Probably it should not be called feline idiopathic cystitis because a major cause of it is known. A cause which I discuss here. The word “idiopathic” means an unknown cause of a disease.
In a study carried out in 2004 by Cameron and others, 31 cats with feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) were compared with 24 cats living in the same household who did not suffer from FIC. In addition, the two groups were also compared with a control population of cats numbering 125 of which all were healthy. Several stress factors in their lives were found to be associated with FIC. However, and I think this is quite important, the most important factor was living with another cat with which there was conflict.
The study concluded that stress is a factor in contracting FIC. We know that there are many successful multi-cat households in which the cats get along really well. We also that in a significant number of homes there may be mild to severe conflict between one or more of the cats. This causes stress in the more timid or submissive of the cats which can lead to cystitis. Cystitis results in inappropriate elimination which is a euphemism for peeing in the wrong place i.e. outside of the litter box. This may cause more stress because the owner of the home may become upset. A vicious cycle may commence.
The study referred to was carried out using a questionnaire looking for the effect of environmental or behavioural factors in feline lower urinary tract disease.
In addition to stress, another major factor is limited water intake and a dry cat food diet. These two factors have been confirmed as being linked to FIC in studies by Walker and others in 1977; Buffington and Chew in 1998 and Buffington and others in 1999.
Treatment clearly points to an analysis of the environment and behaviour. It also points to a removal of a dry diet combined with encouraging the cat to drink more water. The issue really is that domestic cats are not good drinkers so when the food does not contain 70 or 80% water they do not compensate adequately by drinking it. They are programmed over eons of evolution not to drink much water and they can’t rationalise the need to drink more if their food is dry containing about 10% water. They are short by about 60 to 70% of water in their diet.
Competition for resources
An added factor is that there may be competition in multi-cat households over important resources such as water stations and litter trays. This may be another reason why a timid cat may not drink enough water if fed on a dry diet. On the face of it, the solution is fairly straightforward.
Convenience of dry cat food
I have to confess, though, that dry cat food is incredibly convenient. It is also very cost-effective and good value for money. There is literally no waste whatsoever whereas in many cat households a lot of wet cat food is thrown away or recycled as food for wildlife. Wet cat food is more problematic. The cat food manufacturers know it and they know that dry cat food stuffed with carbohydrates is far from ideal for the domestic cat.
Because feral cats often eat rodents to survive they ingest an amino acid which helps to prevent urinary tract disease including cystitis and which is why there is a lower incidence of cystitis in feral cats than in domestic cats.
My thanks to the book “The Welfare of Cats” edited by Irene Rochlitz. I have also added my own thoughts in this article.