Updated November 28, 2020
Cystitis in cats is a fascinating disease. How many other illnesses are more common after rainy weather or moving house? Or how about the fact that it usually isn’t caused by infection?
What Is Cystitis?
Cystitis is inflammation of the bladder, the organ that stores urine from the kidneys. This could be the most common disease of cats. Bladder inflammation then causes the classic signs of:
- Pain on urination
- Frequent urination
- Blood in the urine
- Passing small amounts of urine
- Urinating in inappropriate places
What Else Could It Be?
Cystitis is devilishly hard to tell apart from other causes of cats urinating inside. The differences are:
Cats with cystitis often seek out sinks, baths or showers. They don’t usually pee on things, and puddles on the floor usually look like the picture at the top.
Urine marking cats, on the other hand, usually spray on both horizontal and vertical surfaces, plus furniture and things left on the floor.
If puddles are larger than in the picture, visit our page on why cats drink and wee too much.
If your cat is a boy, please read our special advice on urinary problems in male cats. It just might save a life!
The diagnosis is great assisted by the collection of a urine sample for testing.
Lifestyle Factors Associated With Cystitis
In New Zealand in 1997, researchers surveyed owners of cats that had cystitis. It’s still the best study done to date. Here’s the full list of was more likely in those cats:
- Being overweight
- An indoor lifestyle
- Living with another cat or fighting with cats
- Eating a dry diet
- Using a litter tray instead of outdoors
- A higher number of rainfall days in the month prior
- A house move in the past 3 months
There’s some crazy stuff here. Hopefully, it will all make sense in a minute.
What Causes Cystitis?
It’s clear that cystitis has a lot to do with the interaction between a cat and its environment such as food, water, litter and stress. More than this we don’t know. That’s why its full name is Feline Idiopathic Cystitis or FIC.
In people, cystitis is usually caused by bacterial infection, causing many cats to get unnecessary antibiotics. There are certainly occasional infections, usually in elderly female cats, but the majority of young cats with cystitis have no infection.
I think that one day we will find a single noxious substance in the urine of cats that damages the bladder wall. While this may be wrong, it’s a useful way of remembering what you need to do: Dilute, Detox, De-stress, Dump!
How To Prevent or Treat Cystitis
A vet visit is necessary to make sure it’s really cystitis and to get the right medication. You also need the vet to rule out a urinary blockage. Then:
Dilute the urine by increasing your cat’s water intake. The easiest and most effective way is to stop using dry foods. You can do this by using only tins and pouches or by pre-soaking dry biscuits with warm water. It’s a good idea to make changes gradually so your cat gets used to them.
It’s possible but much harder to get a cat to drink more: follow the link to read some tricks.
This one’s easy. Reduce potentially harmful substances in the urine by switching to higher-quality diet. Every vet knows that cystitis happens less the more you spend on cat food. I use a Hills Science Diet.
Even better, substitute some of your cat’s diet for natural foods. The New Zealand study found that these had a protective effect. Personally, my cat gets a raw chicken neck a day.
If these changes don’t work, switch to a veterinary prescription diet. Cystitis foods are clinically proven to be more effective at resolving symptoms.
Stress is almost certainly the reason why cats who live with other cats get cystitis more. Stress may cause cystitis either by reducing the amount a cat drinks or reducing their toilet visits. This leads to urine that’s both over-concentrated and sitting in the bladder for too long.
Cats need to feel completely uninhibited to go to the toilet whenever they want. Just like when people don’t get on in a share house, cats may choose to stay in a room rather than create friction. Add extra litter trays where the affected cat hangs out so they don’t have to run the gauntlet to go to the toilet.
Get help if your cat seems anxious or unhappy. Follow this link for a discussion on anxiety in cats.
The minute cats hold on too long, cystitis is more likely. This is probably why bad weather, indoor lifestyles, litter tray use, inactivity, and obesity are associated with cystitis.
An ideal litter box is around twice the size of regular ones with deep litter. Scents and covered boxes probably don’t matter with daily cleaning. There’s no rule about which cat litter to use except to make sure your cat likes it. Litter tray hygiene is also important. You need to keep it as clean as your cat requires.
It’s also worth remembering that if cats start going outside the box, the smell of urine may keep them coming back. This page has advice on cleaning up cat pee.
In conclusion, some good news. There’s one other finding from the New Zealand study you should know. The only other protective factor identified was having been to the vet in the previous 12 months.
Why? The answer may just be in all that nagging we so generously provide every year. However, it’s also probably because cystitis is a disease strongly linked to a cat’s environment. It’s likely that people who visit the vet frequently are more switched on about their cats’ needs.
Thanks to Winston for inspiring this article!
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.