Paws and Effect

Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

When my cat was 10 months old, he was diagnosed with Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). After an expensive operation he survived the whole ordeal, and since then I have been feeding him the veterinary prescribed preventive canned food. It has been just about 1 year now since and he hasn’t had any recurrences or problems. The problem is that financially I can’t afford to buy the food anymore. It costs me about $50 each month. As a college student, this is a huge expense for me. I know the food he has been prescribed is undoubtedly the best for his health, but I just want to know how risky it would be to switch him to a high-quality dry food instead. I was thinking about buying him a water fountain to encourage him to drink and help to flush out his system, and possibly feeding a dry food that is tailored especially to cats with urinary problems. Would I be taking a big gamble? I love my cat, of course, but is the food he is currently eating really the difference between life and death to him? This is basically what my veterinarian has led me to believe. I know there are some good quality dry food brands that would probably be suitable. I’m just really nervous to make the switch. What should I do? Thanks so much for your help, I’m looking forward to your response!

~Oka

Siouxsie: Because urinary tract problems are potentially life-threatening, particularly in male cats, we wanted to make sure we give you a veterinarian-approved answer for this question. So we checked the Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook (written by Debra M. Eldredge, DVM; Delbert G. Carlson, DVM; Liisa D. Carlson, DVM; and James M. Giffin, MD) to see what these well-respected authorities had to say about diets for cats with chronic urinary tract problems.

Thomas: As your vet probably told you, male cats are much more prone to FLUTD because they have longer, narrower urethras than female cats.

Dahlia: However, the authors of the Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook don’t believe that cats that have had episodes of FLUTD need to be on prescription diets for the rest of their lives.

Siouxsie: They do recommend that cats be on the prescription diet for six to nine months following the FLUTD attack, in order to allow time for the prescription food to do its job of dissolving crystals and prevent recurrences.

Thomas: If a cat hasn’t had any recurrences during that time, it’s safe to switch to a regular high-quality diet.

Dahlia: In cats that have had urinary tract problems, vets recommend feeding canned food as at least part of the diet. In order to keep crystals from forming in the bladder, cats need to keep the bladder flushed out.

Siouxsie: Usually we cats barely drink water at all. We’re desert-originated creatures and we evolved to live with minimal water requirements. When our ancestors lived in the wild, they got all the fluids they needed through eating prey. Modern cats can get similar fluid intake by eating canned food.

Thomas: That canned food should be high-quality, though–the type of thing you get at a pet store rather than the supermarket. Mama feeds us Merrick canned food which costs about US $1.39 per 5.5-ounce can. One 5.5-ounce can per day can feed a 6-pound cat.

Dahlia: Many pet stores will offer discounts if you buy canned food by the case–but before you do that, you’d better make sure your cat likes whatever food you want to buy!

Siouxsie: Mama feeds us a combination of canned food and dry food. This helps to stretch the budget a little bit and gives us more liquid in our diet. And it tastes nommy, too! If you take the combination canned/dry food route, it’s important to make sure you adjust the suggested feeding amounts of each to make sure you don’t overfeed your cat.

Thomas: Especially because obesity can contribute to recurrences of FLUTD!

Dahlia: Here are some other vet-approved tips for preventing FLUTD attacks:

  • Keep the litter box clean. Scoop it at least twice a day and change it whenever it smells. A cat may avoid using the box if it’s dirty and you don’t want him “holding it” and allowing the urine to become too concentrated.
  • Keep clean, fresh water available at all times. If you have city water, filter your cat’s water through a pitcher filter to get rid of chlorine and other additives that can change its pH (acid-alkaline balance). Drinking fountains can encourage more water consumption, too, so that’s a good idea.
  • Prevent obesity.
  • Keep your cat’s stress level to a minimum.
  • Don’t feed your cat human table scraps or fish-based canned food. For some reason, tuna and other seafood diets seem to increase the likelihood of FLUTD recurrences.
  • Glucosamine supplements may be helpful in preventing a recurrence, since it is thought to protect the lining of the bladder.

Siouxsie: Most important, monitor your cat’s urine output and behavior. If you see any signs that he’s starting to get irritated or blocked again, get to the vet right away.

Thomas: Good luck to both of you. We hope we’ve been able to help you keep your kitty healthy and your wallet a bit less empty!

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