Does dry cat food cause urinary problems?

Dry cat food is a contributing cause of urinary problems (stress is another). Vets call these feline health problems “feline lower urinary tract disorders” or FLUTD. Read any vet’s book or website on the topic and they’ll say the same thing that diet is a component of FLUTD and encouraging your cat to increase water intake is the single biggest thing you can do to alleviate the condition.

Feline urinary tract infection
Feline urinary tract infection. Picture: PoC.
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Domestic cats are poor drinkers. It is in their DNA to take in most of their water from their prey. They therefore has a low “thirst drive”. Dry cat food has 6% to 10% water content while prey (mouse) contains around 70% water. Cats don’t compensate enough by drinking more water. They become dehydrated. Their urine is less dilute. This encourages the formation of crystals and bacteria. Bacteria causes infection. This is cystitis.

For treating FLUTD Dr Bruce Fogle suggests a dietary change to wet food. “Avoid giving dry cat foods, particularly high fibre or light ones because they contribute to overall dehydration and high urine concentration”. The four vets who wrote Cat Owners’ Home Veterinary Handbook state that in curing FLUTD “canned foods are better than dry foods”. These statement are saying that dry cat food contributes to FLUTD.

Cat in dry cat food
Photo: The Spruce.

The arch-critic of dry cat food who is also a vet is Dr Elizabeth Hodgkins DVM. In her book, Your Cat (ISBN-13: 978-0-312-35801-3), she tells us how “plant-based cat foods cause urinary tract disease”.

She says:

  • Dry cat foods cause urine to become very alkaline (a high pH). This is unnatural for the bladder as it should be more acidic which occurs when a meat diet is eaten (i.e. below a pH of 7.4). The high urine pH causes bladder inflammation.
  • Dry cat food is too dry. Not enough moisture as I have stated above. The cat fed on dry cat food exclusively is “usually sub clinically dehydrated”. Their urine is concentrated. This leads to UTI (a urinary tract infection).
  • A meat-based diet lowers urine pH and the urine is more dilute. This prevents the formation of crystals and stones and eliminates inflammation.

Hodgkins equates cry cat food with a poor quality car fuel (gas or petrol). Put in poor fuel and the engine runs poorly. She cites many examples of cats in her care who’ve been brought to her with FLUTD and cured by a switch to a high quality wet food diet.

Example from Dr Hodgkins – Missy Forbes

Missy Forbes was described in her book as a fit cat who started to pee outside her litter box. She had been fed a premium dry diet with occasional wet food. She had urine pH of 8.0 and her urine was concentrated. There were no crystals and no bacteria. There was urinary tract inflammation due to the alkaline urine and its high concentration. She was placed on a wet diet only, which contained no corn, potatoes, carrots or fruit ingredients. Within three days she was cured of inappropriate urination. After two weeks her urine PH was 7.0 “a very acceptable level of acidity”. The pH declined further over a month to 6.5. Missy Forbes was cured through a change to wet cat food.

Some pages on “urinary tract”

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