4 steps a cat owner cat take to help prevent stress-induced cystitis

I believe that this topic is an important part of cat caregiving as domestic cats are likely to be stressed more often than cat owners typically believe. Up to two-thirds of cats taken to a vet for urination problems including bloody urine and inappropriate urination have no health issues. But they have an inflamed bladder and an intermittent blockage of the urethra. They suffer from idiopathic cystitis, a common condition which is why it is an important topic.


The potential for cat stress caused by anxiety is an important component in a cat caregiver's knowledge.
The potential for cat stress caused by anxiety is an important component in a cat caregivers knowledge. Image: MikeB
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Research has identified conflict with other cats inside the home in multi-cat homes as probably the most likely cause of cystitis together with conflicts with neighbouring cats.

A sign that a cat is stressed by other cats coming into the backyard is if they run away. And male cats are more likely to contract idiopathic cystitis for two reasons:

  1. They are more territorial than females and therefore are emotionally impacted more by the incursions of neighbouring cats and;
  2. they have shorter urethras (the tube leading out of the bladder) than females.

Dr Bradshaw documents a case of cystitis suffered by a cat living in the UK. He was five years old at the time and having a lot of difficulty in urinating and his urine was bloody. He also over-groomed his belly to feel a bit calmer. A form of feline self-medication. Other than this he was healthy.

He lived in a multi-cat home of 6 cats. Sadly, he was unable to be friendly with any of the other cats. Cats from a neighbour had attacked him.

Researchers at the Bristol University Veterinary School investigated the case. They clearly recognised stress-inducing behavior due to the presence of the other unfriendly cats and the ‘trespassing’ of other cats. He wanted to have his own home range but was unable to sustain or attain that objective it seems to me.

Changes to the cats living arrangements and lifestyle were implemented by his owners as recommended by a Bristol University Veterinary School as follows:

  1. He was given his own exclusive area within the house and;
  2. he was given his own food bowl and;
  3. he was given his own litter tray that the other cats in the home could not access and;
  4. the owners blocked his view of the garden by covering the bottom half of the windows in his area of the home. This prevented him seeing cats coming into the backyard (garden).

The result was dramatic if predictable. His symptoms gradually disappeared. Dr Bradshaw says that six months later his symptoms returned but this was due to a specific event: he was accidently shut in with the other cats two days previously causing the stress to re-emerge.

He recovered quickly once the problem had been rectified. It seems that his owners were pleased to learn about this aspect of cat caregiving. With the greatest of respect to the caregivers involved their lack of appreciation of feline behavior and their obligation to provide a suitable environment in which their cats can express their innate desires were the causes.

It is nice to see that the health problem can be fixed relatively easily and without medication. It comes down to how humans behave and the environment that they create for their cat or cats. This is very often what happens.

Cat behaviourists nearly always analyse the cat owner’s attitudes and behavior not those of the cat or cats as the solution comes from that source.

When a cat feels anxious for a few minutes it’s okay and part of life but if they are stressed almost permanently, it is a chronic condition as stress hormones are constantly elevated leading to a deterioration in their health, typically idiopathic cystitis.

P.S. If the circumstances spelled out above are not in place and the cat is stressed with cystitis the likely cause would be separation anxiety because the owner is away from home for too long daily.

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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