Many illnesses or diseases that are common in pets can be difficult for owners to detect, especially early in the illness, when symptoms are not always obvious. Cystitis in cats (feline cystitis), an inflammation of the bladder, is one such ailment and, according to veterinarian Dr Gillian Hung, it is extremely common in Hong Kong.
Symptoms of cystitis include dribbling urine, straining to urinate, urinating in unusual places and licking the urinary opening. All of these can be overlooked, as most cat owners do not watch their pet constantly, and the cat urinating in unusual places may be misunderstood as making a rebellious move. Another symptom that can easily go unnoticed is bloody urine.
Further into cystitis, the symptoms may become severe and more pronounced, but by the time they manifest it has already become an emergency. ''In severe cases where the urethra becomes blocked, cats will develop a painful abdomen, lethargy and vomiting, and these cases are emergencies as they can quickly become life-threatening,'' Hung says.
The main causes of cystitis in cats include infections, bladder stones, urinary tract cancer and trauma (such as being hit by a car). ''The majority of cases will not have an identified cause despite extensive testing,'' Hung says. ''A lot of feline cystitis cases are termed 'idiopathic', which means that extensive testing has ruled out known causes of cystitis and so the actual cause of cystitis is not determined. It is thought that feline idiopathic cystitis may be similar to interstitial cystitis in women.''
In mild cases, problems can resolve themselves after a few days; although most cats would benefit from anti-inflammatory medication. Hung says, ''Chronic infections, however, if left untreated, can lead to ascending infection to the kidneys and kidneys failure. Bladder stones have the potential to obstruct the urethra, and are fatal if left untreated. Chronic severe cystitis can also leave the bladder wall and muscle scarred, leading to urinary incontinence.''
Hung believes that cystitis is so common because of the indoor lifestyle of most Hong Kong cats. ''Indoor cats are at higher risk of developing cystitis, possibly due to a sedentary lifestyle and obesity. Inactive cats are less likely to get up to the water bowl and may hold their urine for longer periods of time. Also, a lack of environmental enrichment can increase stress levels, which can exacerbate of precipitate cystitis.''
Diet can play a role. Canned food increases water intake, helping to dilute the urine and reducing the risk of cystitis. If cats have bladder stones or crystals in their urine, a prescription diet may be needed in order to control urine pH and reduce crystal formation, Hung says. While obese cats need to lose weight, veterinary diets specifically for weight management will help.
''Cystitis in cats can be frustrating to manage. If is often multi-factorial and recurrent, so treatment can be challenging,'' Hung says.
The good news is that there are some preventative measures that can be taken, including increasing the cat's water intake by adding more canned food, installing a water fountain for the cat, preventing obesity, increasing environmental enrichment and social stimulation, and ensuring the litter tray is clean to encourage regular urination. Introduce new diets or litter gradually to allow the cats to acclimatise and to reduce stress. Feline pheromone sprays or diffusers can help lower stress levels. Finally, don't wait to take your cat to the vet if you suspect it has cystitis - It's better to be safe than sorry.