As anyone who has ever suffered with cystitis (a sore bladder) will know, it is a very unpleasant condition. Although not usually life-threatening, cystitis can be very distressing for your cat. It is important to seek veterinary advice as soon as possible since most cases can be easily treated with a short course of antibiotic tablets.
What is cystitis?
Cystitis means that the lining of the bladder is inflammed and is usually caused by an infection in the urine. Because the bladder is sore cats want to empty it more often and so are frequently seen squatting and trying to pass urine.
What are the signs of cystitis?
The first sign you will usually notice is your cat visiting the litter tray more frequently. When using a tray they may only pass small amounts of urine and sometimes you will see blood. Occasionally your cat will strain as if trying to pass urine but nothing comes out. In these cases cystitis may be mistaken for constipation or a blockage in the urinary system. Some cats with cystitis seem restless and unsettled and others will cry when straining to urinate.
How will my vet know what is wrong with my cat?
Your vet will probably suspect that your cat has a problem with passing urine based on your description of the signs. However it is important to rule out other potential problems (such as a urinary tract blockage) before starting treatment. Your vet will first want to examine your cat and by feeling the bladder and other organs they may be able to get a good idea of what is going on.
Tests on a urine sample will show if there is anything wrong with the urine such as excess sugar, protein or crystals in the urine. If there is a problem then a urine sample may be sent to a laboratory to see if bacteria can be grown (cultured). If bacteria do grow there are tests that can be done to find the right antibiotics to clear up the infection.
If the problem keeps coming back or fails to clear up properly, your vet may advise that the bladder is examined using X-rays or ultrasound. If your pet has signs of general illness, such as fever or poor appetite, more general tests including blood tests are likely to be carried out.
Why has my cat got cystitis?
The most common cause of cystitis in cats is stress. This can be an obvious stress, such as a new addition to the household or building work taking place, but some cats become stressed by even minor changes to their routine. Less common in cats is an infection caused by bacteria which usually gain entry to the body through the urethra (which is the tube leading from the bladder to the exterior).
There are a whole range of different problems which can make it more likely that your cat will develop cystitis due to infection. In some cases a bladder stone may have damaged the inside of the bladder. Cats which have problems emptying their bladder because they have a blockage or are unwilling to use their litter tray are also more at risk.
Sometimes there is another disease present that makes your cat less able to fight infection. Kidney disease can result in cystitis, and diabetic cats have a lot of sugar in their urine making the bladder an ideal place for bacteria to grow.
How is cystitis treated?
Your vet will be able to prescribe some drugs that help to relax the bladder and reduce the pain associated with passing urine. If your cat has a bacterial cystitis and there is no other obvious problem your vet may give you a course of antibiotics. In most cases the problem should start to clear up within a few days of starting the treatment.
It is very important that you continue to give the treatment until the course is finished, even if your cat seems completely better. If you stop treatment too early the problem may come straight back and the tablets may not work a second time.
Is there anything else I can do to help?
Ensuring your cat can empty its bladder regularly will help to make them feel more comfortable. Make sure they have access to a clean litter tray at all times. Ideally there should be one more litter tray than the number of cats in the house.
Encourage your cat to drink plenty of fluids as this will help to dilute the urine and make it less irritant to the bladder. Cats generally prefer to drink from ceramic or metal bowls rather than plastic and you might consider getting a drinking fountain. Cats that are prone to cystitis should be fed a moist (tinned) diet as this encourages water intake and makes the urine more dilute.
If your cat suffers from stress related cystitis you need to try to keep their lives as stress free as possible! In addition the use of a pheromone diffuser may help.
Will my cat get better?
Most cats recover very quickly from cystitis. However, if there is some other problem which has caused the cystitis then this must also be cleared up or the cystitis will come straight back. If cats have an underlying cause for the cystitis which cannot be resolved, then they may occasionally need to be on permanent medication for stress, or recurring courses of antibiotics.