Study finds that low-dose radiotherapy is a highly effective treatment for feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC)

A study carried out at NC State College of Veterinary Medicine has found that low-dose radiation therapy is a highly effective treatment for feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) by reducing the inflammation and very importantly, apparently, preventing a recurrence. It was known that low-dose radiation therapy is an effective treatment for other inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and therefore the treatment was extended to cystitis which is also about inflammation of the bladder and urethra.

My thanks to Roberta for telling me about this important study.

Feline idiopathic cystitis can force a cat to urinate on the carpet near the wall
Feline idiopathic cystitis can force a cat to urinate on the carpet near the wall. Image: The Veterinary Nurse.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

This is a very welcome development in the cat world because FIC is fairly common among domestic cats particularly males due mainly to anatomical differences in the urinary tract. Male cats have a longer and narrower urethra making them more prone to urinary blockages which can be a complication of idiopathic cystitis.

When they develop FIC, the bladder becomes inflamed. It is described as “idiopathic” because even the best vets don’t know really what causes it although stress is considered a significant factor. Diet also plays a role with dry cat food being implicated.

Current treatments

The current treatment includes improving the environment, trying to ensure the cat is less stressed and providing high quality wet cat food and plenty of water. In the past I have provided my cat with boiled fish with added water to make a soup to encourage the intake of water as cats are not very good drinkers to their wildcat ancestor’s characteristic traits. My then female cat developed FIC because I was at work all day. My absence caused it as she was confined to my flat.

Inflammation causes swelling

When male cats develop the disease, the urethra becomes swollen and narrow leading to an obstruction. A classic example is reported on the NC State University Veterinary Medicine News website.

Archer Seaman. Has he been 'cured' of FIC? He is a happy boy.
Archer Seaman. Has he been ‘cured’ of FIC? He is a happy boy. Image: Danielle Seaman.

RELATED: Major cause of feline idiopathic cystitis is conflict with another cat in the home

Archer Seaman

The first cat to role on the study in April 2021 was Archer Seaman, a sweet black and white male. His caregiver is Danielle Seaman and she noticed that he was straining to urinate in his litter box with nothing being produced. A veterinarian did a full work up but there wasn’t an obstruction and he didn’t have stones in his urinary tract.

There was no obvious cause but they thought it was stress related and importantly once it started it was a constant battle. Every two or three weeks he would develop the disease and there was blood in his urine, which is typical. It was uncomfortable for him to urinate and he was dropping small amounts of bloody urine around the home.

He was given an oral treatment with helped a little but the problem persisted which is why Danielle enrolled him on the study. The treatment provided in the study has been “life changing, to be honest,” said Danielle. She added that, “He was miserable and making us miserable. And now he is one happy, healthy cat. I feel so lucky that my vet had known about the study and was able to refer us.”

The key here as far as I’m concerned is that FIC didn’t return. This indicates that low-dose radiotherapy might be a ‘cure’ which is a word you hardly ever used in medicine. Although further work is needed.

RELATED: Why does stress exacerbate cystitis in domestic cats?

Further research

The veterinarians who led the study are Dr. Michael Nolan, a radiation oncologist at the college mentioned and Dr. Alison Kendall of the same college. They intend to secure more funding for additional research.

The research concerned 15 male cats because as mentioned they are far more predisposed to FIC. The question is whether females would benefit as much from this form of therapy.

FIC is a serious disease because of its prevalence with apparently 20% of the cats being euthanised because of it.

Dr. Nolan concluded that:

“We found something that works well, but is there a better dose paradigm? Maybe there is something that can work even better. They are young cats in our study. Does it cure them? Or in a few years will they need another round of treatment? We don’t know. But additional funds and studies would help us sort those kinds of things out.”

Please note that there are other articles on FIC on this site which may be of interest to you. Please use the search tool.

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