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Cat Urinary Tract Health


Cat Urinary Tract Health

Postby admin » Sat Jan 23, 2016 5:21 pm

Many cats suffer each day because of the water-depleted diets (read: any dry kibble) that humans insist on feeding to them. Out of all of the subjects discussed on my website, urinary tract health - especially urethral obstructions - is the subject that I am most passionate about.

If the reader had to witness the tremendous suffering that a cat must endure when his (or, rarely, her) urethra becomes obstructed they would understand why this subject is so important. (See Opie's pictures below.)

To be quite frank, if humans - including many of my veterinary colleagues - had a cork inserted into their urethra until they experienced the excruciating pain secondary to bladder distension and rupture, I have no doubt that they would start to take this issue much more seriously and STOP condoning the feeding of dry food to cats.

And while urethral obstructions cause tremendous pain and suffering and can result in death if the bladder ruptures, cystitis (bladder inflammation) is also extremely painful. Many of these cats, understandably, develop litter box aversions secondary to associating the litter box with their pain. This results in house soiling and cases of abuse when the poor cat is punished.

If I could have the reader of my website leave with one word firmly imprinted in their mind it would be "water". If your cat is on a properly hydrated diet of 100% canned food - and no dry food - you stand a very good chance of never needing to read this webpage.

Note that I said "water" - not "crystals" or "urine pH" - or any of the expensive, low-quality, "prescription diets" often recommended by veterinarians.

Always keep in mind that water flowing through the urinary tract system is the most important factor in keeping it healthy. That said, please do not make the mistake that so many people make when they state "but my cat drinks plenty of water!"

A cat's normal prey is ~70% water. Canned food is ~78% water. Dry food is ~5-10% water. Cats have a low thirst drive and they do not make up the deficit at the water bowl. They are designed to get water with their food.

Total water intake - dry vs canned

Cats on canned food have been shown to consume at least double the amount of total water when compared to dry food-fed cats when all sources of water (food and water bowl) are considered.

This results in approximately double the amount of urine flowing through the bladder.

Think of canned food as not only a proper diet for an obligate carnivore, in general (see Feeding Your Cat: Know the Basics of Feline Nutrition), but also understand that it is the healthiest way to keep your cat's bladder flushed out and 'happy.'

When choosing a diet for their cat, I find that many people are fixated only on carbohydrates and fail to miss the very critical point that all dry foods - including the low carbohydrate options - are water-depleted.


I receive hundreds of emails every year from people asking me what diet to feed their cat after urinary tract problems have been noted.

(Please read my comment below stating that no advice will be provided via email.)

Unfortunately, many of these people and their veterinarians have missed the point of water...water...water and have continued to put the cat in danger by feeding/prescribing a dry food diet - including any and all of the prescription dry diets.

It is highly counter-intuitive to label any water-depleted (read: DRY) food as a "urinary tract diet."

Generally speaking, the basic diet recommendation for the average cat with urinary tract issues is a high protein/low carbohydrate canned food with added water.

Taking it one step further, look for one that is low in phosphorus - either below ~1.0-1.2% dry matter (not 'as fed'), or below ~250-300 mg/100 kcal.

Protein, carbohydrate, and phosphorus content (mg/100 kcal) are listed for many canned foods on this chart.

Unfortunately, it would take me far too long to keep up with the new products on the market so if you want to know the specifications of the food you are feeding, please see the Contacting Pet Food Companies section on my Commercial Canned Food page for dialog that you can use when calling them.

When considering water versus phosphorus content, as noted above, the water issue is the most important but if you are really worried about crystals (even though they are not an abnormal finding in cat urine as discussed below), pick a diet that is low in phosphorous.

Phosphorus is a general indicator of the calcium and magnesium load of the diet. If a diet is low in phosphorus, chances are it is also fairly low in calcium and magnesium since all of those minerals are high in bone material and if a diet is low in phosphorus, it is probably low in bone matter.

Note that fish tends to be high in phosphorus because fish comes with its own bones so stay away from fish.

Also see prescription diets below.

If you are tempted to write to me to ask which diet to feed to your cat, understand that no advice will be offered via email. If you wish to discuss your cat's individual case, an appointment for a phone consultation can be set up but only after providing your cat's medical records for my review. (Scroll to the bottom of this page for contact information.)


If you do not want to read this entire webpage, please at least scroll down to see Opie's pictures. Opie is a very sweet, (previously dry food-fed) cat that suffered tremendously when his urethra became blocked in July 2008. He has been fine since his blockage and will always be maintained on canned food.

If your cat is a dry food 'addict', please see Tips for Transitioning Dry Food Addicts to Canned Food. All cats can be switched to canned food if the caregiver is patient enough.

Please note that when you change your cat's diet to canned food, the litter box will need to be cleaned more frequently.

Increased water intake => increased urine output...which is our desired result!

It is also very important to make sure that you have enough large litter boxes with CLEAN clumping (scoopable) litter placed in easily accessible locations in your home so that your cat will not 'hold' his/her urine for any reason.

Litter boxes should always be scooped at least twice daily.
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