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Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:

I have a 4-year-old female cat that has been fighting a urinary tract infection for months now. The vet tested her urine and found bacteria but no crystals. She has been on several antibiotics and nothing worked and I finally gave up with them. From day one she never cried or howled in the litter box, never lost her appetite. I have been feeding her either Merrick No grain food or wellness.  She has decided that she is sick of both and wants something else. I have recently changed her diet to wet food and have been adding a little water to it each time. I have also been giving her about 250mg of Vitamin C. The only problem that she has is that she strains in the litter box. She goes very little or sometimes not at all. Once in a while she will have a decent urination. She is in good spirits, still jumping, very affectionate, not hiding. I have changed her litter to Precious Cat which is pure clay, so the urine does not fall to the bottom of the pan.

I have three other cats, all neutered males. One of them seems to want to mount her, and when he does this she screams. I have tried to stop him by using a water gun and shaking coins in a can. When I shook the can I scared all of them, including her. As far as the water gun, he now just sits and looks at me and takes it and waits for me to stop. He is just about 5 years old and there is no way that I would be able to find another home for him at that age. Putting him in a shelter is out of the question.

I am baffled by this whole thing. Can you give me any help? It seems as though the vets just guess at all of this and they are just not hitting it correctly.

~ Ellen

Siouxsie: Oh, Ellen, I really feel for your poor kitty. I recently got over a UTI myself, and I know just how miserable they are.

Thomas: For the benefit of our other readers, we’ll explain how vets deal with urinary tract problems. When a person brings a cat in with symptoms like straining to urinate, crying in the litterbox, or urinating in inappropriate places, the vet will do a physical exam on the cat, take her temperature, and collect a urine sample.

Dahlia: Sometimes the vet will try to collect the sample by putting the cat in a cage with a litterbox containing some urine-absorbing pellet litter. But since cats rarely pee on command, the best way to collect a sample and make sure there are no outside contaminants in that sample is by means of a cystocentesis, or inserting a small needle into the bladder to collect some of the urine inside.

Siouxsie: The vet will then examine the urine under a microscope and look for bacteria or crystals. If crystals are present, the vet will determine which of two common types of crystals they are.

Thomas: Crystals are treated differently than urinary tract infections. The presence of crystals or stones in the bladder is potentially life-threatening, particularly when the crystals block the urethra.

Dahlia: Some cats develop a condition called idiopathic interstitial cystitis. This means that the tissues of the bladder become inflamed and the cat develops symptoms much like those of a urinary tract infection. However, a culture and sensitivity test will reveal that there are no bacteria or crystals in the cat’s bladder.

Siouxsie: Now, back to the subject of bacterial infections. The treatment of choice for this condition is a round of antibiotics. Some vets will administer a pain control or steroid injection in order to decrease the swelling and discomfort.

Thomas: Mama has had a lot of experience with cystitis and urinary tract infections. Our sister Sinéad (may she frolic forever in the catnip-filled fields) got UTIs pretty regularly, and here are some of the tips our vet recommended to help her stay healthy:

  • Do not give your cat tap water or mineral water. Instead, invest in a filter pitcher and run your water through that. This eliminates extra irritants like chlorine or other “hard water” elements that can cause irritation. It’s a lot less expensive in the long run than buying bottled water, and it’ll make you healthier, too.
  • Do not feed tuna-based cat food. For some reason, tuna cat food seems to aggravate sensitivities that cause bladder inflammation.
  • Do feed other kinds of canned food. The extra water in the food helps flush any crystals out of the urinary tract.
  • Keep the litterbox very clean.
  • Minimize stress in the environment.

Dahlia: It sounds to us like you and your vet are doing everything right in terms of diagnosing and treating your cat’s urinary tract infection. However, it’s possible that her urinary tract symptoms are being complicated by the stress in her environment. Stress is bad for the immune system, too; it lowers resistance to infections.

Siouxsie: The male cat’s behavior is clearly a stressor for your kitty, and there are some ways you can minimize that stress.

Thomas: Sometimes vets will give cats with stress-based cystitis an anti-anxiety medication like amitryptiline. This may help your cat, but unless you resolve the behavior issue her problem is not going to go away.

Dahlia: We commend you for not wanting to rehome the male cat that’s causing the problems. But you need to understand that he’s behaving this way because he, too, is under stress.

Siouxsie: Mounting is generally a dominance issue. We suspect that there’s some jostling for position in the feline hierarchy, and for some reason the male that’s acting out is trying to move up the hierarchy by dominating the female.

Thomas: We strongly recommend that you use a feline pheromone diffuser such as Feliway. This product has been very effective in reducing stress in cats. Mama has used it in our household, not only to resolve behavior problems but to help us get through our recent move to a new home, and it’s worked very well.

Dahlia: Also, make sure that there’s plenty of territory, both horizontal and vertical, so that every cat can have his or her own space. Cat trees, window seats and the like can work wonders.

Siouxsie: Give all the cats plenty of active play time. Use “thing on a string” toys and other products that can help us cats enjoy using our hunting instincts and use our energy in more constructive ways.

Thomas: Distraction by play is another effective way to stop bad behavior in its tracks. Instead of reacting when the male cat is already mounting the female, monitor him and when he starts acting like he’s about to attack and mount your female cat, get out the thing on a string and play with him.

Dahlia: When you get him to play instead of mounting the female cat, you’ll help him to realize there are other ways to relieve his stress.

Siouxsie: Talk to your vet about the male cat’s behavior issues, too. Your vet may have some other ideas about how you can help the male feel less insecure. A feline behaviorist can be a valuable ally in your efforts to restore harmony in your home.

Thomas: Holistic remedies can help in resolving tough behavior issues. Homeopathy, for example, works on an energy level and can relieve any imbalances that cause emotional and chronic physical problems.

Dahlia: To find veterinary homeopaths and other holistic vets in your area–as long as you’re in the US or Canada–we recommend checking the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association website and using their holistic vet directory.

Siouxsie: Most conventional vets are willing to work with holistic vets. Your vet wants the best for your cat, too. It’s frustrating for the vet as well as the caretaker when an animal is sick and standard treatments don’t work.

Thomas: Good luck, Ellen. Please let us know how things turn out!