Q: Could you please talk about FLUTD? I lost my 6-year-old tabby Simon to FLUTD last February. The loss was especially difficult because it could have been prevented had I known the symptoms. I want to help educate other cat owners about this serious, and sometimes fatal, disease.
A: I’m so sorry to hear about your cat Simon. Urinary obstruction is a common problem in male cats, and it can be fatal if not promptly recognized and treated.
Often, cats will present a constellation of clinical signs: straining to urinate, increasing frequency of urination, urinating in unusual places and sometimes blood in the urine. These are the signs of FLUTD — Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease. FLUTD is a catch-all term that means that there is some kind of lower urinary tract disorder. Several lower urinary tract disorders exist, and they all can cause the same clinical signs. To figure out which one it is, diagnostics need to be performed. The most important diagnostic test is a urinalysis. Other tests that might be necessary include a urine culture and X-rays of the bladder. Occasionally, other diagnostics, such as an ultrasound and blood work, might be necessary.
Sometimes a urinalysis reveals crystals in the urine. Crystals can irritate the bladder lining and cause cystitis (bladder inflammation), resulting in the clinical signs listed above. In male cats, however, crystals are more of a concern because the crystals can combine and form sand. The sand can combine with protein and mucus in the bladder and form a plug that obstructs the urethra. Urethral obstruction is a life-threatening emergency.
In addition to the signs listed above, you might see other signs once a cat’s urethra becomes obstructed. Cats will often lick their penises and might cry when you pick them up. As the toxin levels increase in their bloodstream, cats will often vomit, stop eating, and become lethargic.
When a male cat strains to urinate, it is vitally important to determine if he is able to pass urine. If you see a small amount of urine, it suggests that he has an inflamed bladder. If you see no urine, it suggests that he is obstructed. If you’re not sure, take him to an emergency clinic immediately. Even if you see urine being produced, take the cat to a veterinarian. If they are treated promptly and aggressively, cats often do fine after the obstruction is relieved.
Arnold Plotnick, DVM