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UTI problems are common in cats – but why?

In the days of my frequent travels, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Every time the suitcases came out, our cat Rabi (another Siamese cross) would start visiting the litter box often, and pass small amounts of blood tinged urine. Many cat owners have experienced this.

According to one study by pet-insurance groups, a bladder problem is the second most common reason cats come to a veterinary clinic. I cannot count how many times owners have come and said that their cat jumped on the counter (or sink) and passed red urine. They believed that their cat was telling them something! In those days, I used to think yeah, right!

Now, many years later, I think the owners are right; on occasions these cats probably share their distress with their trusted friends. They are lot more clever than we give them credit for! Whether the cats are guiding their owners to an imminent problem or not, a red tinge in the urine is a real issue. It simply means there is blood in the urine, which should not be there.

Before we explore the nature of this disease, a little primer on the urinary tract. Kidneys filter toxins from the blood and make urine, which then dribbles down via two narrow tubes to the bladder for temporary storage. Then, when the time is right, a slightly bigger tubing brings the urine from the bladder out to the world.

In the case of cats, when we see blood tinged urine, almost inevitably it is coming from the bladder. However, just because there is blood in the urine doesn’t mean that there is infection. In fact, repeated research has shown that in vast majority of the cases, there is no infection present!

What happens is this: The inside of the bladder wall is lined by layers and layers of loosely bound cells which is fed with fine blood vessels called capillaries. When there is inflammation (pain and swelling), some of these capillaries can leak out blood and that’s what shows up in the urine. The sensation of pain, burning and bladder spasms (extrapolated from human experience) is what causes the poor kitty to visit the box again and again and strain in hope of finding some relief.

A very similar thing happens in humans called Interstitial Cystitis. It is more common in women where there is significant pain in the bladder, and it does not respond to antibiotics.

So, now that we understand this disease, what to do about it? And is there a connection between urinary problems and emotional distress? We’ll visit that in the July issue.

Goutam Mukherjee (Dr. G), DVM, MS, PhD., has been a veterinarian for more than 30 years. He owns High Falls Holistic Veterinary Clinic in Crossville. Email questions of general interest to drg.vet@gmail.com.