatal so please call your vet or, out of hours, your nearest Vets Now if you’re worried about your cat being blocked.

Possible causes include infection, mineral imbalance, tumours, anatomical abnormalities and bladder stones.  A number of cases are termed idiopathic (this means we cannot find the cause).

If you think your male cat may be “blocked” you need to seek veterinary treatment immediately. This is not a condition to be left until the morning. A female cat should be seen within 24 hours or sooner if she is showing other signs such as vomiting or lethargy.

Diagnosing a blocked cat

Your vet will take a clinical history from you and perform a physical examination, which will allow them to quickly determine if your cat is blocked. If a blockage is suspected, the following tests may be needed:

  • Urinalysis (urine test)
  • Blood tests for kidney function and electrolytes
  • Urine culture to identify any infectious agents
  • X-rays to check for stones or grit in the bladder
  • Analysis of the stone or urethral plug to determine its composition
Image of Vets Now vets in Glasgow working on a blocked cat
Blocked cats need urgent emergency veterinary treatment

Cat UTI treatment

If your cat has simple cystitis, it’s likely they’ll be given pain relief and possibly antibiotics and sent home.

If your cat is blocked, they’ll need to be admitted to the hospital.  Most cases require sedation or anaesthetic to enable a urinary catheter to be passed to clear the blockage and in some cases a cystotomy (operation) to remove stones from within the bladder.  Depending on the severity of the condition, your cat may require several days of hospitalisation and treatment before he is able to urinate normally and can be allowed home.

Other treatments

  • Antibiotics where there is evidence of bacterial infection
  • Antispasmodics to relax the urethra
  • There is some evidence that certain cats may have reduced levels of glycosaminoglycan (GAG) within the protective layer on the inside of the bladder so your cat maybe prescribed a GAG supplement
  • Prescription diets can help to modifiy the urine and minimize the risk of recurrence.  Some can increase water intake meaning the cat forms more dilute urine.
  • Feliway diffuser – can help to reduce stress.

Living and management

Immediately following treatment, observe your cat for four to eight weeks for recurrence of symptoms. Often, a follow-up urinalysis (urine test) is a good idea. If a cat repeatedly blocks, surgery to enlarge the urethral opening may be considered.

Good quality food, plenty of fresh water, and a clean litter box are the best steps to prevent cystitis.