Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC)

Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC)

Feline idiopathic cystitis, FIC, is the most common cause of feline lower urinary tract disease and is therefore the most common medical cause of inappropriate urination in cats. As it is a painful and distressing condition it is very important that you can recognise the signs so you can take your cat straight to the vet. Identifying anything that might be upsetting your cat may help to treat the condition as recent research suggests that stress is an important flare factor.

How do you know if your cat has FIC?

If you notice the following signs in your cat then you should contact your vet immediately as your cat is likely to have a lower urinary tract disease:

  • frequent urination
  • blood in the urine (the urine can appear pink or red)
  • painful urination (the cat may cry while urinating)
  • difficulty passing urine (the cat may spend a long time squatting in the litter tray before urinating)
  • inappropriate urination (the cat may urinate outside the litter tray, perhaps in multiple sites as the locations are associated with pain)
  • male cats may start to stand up to urinate due to the pain of squatting and adopt a posture similar to that of a spraying cat
  • agitation and/or anxiety (especially just before or after urination)
  • depression and/or withdrawal
  • aggression (especially before or just after urination)
  • loss of appetite
  • over-grooming of the lower abdomen, around the genital area and inner thighs (you may not see your cat grooming these areas and may only find hair loss).

Is your cat at risk of developing FIC?

Research has identified factors that may put your cat at risk of developing FIC. Your cat may be more likely to develop the condition if it is one of the following:

  • neutered
  • less than 10 years old
  • does not drink very much
  • fed very frequently
  • inactive
  • obese
  • indoor only or with restricted access to the outdoors
  • black and white or Persian
  • living in a multi-cat household or where there are lots of cats in the neighbourhood
  • any change within the cat's social or physical environment, such as a new family member or pet, or the loss of one, a change in routine, building work, and moving house
  • inappropriate placing and management of the cat's resources

Treating FIC

If you're cat is diagnosed with FIC your vet will suggest the best medical treatment for your cat. He will most likely also suggest that you try to increase your cat's fluid intake. This may be by manipulating your cat's meals to have a higher water content and/or to find ways to encourage your cat to drink more water. Only your vet should suggest changes to your cat's diet but there are ways in which you can encourage your cat to drink more water that your vet might not think of. In a feral or wild situation, cats would not normally drink and eat in the same location, therefore many owned cats do not find this natural and may be put off drinking from a water bowl placed right next to the food bowl. Therefore, try separating your cat’s food and water bowls to increase drinking. Cats also have individual preferences as to what type of container they drink from and where these containers are placed. To find out what your cat's preference is you can experiment with the shape, material and location of the bowls. Most cats prefer ceramic or glass bowls to plastic or metal and appear not to like their whiskers touching the side of the bowl. Therefore you should provide wide bowls and fill the bowl right up to the top so your cat does not have to put his head into the bowl to drink. Saying that, some cats like drinking out of glasses or mugs, perhaps because of the attention this has previously brought it so providing your cat with its own glass full of water may encourage your cat to drink. Just make sure the glass is heavy enough not to tip over easily and spill the water. Many cats prefer running water as this would be cleaner than still water in the wild: try leaving a tap running for your cat or buy a commercial drinking fountain. Some cats may be put off drinking tap water because of the slight chemical taste so you could try offering your cat water from a variety of sources to find his preference, such as tap water that has been left out for a day, rain water, or mineral or filtered water. If your cat has access to the outside, leave a bowl or tray outside to collect rainwater as this suits many cats’ preferences. Make sure your cat has free access to water bowls and does not have to walk past another pet, especially another cat, in order to access the water. Also think about what type of location you place the water bowl. Many cats will like the bowl in a quiet corner where they won't be disturbed while drinking but some cats would not want this quiet corner to be too dark as they appear to be stimulated to drink by seeing light reflect off the surface of the water.Cats with FIC need to urinate frequently therefore they should also have free access to a litter tray or trays that they are happy to use. The general rule is to provide one tray per cat plus one. Even if your cat has outdoor access you should provide a litter tray indoors in case the cat cannot get outside for some reason or is scared of doing so, for example because of the presence of a neighbour’s cat, road works outside your house, or bad weather. You should also ensure the litter trays you provide to your cat meets his preferences in terms of litter depth, privacy, ease of access and hygiene. Strongly scented cleaners, deodorisers and tray liners should be avoided, as should those cleaners that are ammonium based.Reducing any source of stress for your cat is also vital in treating FIC. Some common sources of stress include those risk factors mentioned above, such as living in a multi-cat household or a change in the social or physical environment, but speaking to your vet or asking for a referral to a behaviourist will help identify any sources of stress that may not be immediately obvious to you and will help you devise a plan to address these issues. Receiving tailor made advice is very important as every owner's and cat's set of circumstances and personality is different therefore treatment plans can vary widely. However, generic advice includes easy and free access to resources, including dark hiding places and elevated surfaces.

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