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Pets, too, must hydrate

Urinary tract problems in pets are easy to miss but the solution is simple: get them to drink enough water

Making sure they drink enough water is the simplest option.(Unsplash)

By Dr Nameeta Nadkarni

LAST PUBLISHED 19.10.2023  |  01:00 PM IST

Gucci has been urinating outside her litter box. I guess she’s doing it to get even with me for leaving her with a sitter last week," a pet parent chuckled as he casually introduced me to his cat. This is when I understood how frequently pet owners tend to misread signs that might indicate an illness. If a cat who regularly uses the litter box starts to urinate outside it, she likely has a urinary tract infection or another illness related to the urinary tract.

Blood in the urine, increased frequency of urination, and straining while urinating are the most visible symptoms of a urinary tract issue. Pet owners typically become aware of a problem at this point. However, some of the signs can be even more subtle, particularly in cats. When cats urinate in the litter and strain to urinate or have blood in their urine, it becomes very difficult to discern. Therefore, one should watch out for even the tiniest signs of something being out of the ordinary in cats.

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Drop-by-drop urination, a few drops of blood in the urine, waiting longer before urinating in a stream, decreased activity, excessive genital licking, changes in water consumption, peeing in places they wouldn’t normally, and not realising they are urinating, while sleeping for instance, are all subtle signs of a problem with the urinary tract. Some urinary tract problems could manifest as a lack of appetite and vomiting before you start seeing symptoms associated with the act of urinating.

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A broad spectrum of urinary system issues can affect both dogs and cats. The most typical infection is a urinary tract infection, which can be treated with the right antibiotics after the vet examines your pet. But if ignored, they can result in dangerous kidney infections. The other typical issue is the presence of bladder calculi, or stones in the urinary tract. Blood in the pee and difficulty urinating are the results of this. These calculi have the potential to enter the urethra and obstruct it, rendering it hard to urinate, especially in male dogs and cats, if left untreated.

A pet with urethral calculi will struggle to urinate but won’t be able to. A cat could go to the litter box continually and try to urinate. Most of these illnesses go undiscovered until it is too late because, to an untrained eye, the cat may look like it’s trying to defecate. Although having calculi in the bladder is not in itself a fatal condition, if they obstruct the urethral route, the pet may succumb. A full bladder that cannot be emptied leads to electrolyte imbalances and can even cause the heart to stop. Animals can develop bladder cancer as well. It is crucial not to disregard a recurrent straightforward urinary tract infection because that may be the very first sign of the presence of a tumour in the bladder or kidney. Urinary tract cancers may be treated surgically if discovered early.

Stress, bladder irritation and urinary tract infections can all result in spasms and mucus plugs in the urethra of male cats, rendering them “blocked" or unable to urinate. The likelihood of this happening in a multi-cat household is increased because having multiple cats can be stressful for all the cats. A litter tray should be easily accessible to each cat if you want to avoid this scenario. Male cat urethral blockage is a potentially lethal condition that must be treated immediately. Get your male cat checked out by a veterinarian right away if it has been more than 24 hours since he last used the litter box.

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Although being watchful is essential, we can avoid these issues with our pets. Making sure they drink enough water is the simplest option. Ensure that they are not eating too many foods that contain oxalates, such as spinach, as this can cause calculi to form. Check that all your cats have access to a litter box so they won’t have to compete for it and become anxious. As a general rule, there should always be one litter tray more than there are cats, distributed across locations.

Pet urinary tract issues can be uncomfortable and distressing, and, if left untreated, they can have serious repercussions. As pet owners, we must keep an eye out for any behavioural changes and contact a veterinarian as soon as we have any concerns.

Nameeta Nadkarni is a practising veterinary soft tissue surgeon and pet blogger from Mumbai.