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Urinary Health & Diet in Cats

Urinary conditions are painful, frustrating and can even be life threatening in cats, so urgent veterinary attention should always be sought.

Urinary disorders include bladder stones/crystals, infections, FLUTD and idiopathic cystitis – treatment will depend on the correct diagnosis. Chronic renal (kidney) disease is a common disease in cats, particularly older cats. If you suspect your cat has a urinary condition, contact your vet immediately.

Traditionally all urinary conditions were treated with medication only. More recent work has shown that some conditions could be linked to lifestyle factors such as boredom, stress and obesity. Therefore, making changes to the diet and environment can help to keep your cat’s urinary tract healthy.

Why should I encourage my cat to drink?

An adequate intake of water is essential for all healthy cats, however increasing water to dilute the urine is the single most important thing you can do if your cat is prone to urinary conditions such as idiopathic cystitis.

Cats don't like drinking...

There’s a myth that cats are notoriously bad at drinking water. In fact, some people believe they should not be fed dry food at all because of this low thirst drive but there is no scientific proof of this. Lacking the urge to drink fluids also makes little sense considering their ancestors come from dry, hot countries.


How can you encourage a cat to drink?


– Clean, fresh water should always be available in several places around the house. Even if the water level does not appear to be decreasing, it is important that the water is refreshed regularly.


– Resource guarding is a common problem (where one cat stops the other using a bowl, litter tray or a bed) so several bowls are vital if you have more than one cat.


– Some cats prefer a certain type of bowl – many don’t like reflective metal bowls and others don’t like bowls where their whiskers touch the sides so a larger bowl may be required.


– The taste of water is also important. Tap water can taste strongly of chlorine and so collecting rain water may be an economical option. Consider a water drinking fountain if your cat likes to drink from a dripping tap – there are many styles available.


– Don’t forget that cats won’t drink water if their bowl is right next to their litter tray!

Adding water to the cat food

Why not simply add water to one or all of their meals? You can do this with either dry or moist food. Warm-hot water is best because the food soaks quickly and the warmth of the water brings out the aroma of the food and encourages eating (cats prefer their food at body temperature). Boiling water is not recommended as it may destroy heat-sensitive vitamins and could result in your cat burning his/her tongue.


Burns Cat foods cat foods easily soak down and makes a delicious alternative to feeding the food dry – with the benefit of no messy pouches or cans!

Dietary management

Increasing the water content of your cat’s diet is essential for cats prone to urinary problems. However, there are other dietary considerations to maintain a healthy urinary system.

How much should you feed?

Free feeding or feeding ad-libitum has been shown to increase the risk of developing urinary conditions in certain cats. There are several reasons for this:


– A diet containing high quality protein that meets but does not exceed the cat’s maintenance requirements should be fed. The food should provide adequate calories from carbohydrates and fat to minimize use of dietary protein for energy – Overfeeding or overeating is more common in cats that a free fed and increases the amount of waste products in urine which can irritate the bladder membrane.


– It also means that the ratio of dry food to water is increased so the urine becomes more concentrated; this is likely to make the bladder a more favourable environment for bacteria.


–  Obese cats have also been shown to be more at risk from urinary conditions, so food should be carefully measured out.


A natural, good quality food such as Burns will be easy to digest, so the daily feeding amounts are lower. Avoiding ingredients such as sugar means the urine is a less favourable environment for bacteria to thrive. A better quality diet may reduce waste products in the urine which can irritate the bladder.


See Burns Cat Food Feeding Amounts here.


Overweight cats and those with a sedentary lifestyle are more prone to urinary conditions. A low fat diet and increased exercise is therefore recommended to maintain urinary health. Try to encourage exercise by playing with your cat in short 5 minute sessions throughout the day.


Use puzzle balls to encourage your cat to work for his/her food or use your stairs to encourage exercise. Moist food can be put at the top or the bottom of the stairs so the cat has to use them to get food, or dry food can be scattered on the stairs or in and around cat activity centres.

Specialist diets

Veterinary advice on the correct diet for your cat is recommended if he/she has a urinary problem. A specialist diet may be needed and the correct diet will depend on the diagnosis. Urinary diets often contain substances which change the pH of the urine to make it more acidic or more alkaline (depending on the type of bladder stone). Often these diets will have a reduced protein or mineral content too.

Case, Linda P. The Cat: It’s behaviour, Nutrition & Health (2003). Iowa. Blackwell Publishing Company.

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