While we often forget, our modern house cats are descendants of desert felines who lived where water was scarce. As a result, they evolved to get most of their hydration from their prey and did not rely on a separate water source. These felines ate small prey like mice, which are high in protein and moisture, and low in carbohydrates. The only carbohydrates that a cat eats in the wild are whatever’s in its prey’s stomach. So, what does this have to do with how to help treat and prevent urinary tract disease in cats? Much of it has to do with proper nutrition.
Cats evolved like this for ages until the last 50-100 years or so, when we started keeping cats indoors and feeding them commercial pet foods. While the lifestyles of cats changed drastically in a short period, their biology has not. The urinary tract of a cat is a very delicate system, and to operate properly it needs to be flushed regularly. However, many cats do not drink as much water as they should because they have evolved from animals that ate rather than drank their water.
Sadly, much of modern cat food is often dry kibbles that are high in carbohydrates, low to moderate in protein, and void of any moisture – the exact opposite of cats’ natural diets. These foods not only fail to add any hydration to your pets’ bodies, they also require water from the body to process. This causes many housecats to live for years in a chronically dehydrated state.
This, combined with an inappropriate and dehydrating diet, has led to many cats, particularly males (who have smaller urethras and are more likely to pick up bacteria) to develop urinary tract (UT) diseases involving their kidneys, bladders or the entire tract. The good news is that proper nutrition can help prevent urinary tract disease in cats! The key is feeding as close to a cats’ natural diet as possible – high protein, high moisture, and low carbohydrate, with a proper mineral ratio. Raw meat diets are the absolute healthiest way to feed your cat, and most holistic pet stores or progressive vets should be able to help you transition to raw.
What Type of Diet is Good to Help Prevent Urinary Tract Disease in Cats?
If you prefer a more convenient diet, we recommend dehydrated or freeze dried foods, to which you can add a lot of water in preparation. Canned diets are the next best thing, and you should add water to make the food extra hydrating. If you absolutely must feed a dry kibble, look for a grain-free food with high meat content and very few carbohydrates. Finding a food low in phosphorus is also vital, particularly for cats with pre-existing UT issues. There is a misnomer that cats with kidney issues need a low-protein food. This is only true when the proteins you are feeding are of inferior quality, such as by-products or plant-based proteins, which are hard for the kidneys to process. In reality, cats with kidney disease can often process moderate amounts of high quality proteins (muscle and organ meats) with ease.
You should encourage your cats to drink more water by always adding some to their food, and placing many water dishes around the house in their favorite spots. Many cats prefer running water, so giving them a fountain can entice them to drink enough water to flush their system properly.
Remember, while healthier pet food can be more expensive, you can help prevent urinary tract disease in cats along with the pain and discomfort for your cat and large vet bills for you.
Jenna Yarosh is founder and owner of Patton Avenue Pet Company and an expert on pet nutrition.