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Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) Signs and Symptoms

Updated on September 3, 2015
Bob Bamberg profile image

With 30 years in the pet supply industry, Bob's newspaper column deals with animal health, nutrition, behavior, regulation, and advocacy.


Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease Is Fairly Common

If you don’t wish to know more about cat pee than you’d really care to know, you might as well grab another hub to read. If, however, you’re a cat owner, you need to read this.

Vet techs from various clinics have told me how they get calls every week about cats showing signs of FLUTD (feline lower urinary tract disease) formerly called FUS (feline urologic syndrome).

Staffers have also agreed on the fact that owners often waited too long to seek veterinary care for their cat. FLUTD is a very serious condition than can become life-threatening in a matter of hours.

The condition usually manifests itself by the formation of struvite stones, crystals and/or urethral plugs, (the main component of which is struvite). Struvite is a substance made up of magnesium, ammonium and phosphate.

They can’t say for sure that diet actually causes FLUTD, but research suggests that what cats eat is a significant factor. Diets low in magnesium, and of lesser concern, ash, help to reduce the formation of struvite. And just what is dietary ash, anyway?

Ash is what’s left after they cook a food sample at 1100 degrees for 2 hours. During my single days I pretty much did that to the first roast beef I tried to cook. My dining companion referred to it as a science fair project.

Anyway, it's mostly minerals that survive that intense cooking, and since minerals are necessary in a complete and balanced diet, a certain amount of ash is needed. But, since contemporary wisdom is that ash isn’t a factor in the formation of struvite, claims of “low ash” are prohibited by the FDA.

If that seems confusing, try this: the low magnesium diets that resulted from all this research did, indeed, reduce the instances of struvite stones. However cats began to develop calcium oxalate crystals because those diets produced more acidic urine.


Cats that are predisposed to developing oxalate crystals seem to be those that are fed low magnesium diets and that produce acidic urine. If cats are encouraged to drink more water, the urine is less concentrated and less likely to produce crystals.

In addition to that benefit, cats that consume more water urinate more often. The less time urine spends stored in the bladder, the less likely it is that crystals will form. Cats that are free fed are less likely to have urinary tract problems, too. However, free feeding can result in obesity issues. It's probably a significant factor in why some 55% of cats in the U.S. are overweight.

After consuming a large meal, a cat’s urine often becomes more alkaline, and since there needs to be appropriate acidity levels, it’s best if the cat eats smaller meals throughout the day.

Of course, nearly 65 per cent of the nation’s cats are overweight, the main culprit being free feeding (I’m really trying to find a silver lining in this cloud), so keep an eye on your cat’s weight if you free-feed.

The professional consensus seems to be: feed your cat a diet with a comfortable magnesium level since too much or too little magnesium can cause urinary tract problems, get your cat to drink a lot of water, and modify feeding regimens.

The better dry cat foods that claim to maintain normal urine pH have a magnesium level of .1 (point-1) or less. Those claims, by the way, must be backed by controlled studies proving that the product produces appropriately acidic urine.

Watch for these symptoms: painful urination (the cat will vocalize), straining to urinate (you could mistake this for constipation), going outside the litter box, frequent urination, licking the genital area more than usual, blood in the urine, and vomiting.

If any of these appear, call your vet right away since time is of the essence. Also be aware that cats that have had an episode of FLUTD are predisposed to subsequent episodes. There’s excellent FLUTD information on the Internet. Just Google FLUTD.


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