Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC)
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Words by:
Erin Connolly, DVM — Associate IndeVet

Dr. Erin Connolly provides a helpful Q&A about feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC).

Q: What is feline idiopathic cystitis? What are the signs of this disease? When should a cat owner seek veterinary care?

A: Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) is a urinary problem that typically affects younger cats. It is a condition that is caused mostly by stress due to changes in the environment or changes in the household routine.

FIC is one of the main causes of feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD). In addition to FIC, FLUTD can also be caused by a urinary/urethral blockage (almost exclusively a male cat problem), bladder stones, urinary tract infection (UTI), trauma, or urinary tract cancer.

Signs of FLUTD, and therefore FIC, may include bloody urine, straining to urinate (which may look like straining to defecate), frequent trips to the litter box, vocalizing while urinating, urinating outside the litter box, or licking the urinary opening (typically because of pain).

***If your cat ever starts showing any of these signs, please call your vet as soon as possible because these signs may indicate a urinary blockage, especially in male cats. A urinary blockage requires immediate emergency care***

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Q: After an FIC diagnosis, a lot of cat owners may feel anxious about what steps to take and may feel guilty because of the possible connection to stress in their cats.

What’s the first thing these owners should do after they receive the diagnosis?

A: Not to worry! No need to feel guilty because we have solutions!

Studies have shown that the most effective treatment for FIC is a special diet. Talk to your vet about their recommended brand, as there are a few different options. Weight management and feeding small frequent meals can also help minimize signs of FIC. Ensure that fresh, clean water is available at all times. Some cats drink more water when they have a water fountain available.

If your cat is urinating outside the litter box, it is important to very thoroughly clean those areas with an enzyme cleaner. The product I recommend to my clients is Anti-Icky Poo, which can be purchased on chewy.com or amazon.com.

If those areas aren’t cleaned thoroughly, the residual urine smell will cause your cat to keep urinating there. While you are focusing on cleaning, try to temporarily prevent your cat’s access to those areas to help break the habit.

Another helpful product is Feliway, which comes as a spray or a plug-in diffuser. This product creates a state of familiarity and security in a cat’s environment, which can subsequently reduce stress. The Feliway website is informative, so I recommend visiting it for more information about how to successfully use the product.

Q: What environmental changes should a cat owner consider to prevent FIC flare-ups? Any steps to take–or steps to definitely avoid?

A: Cats are sophisticated creatures, and they can potentially become stressed by ANY change in their environment or routine.

Potential stressors include disruptions/loud noises around litter boxes, dirty litter boxes, new litter type, the introduction of new pets or people into the household, the sudden absence of regular pets or people in the household, schedule changes, furniture rearrangement, visible outdoor cats/other outdoor animals, or moving.

One common problem is that most households don’t have enough litter boxes. In general, it is best to have one more litter box than the total number of cats in the household. For example, if you have two cats, you should try to have three total litter boxes located in different places in your house. Cats feel less stressed when they have more litter box options.

I always recommend that my clients visit the Indoor Cat Initiative website by Ohio State University, where they can find helpful information about reducing environmental stressors, including how to properly introduce new pets to the household.

The Cornell Feline Health Center website also provides comprehensive summaries of a variety of common cat conditions. The website veterinarypartner.com is an excellent resource for any pet topic searching in general (I tell my clients to use this website to “scratch a Googling itch!”).

More cat content: Preventing and treating feline heartworm

Q: Any anecdotes about FIC cats you’d like to share or anything else you’d like to add?

A: My own personal cat, Kit Kat, has FIC and he has not had a flare-up in over 8 years! This shows that as long as we take certain steps at home to help reduce stress, we can keep our FIC cats happy.

Remember, if your cat starts to have any urinary abnormalities, please call your vet right away so that more serious conditions can be ruled out.

Dr. Erin Connolly is an Associate IndeVet practicing in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC.

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