Stress reduction, a litter box additive and a partnership with your veterinarian can help you head off FIC before it strikes
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
The first feline health problem I remember dealing with was feline interstitial cystitis. One of our two young cats was urinating in the corners of our dining room, leaving a pink-tinged stain on the carpet. House soiling is one of the earliest signs of urinary tract disease in cats, and a pinky-red color indicates hematuria, or blood in the urine. Hematuria is a common feature of many feline lower urinary tract diseases -- which include feline interstitial cystitis, uroliths, bladder polyps and much more -- but it’s often not detected until the cat is already experiencing clinical symptoms and discomfort or pain.
The I in FIC used to stand for idiopathic (meaning the cause was unknown), but that’s no longer accurate, says Kelly St. Denis, DVM, who specializes in treating cats and spoke on hematuria detection and the many features of feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD for short) at the EveryCat Health Foundation symposium in Gainesville, Florida, earlier this month.
“We know that it is a result of complex interactions between the nervous system, the urinary bladder, the adrenal system, husbandry practices and the environment in which the cat lives,” she says.
It’s also sometimes referred to as Pandora syndrome (a term coined by Tony Buffington, DVM), described as a constellation of sickness behaviors -- urinary, gastrointestinal, skin, behavior and cardiovascular -- that may fluctuate with environmental change.
Whatever it’s called, St. Denis wants to help veterinarians and cat caregivers catch the problem early, as well as recognize and manage risk factors: stress, obesity, an indoor or sedentary lifestyle, multicat households, sex (neutered male cats are at increased risk) and type of diet.
A number of these risk factors contribute to the one that is first on the list -- stress. For cats, stress involves a lot of the same things that stress humans: changes in the household, new family members (including additional pets), moving to a new home or living with people or pets they don’t like. Obesity and boredom are stressful for cats. Obesity puts pressure on their joints, contributing to pain, and boredom occurs when they’re unable to perform normal cat behaviors, such as jumping, climbing and hunting play. Eating with other pets is also stressful.
Does that last one surprise you? Cats are wired to be solitary hunters, catching just enough for themselves.
“They don’t want to share,” St. Denis says. “When we ask them to eat within sight of each other or share bowls, even if they’re swapping bowls and look like they’re having fun, they’re stressed.”
Cats should eat in separate areas, out of view of each other, she recommends.
What about hematuria? You don’t have to wait until your cat starts peeing outside the litter box to find out if there’s blood in his urine. If you know from experience that your cat is prone to urinary tract disease or has one or more risk factors, you can sprinkle litter with granules that will turn blue if blood is in the urine, well before it becomes visible to the naked eye. The product, called Blucare, is available from veterinarians or online from Chewy and lasts for a month. The blue color remains for 48 hours, giving early notice that a cat is likely in pain and needs to see the veterinarian.
The best ways to manage FIC are environmental enrichment -- play, challenging puzzle toys, a tall cat tree with a view to provide opportunities for jumping, climbing and scratching -- and keeping the cat’s home life low-stress.
Giving some canned food (high in water) or ensuring that fresh water is always on hand helps to keep another contributing factor, dehydration, at bay. Finally, your veterinarian may prescribe medication to help head off FIC flareups if you know that a stressful event is coming up, such as a move or the presence of houseguests.
Grooming key to
Q: It’s hard to get my daughters to brush the dog the way they promised to when we got her. Can you explain why grooming is important?
A: Two words: comfort and health. Ask your daughters if they remember what it’s like when you’re trying to brush out a tangle in their hair or how it feels when a ponytail is too tight. It’s painful, right? Dogs feel the same way when they have mats in their fur -- an uncomfortable tugging on the skin that hurts even more if they scratch or bite at it. Keeping dogs regularly brushed and combed so that mats and tangles don’t form prevents that painful, unpleasant feeling.
Grooming keeps dogs comfortable in other ways. It removes dead hair so new hair can grow in, ensuring that your dog’s coat helps to insulate her from heat in summer and cold in winter.
Grooming is also your girls’ chance to help keep their dog healthy. It’s a good time to check the dog’s skin for lumps, bumps, cuts or scabs. If they find something, they should let you know so you can arrange a veterinary exam to make sure it’s not something serious.
Parasites such as fleas and ticks are removed during grooming. That contributes to keeping dogs healthy and itch-free. Giving the ears a deep sniff to make sure they don’t smell bad from a brewing infection is another important part of grooming.
While regular grooming keeps your dog looking and smelling good, there’s more to it than that. It should be a relaxing time for people and dogs, a special time of bonding. When it’s done, everyone feels good. Ending with a tummy rub for your dog is the cherry on top that will keep him coming back for more. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Dogs’ noses retain
odors for analysis
-- Dogs typically sniff an average of five times per second. And when they sniff, each nostril pulls in a separate odor sample. The separate sampling helps dogs to track by allowing them to determine the direction of the scent. That’s just part of a dog’s unique nasal airflow pattern. Odor molecules are rapidly transported along a single airway to what’s known as the olfactory recess. This large maze of airways, located in the nasal cavity just behind the eyes, retains scent particles even after the dog exhales, enabling the dog to enhance searching ability.
-- Cats have 20 thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, compared with 17 in people. The number of bones in the mid-spine region accounts in part for the power and flexibility of the feline spine, allowing cats to accelerate quickly and jump high. Over short distances, no more than a few yards, they can attain speeds of more than 30 mph, a valuable skill if you’re a stalk-and-pounce predator. And cats can jump several times their height, flying over fences to the disgust of many a cat-chasing dog. Their other anatomical oddity is a free-floating collarbone, which can enable sleek cats to fit through an opening the size of their whisker span.
-- Raw vegetables and fruits can be great treats for dogs, especially those who are on the pudgy side. Think slices of apples, bananas or carrots; blueberries or strawberries; a bite of pear, peach, watermelon or mango; a segment of orange or other citrus; or a stick of celery (good for teeth!). Not all fruits and veggies are safe for pets, though. Never give raisins, grapes, mushrooms or onions. If you’re not sure, check with your veterinarian or look at the ASPCA’s list online at ASPCA.com/APCC. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts. Veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker is founder of the Fear Free organization, co-founder of VetScoop.com and author of many best-selling pet care books. Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning journalist and author who has been writing about animals since 1985. Mikkel Becker is a behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/Kim.CampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.