AUTHOR: DR JOHN ABBASS
DVM M.Phil (Pet diseases & welfare)
Cat Urine Crystals (Crystallauria); An Ultimate Guideline
Urinary tract infection in cats is not uncommon. It is usually considered normal to see cat urine crystals. But increased amounts of different types of crystals can be alarming and indicate underlying urinary tract conditions.
Here, we will throw some light on the various kinds of urine crystals that can be formed in cats along with their underlying causes.
WHAT IS CRYSTALLURIA?
This is basically the presence of small precipitates in a cat’s urine (crystals). This must be clear that urine crystals are quite different from grits or urinary stones (uroliths). Urine crystal can be an indication of renal stones or can predispose cats to from different kinds of stones.
Sometimes, cat owners confuse urine crystals and stones. These two things are not always associated with each other. Generally, crystal formation is associated with cat’s diet and precipitation of crystallogenic substances in cat’s urine such as magnesium, phosphorus and ammonium minerals.
TYPES OF URINE CRYSTALS
There are two common types of urine crystals which are found in cats.
1) Calcium oxalate crystals
2) Struvite crystals
CALCIUM OXALATE CRYSTALS
Calcium oxalate crystals form when cats excrete high levels of calcium oxalate. These crystals can be an indication of calcium oxalate bladder stones (common in cats) or any infectious condition. All along with that, these crystals can also be a sign of calcium oxalate poisoning in cats.
It is also important to know that these crystals can become lodged in urethra and cause urinary obstruction in cats. Breeds that are prone to calcium oxalate crystals in the urine are Burmese, Himalayan, and Persian cats. Your veterinarian can do a proper diagnosis to reach the exact cause and adopt the effective treatment strategy to deal with this.
These crystals are considered normal in cats, if present in less quantity. Struvite is composed of magnesium, ammonium and phosphate. These crystals can aggregate to form Struvite stones, which can expel out of the body on their own or sometimes require surgical intervention.
In worst conditions, these stones can be life threatening, as they block the urinary passage and cats feel difficulty while voiding the bladder.
Note: These crystals are very much common in both male and female cats. Such crystals mostly occur in alkaline urine. Remember, a normal cat’s urine has acidic pH.
WHAT ARE CAUSES OF CRYSTAL FORMATION IN CATS?
Crystal formation is a multifactorial process in cats that depends upon many conditions. Some important key causes have been summarized here.
- Any cat’s feed that changes the pH of urine. Cat’s feed must be balanced and contain safe ingredients. High levels of calcium, magnesium, phosphate levels in diet can predispose to crystal formation as well.
- Crystal formation can be a sign of urinary stones or uroliths in cats. Or Lack of solubility of crystallogenic substances in urine.
- Long term use of any medication that changes the pH of a cat’s urine can cause crystal formation in cats.
- Congenital liver shunt or any other underlying medical condition of other organs can also become the reasons for crystal formation.
- It may occur due to any urinary tract infection, poisoning or less water intake.
WHAT ARE COMMON SIGNS OF URINARY TRACT DISEASES?
It is noteworthy that, because of the small size of urethra, crystals can block the urinary passage in cats.
Mostly, crystal formation in cats is associated with lower urinary tract diseases.
- Crystals can be seen in the cat’s urine.
- Hematuria (blood in urine)
- Difficulty in urination
- Urinating less than the usual
- Urinating outside the litter box
- Poor appetite and dullness
HOW YOU SHOULD DEAL WITH THIS SITUATION?
Being a cat owner, this is your responsibility to timely observe any abnormal signs and symptoms and report them to your vet on emergency grounds. Your veterinarian will make an effective plan to find the exact cause and suggest to you the line of treatment.
It is important to know the exact cause of crystals coming in urine. Your vet can use the following tools to reach the root cause.
- KFT – Kidney function test
- Urinalysis (macroscopic and microscopic evaluation)
- X-rays or ultrasound (To detect stones, if any)
Other tests include monitoring of liver functioning and blood profiling to look for extra renal reasons.
HOW URINE CRYSTALS CAN BE TREATED AND PREVENTED?
After getting the complete knowledge of exact etiology, your veterinarian will prescribe you the best treatment. Remember, for crystals that may lead to stone formation or urinary obstruction, dissolving or eliminating them is a higher priority.
Therapeutic diets can be suggested which will be helpful in regulating the pH of cat’s urine. It is noteworthy that nutrition plays an integral role in crystal formation and it is wise to make nutritional adjustments and offer your cat a balanced diet.
Diuretics (increase the frequency of urination) can be recommended. Other medications can be given to normalize the physiology of urine.
Your veterinarian may treat the other underlying causes. Surgical approaches can be taken, if urinary stones are detected which are unable to flush out normally.
It is necessary to provide the cat fresh and plenty of water to improve its hydration status. Good hydration status will reduce the likelihood of cat’s urine becoming supersaturated with minerals.
Last but not least, always try to select a balanced and nutritious diet for your cat, get recommendations from a pet nutritionist or ask a vet, if possible.