The ACR office has many litter box options around for our resident cats, including simple plastic pans, high-sided boxes and fully enclosed furniture pieces that hide a litter box inside. We find this allows our cats to pick what they prefer, and reduces the incidences of “present” leaving, marking, or simply missing the target. And as much as we try to let the cats do their business in private, we must be mindful of out of the ordinary litter box behavior. One case in point is our senior cat Ollie.
Ollie is 14-years-old and his front paws are declawed. This led to some interesting box acrobatics when he tried to avoid stepping on pellet-style litter, which seemed to bother his front feet. Ollie was fine once he located the boxes with clay litter, but we recently noticed him taking much longer than normal to urinate, and when we checked what he’d left behind and saw a small amount of blood, we knew it was time for a vet visit.
Ollie’s x-rays showed he has kidney stones, which are small crystals made of the mineral calcium oxalate that form when there is too high a concentration of the mineral in the cat’s system. (Bladder stones are a related malady and can be made up of calcium oxalate or struvite, both minerals that occur naturally in a cat’s body.) According to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, kidney stones often go undiagnosed until they grow large and cause a cat to show symptoms.[i] The most common symptoms of kidney and bladder stones are blood in the urine; painful, strained or frequent urination; and recurring urinary tract infections.[ii]
Ollie’s gotta go, so how do we fix his problem with stones? Both surgery and a change in diet are options. Kidney stones can be left alone as long as there are no symptoms and the cat undergoes urinalysis on a regular basis to check mineral concentration levels.[iii] Some types of stones can be slowly dissolved by providing prescription food, but if there is any obstruction your vet may recommend surgery. (A complete obstruction is a medical emergency and can be fatal!)
Vets aren’t exactly sure why stones form, but Dr. Richard Goldstein of Cornell University says on their site, “we’ve observed that it tends to occur frequently in domesticated cats, especially in those that are not very active, don’t take in enough fluids, and don’t urinate enough.” He adds that male cats are more susceptible to blockages due to their narrow urethra.
In Ollie’s case, the vet found a kidney stone but no blockage and the blood in his urine was likely caused by the stone irritating the inner wall of his kidney. Ollie will be fed one type of prescription food to dissolve the stone, and then will be switched permanently to a preventative prescription food formulated specifically for maintaining a cat’s urinary tract health. He’s got the risk factors of being male, and is relatively inactive as a senior cat who is bothered by his declawed paws sometimes, so we’ll be encouraging him to drink more water and get more active too.
Remember that changes in a cat’s behavior, especially around the litter box, should be noted, and if you suspect a problem call your vet right away, as one stone of prevention can be worth ten stones of cure.
[i] “Bladder & Kidney Stones.” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine: Feline Health Center. Web. 2014. 15 Dec. 2015. http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/Health_Information/BladderandKidneyStones.cfm.
[iii] “Kidney Stones in Cats.” petMD. petMD, n.d. Web. 15, December 2015. http://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/urinary/c_ct_nephrolithiasis.