You may have heard of struvite crystals or stones in cats. But do you know what they are or how to dissolve them out of your cat’s body?
Struvite crystals can be dissolved. It is done by acidifying the urine with canned prescription diets. For those cats who don’t like wet food, there are dry formulas available. The purpose of these treatments is to create more dilute and acidic urine.
What Are Struvite Crystals? Formation And Main Factors
Struvite crystals are tiny crystals that can be found in some cats’ urine. Specifically, struvite is a material created from phosphate, ammonium, and magnesium. Your cat’s urine can be a normal place to find Struvite and struvite crystals at a low level. However, when the crystals combine and form stones or grit of different sizes and shapes, they can become problematic.
Usually, these crystals are found in the kidneys, urethra, or urinary bladder. There are cases where the crystals can be dissolved or flushed out of the cat’s body. Unfortunately, other cases require them to be removed surgically. And both female and male cats can experience this.
Why Do The Struvite Crystals Form?
Struvite crystals are part of the greatest disease known as FLUTD (feline lower urinary tract disease). But, unfortunately, the real cause isn’t well understood. What we do know is that struvite crystals are the most common stones and crystals found in cats. But, since there are many factors involved, one specific cause has not been identified by research.
Here are some of the factors known to cause struvite crystals:
- Reduced exercise or obesity.
- Unbalanced diet.
- Environmental stress.
- Dehydration, which leads to highly concentrated urine.
- A high pH or alkaline environment.
Struvite Crystals In Cats: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, And Treatment
What Are Clinical Signs Of Struvite Crystals?
If your cat is experiencing symptoms related to struvite frequently, you may not notice any behavioral changes. At first, they can be very subtle.
In many cases, crystals can cause irritation and inflammation to the bladder wall, which is very painful. In addition, it can lead to producing very little to no urine at all, causing a urinary blockage which is a life-threatening emergency.
When cats have struvite crystals, some of the symptoms can include:
- Decreased appetite or not eating.
- Chronic cystitis or urinary infections.
- Recurrent trips to the litter box.
- Urinating small amounts of urine.
- Straining and vocalizing, urinating.
- Decreased or increased urination.
- Uncontrolled licking and grooming of the genital area.
- Urinating outside the litterbox.
- Your cat’s urine can change in odor and color (bloody urine).
What Causes Struvite Crystals In Cats?
As stated by VCA Hospitals, “in some cats, struvite crystals form resulting from a urinary tract infection; however, this is less common in cats than in dogs. In addition, there are some other cases where cats develop struvite crystals without having an infection.
The exact cause for these cases is unknown. However, it has been found that many different factors contribute to the creation of these crystals. Some of these factors include increased phosphorus and magnesium levels within the urine, the build-up of concentrated urine, and increased urine pH (alkaline urine).
The evolution of struvite crystals has an underlying cause. Plenty of cats are hesitant to drink water from their bowls. So naturally, cats are not water drinkers. That, combined with a dry cat food diet, can eventually lead to cats having struvite crystals in their urine.
How To Diagnose Struvite Crystals In Cats? What To Expect From The Vet?
If you see your cat has any of the symptoms already mentioned, contact the vet immediately. The veterinarian will run a diagnostic test to determine if struvite crystals are present and help determine the appropriate course of treatment.
What To Expect?
Things that the vet will do include:
- Physical Exam: The vet will do a physical exam of your cat.
- History: The veterinarian will get your cat’s history with the assistance of the vet technician. The history will include your cats’ overall behavior. In addition, the vet will make inquiries about any changes to your cat’s schedule, routine, environment, and any other symptoms you have seen at home.
- Urine Culture: The vet should obtain a urine sample via cystocentesis. This is when they remove a urine sample with a needle placed into the urinary bladder and through the abdominal wall. This method identifies the specific bacteria that could be causing a possible urinary tract infection.
- Susceptibility: A sensitivity test is usually conducted to determine the most effective antibiotics against the bacteria involved.
- Urinalysis and Blood Work: By obtaining and running a urinalysis and bloodwork, the veterinarian sees how your cat’s internal organs are working as well as checks for any infection, bladder inflammation, and dehydration.
- X-rays: Radiographs are the best way to diagnose struvite crystals because most stones are visible on radiographs. Radiographs are done to determine if the bladder contains any stones that appear abnormal or contain bladder stones. On X-Rays, struvite crystals usually look like pebbles or smooth rocks within the bladder.
- Ultrasound: It may also be used to see bladder stones.
How To Treat Struvite Crystals In Cats?
Struvite crystals have two main areas of treatment: medical dissolution and surgical removal.
Medical dissolution is done by feeding the cat a specially-formulated prescription diet. The purpose of these diets is to alter the urine’s pH and chemical composition so that the crystal will dissolve gradually.
The cat should not eat any treats or other types of food, only the prescription food, for the dissolution to be effective. During this process, the vet will repeat radiographs every few weeks to check on the progress and make sure the stones respond to the diet, therefore shrinking. It will usually take one to two months for the struvite crystals to dissolve.
When cats have factors in the house or medical conditions preventing them from eating a prescription diet, the vet can remove struvite crystals surgically with a procedure known as cystotomy.
A cystotomy requires general anesthesia. First, the vet will make a surgical cut into your cat’s abdomen. Then, another cut into the bladder to remove the crystals. Once removed, the crystals are sent to the lab to confirm their composition.
During the recovery time – it takes one to two weeks -, you must limit the cat’s activity to allow his incision to heal. For the first few days after the cystotomy, it is normal for the cat to experience abdominal pain. In addition, you might see blood in the urine.
Can Struvite Crystals Reappear After Treatment? How To Prevent It?
Suppose the conditions that first led to the formation of the crystals were not corrected. In that case, there is a chance for cats who have had struvite crystals before to experience a recurrence later in life.
You can’t always prevent struvite crystals from happening. However, there are some factors that can increase your cat’s chances of having struvite crystals. Some include decreased water intake, obesity, and stress.
Follow these steps to help lower your cat’s chances of developing struvite crystals:
- Reduce your cat’s stress.
- Increase your cat’s water intake.
- Enrich your cat’s environment.
- Help your cat stay active with play.
- Inform your veterinarian if you see any changes in your cat’s behavior and elimination patterns or if you have any concerns.
- Give your cat his diet and medications as prescribed by the veterinarian.
You may not see your cat’s symptoms immediately, or you might see minimal symptoms. However, the veterinarian is likely to find out when they are performing tests.
Additionally, it is good to remember that it can result in painful, bloody urine, irritation in the urethral area, or complete blockage of the urethra when left untreated.
Remember, struvite crystals and stones in cats’ urine can’t always be prevented. Furthermore, cats who have experienced having struvite crystals in the past are more likely to recur later in life.
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