One of the most painful things is to watch our feline best friends in pain and feeling helpless as to what to do. Just six weeks ago, I thought we were going to lose my 8-year old cat, Riley, who I’ve had since he was a tiny kitten.
Today, he’s sitting here on my desk purring and napping contently free from all of the symptoms that plagued him earlier this year.
Riley was diagnosed with feline idiopathic cystitis, FIC, (or inflammation of the bladder) back in 2015. He had both a bacterial infection and struvite crystals blocking his urine, which caused severe inflammation. At the time, we had no idea what was going on, but immediately took him to the animal hospital to get checked out. The one-time episode came and went and he was perfectly healthy for many years. In that time, I learned how to feed him better (more on that in a bit) and watch over his health just as I do my own. This past November, however, he started exhibiting symptoms again. An autoimmune condition, feline cystitis can be as sporadic as any human autoimmune condition (like ulcerative colitis), so ongoing treatment and care is usually necessary.
I’ve easily spent over 100 hours researching everything from dietary factors to lifestyle and stress management factors to supplementation and have talked extensively with his holistic vet. From that, I have developed a comprehensive protocol that is giving his body the best chance at keeping this condition at bay so he can live a long and healthy life. I wanted this research to help more than just us and Riley, though, so I’m sharing what I have learned so that if your cat (or dog) has the same condition, you have a reference point.
Please Note: I am not a trained vet and I am not providing any outright claims, however, this is what I have learned and what worked for Riley. I hope it can be useful to you, too.
Dietary Factors for Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC)
Diet was the very first thing I changed in Riley’s life when he was first diagnosed with cystitis. After his conventional vet prescribed him the Hills Urinary Care food and I took a look at the ingredient label, I was appalled. Gluten, soy, corn, sugar, fillers…all of the most inflammatory foods were listed in there
Despite its active ingredient DL-Methionine, which helps cats maintain acidic urine to help prevent struvite/triple phosphate crystal formation, the rest of the ingredients seemed counter-intuitive, so I did some research.
In the wild, cats don’t eat much of any carbs, nor do they need any ‘fillers’. They’re pure carnivores, so protein should be their main source of nutrition. I also learned that grains can create a more alkaline environment in the body, especially the urinary tract, which primes it for crystal development.
So, I switched him to a 50% raw food diet and 50% organic and whole food diet. Below are the brands I rotate between (he’s a very picky eater and loves variety, unlike most cats!)
- Primal Pet raw food
- Castor & Pollux organic canned food
- Nature’s Instinct limited ingredient canned food (not organic but no fillers added)
- Ziwi Peak (also not organic, but no fillers added)
- UT Strength Treats (cranberry, d-mannose and probiotics to help support the bladder lining)
- When we do give him dry food, it’s either Open Farm Pet (ethically sourced and humanely raised ingredients) or Organix (grain free and organic)
Within just a few months of switching him from traditional canned or dry food to these brands, his dry, dull orange fur turned silky soft and glowing, his eyes got brighter (an excellent sign of good health in animals and humans alike), he seemed calmer and more content, and had more energy even as he aged.
Lifestyle and Stress Management Factors for Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC)
“FIC appears to be associated with complex interactions among the nervous system, adrenal glands, and urinary bladder.”
So, not coincidently, both of Riley’s FIC flare-ups were born out of times of stress. While they may not seem like stressful events to humans, our furry friends interpret things around them differently and we need to be attuned to it. When he had his first episode in 2015, we had recently (within a month) moved into a new apartment in Boston. The floors were thin and we could hear every thud and footstep from our neighbors above. Riley jumped every time. I felt bad that it stressed him out, but had no idea it would actually impact his health. My husband and I also didn’t get a good vibe from the apartment (we moved after just 9 months) so all around it wasn’t a good environment and Riley picked up on that.
Then, back in November (a few months ago in 2018) when he flared up again, a very nuanced but important change was made in our house that sent him over the edge. We moved his litter box (gasp!) I know, I know, it seems silly, but this is actually a BIG DEAL to cats. You see, when a cat goes to the bathroom in the wild, their urine or feces leaves a smell that marks their territory. If predators are around, which they usually are, this can risk them becoming prey. So, they need a quick getaway out of the area to save their lives. This is fight and flight at its best.
We were rearranging some things in our house and didn’t want the litterbox front-and-center in our finished basement, so we moved it from out in the open to in the basement bathroom. This meant he no longer had a clear shot from the litter box to up the stairs and out of “danger”. He had to go around THREE turns to get out. We could tell when we first moved it he wasn’t thrilled, but again, had no idea it would affect him physically. But it did. He felt threatened, this stressed his adrenals, and sent his FIC into a full-on flare.
Knowing at the time that stress did have something to do with his condition, I researched this more and learned about the “getaway” and by moving his box, we complicated his maneuvers out of the box and into safety (upstairs). I instantly raced down to the basement to put his box back where it was. It’s been there ever since and he seems much more at ease with his bathroom trips.
I also learned that you should have one more litterbox than cats in the house. We were only using one, so bought a second. Riley has always been great about using his litterbox — he’s never defecated outside of it, but having a three-story house (including our finished basement) it made sense to add a second litter box for convenience. He’s used both equally ever since, so clearly he appreciates it!
We also made sure, for health reasons, he had the best cat litter. It may seem like a silly investment to spend more on cat litter, but think about the difference using a cheap store brand toilet paper versus the good stuff makes on you. I was going for minimal dust because the dust stays on their paws after they use their box and they lick their paws. So, if the dust is made of something you don’t want your cat ingesting, this can be bad for their health. Plus, over time, clay can accumulate in their intestines, which can lead to other health issues
These are the cat litter brands we’ve switched to over time:
- World’s Best Cat Litter
- Weruva It’s A Tea Potty! Hinoki Wood & Green Tea Natural Cat Litter
- Pretty Litter (the litter actually changes color if there is blood or an imbalance in pH in the urine so you can detect the early onset of a condition. We use this every few months to check in on things and follow up with our vet for testing to verify)
Lastly, I bought this Zero Odor Multi-Purpose Household Odor Eliminator to destroy any residual odors in his litter box after I clean up every day. Cats don’t like the thought of their smells lingering because, again, it can pose a threat to them in the wild, and I read several articles saying this helped other cats feel more comfortable in their boxes…and it killed litter box smells in the house in general, which can be a big issue for cat owners.
Since we moved from our Boston apartment to a home in the suburbs, I wanted to make sure he felt as comfortable in the transition as possible, and that if any big changes happen in the house (rearranging of furniture, having many guests over, work being done on the house, etc.). So, I also started using pheromones. I use these plugins in key areas of the house where he commonly inhabits (the kitchen by his bowls, his most common napping place, and by his litter boxes). I also have an organic pheromone and essential oil spray I put it on new toys or for his cat sitter to use when she visits to make him at ease with new things. They both work wonders!
We also try to minimize loud noises and I try to cuddle with him daily 🙂
Supplements for Cats with Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC)
The last part of the equation was key for his fast recovery. Feline cystitis being an autoimmune and inflammatory condition often brought on by stress and too alkaline an environment in the bladder, I had a lot of work cut out for me that his diet alone may not be able to do.
I needed to:
- Support his adrenals
- Lower inflammation (his bladder was the size of a grapefruit at his last flare, should be the size of a lemon)
- Support healthy immunity
- Slowly raise the acidity in his bladder to break apart crystals and kill bacteria, yeast, or viruses
- Help his body repair from any damage
After a LOT of research, below is the list of supplements I landed on. I don’t give him all of them every day, but I do rotate them in every other day or as needed. As a reminder, I am not a trained vet and am not claiming anything with these supplements, I am simply sharing what I learned and why I use them because they helped our kitty so much.
- PetAlive UTI Free homeopathy blend – my holistic vet piqued my interest in homeopathy as an excellent remedy for cats and I happened to find this brand which combined some of the best ones for FIC, most notably, Staphysag. I gave a pinch of the granules in his food three times a day during his flare and I saw a notable ease in his symptoms after he ate. He is not on this currently, as it’s only for short-term use at the onset of symptoms.
- Wysong Biotic pH- Dog & Cat Food Supplement – this supplement has the main ingredient in the prescription food his conventional vet recommended, DL-Methionine, plus other natural ingredients to help increase acidity to break apart crystals and keep infections at bay. I felt much better about him taking this than the food. I add ½ tsp of the powder to his food twice a day. I plan to keep him on this indefinitely.
- Kidney Support – the kidneys can take a big hit during a FIC flare. When a cat cannot pass urine, toxins build up in the kidneys and they can begin to fail. Riley’s kidney values were high during both of his flares but did go back into normal ranges after a few weeks, however, these herbal drops are meant to support normal kidney values (though I’m sure they’d be helpful for abnormal values, too) so I have him on this preventatively and proactively.
- CBD oil for pets – I’m a huge proponent of CBD oil for human use (see this post) but it’s also fantastic for animals. My favorite hemp CBD oil company, PrimeMyBody, just released a pet version, which not only has their high-quality hemp oil, but also:
- Yucca Root to support joint health and active mobility. Yucca also aids proper digestion and can improve pet waste odor. Because it contains high quantities of vitamin C, beta-carotene, protein, and many other essential vitamins and minerals, including saponins, it can help to alleviate symptoms of inflammation distress.
- Fish oil – Guaranteed mercury-free, and sourced from Red Pollock, the fish oil used in PrimeMyPet is all-natural. Omegas can aid mobility and joint health in dogs and cats and revitalizes the quality and health of animals’ coats.
- Red algae – The “secret” compound in PrimeMyPet’s fish oil is Astaxanthin, which contains powerful antioxidants that protect pets from free radical cell damage, allergies, skin and eye conditions, and immune issues.
- Hawthorn berry extract – This ingredient may help cardiac and circulatory health in dogs and cats. Since it is high in antioxidants, the phytochemicals in Hawthorn can protect against heart disease and work to balance blood pressure levels and improve blood flow.
*Note: at this time, the product is only available for affiliates (of which I am one) so if you do not see an option to order it when reading this article, let me know because I plan to place a big order and can ship a bottle to you. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
- UT Strength Feline Chews – I mentioned these earlier, but d-mannose and cranberry are excellent bladder health support. I plan to give these to him indefinitely.
- Curcumin – before I started using CBD oil for Riley, I had him taking curcumin (mixed in his food), which is the active anti-inflammatory in turmeric root. This was to help his bladder inflammation go down as he healed.
I also add digestive enzymes to Riley’s food to help support proper digestion and maximum absorption of nutrients from his high-quality food. And right after his flare, I added in an antioxidant blend before I was having him take the CBD oil with antioxidants in it. I also had him on a probiotic before he was taking his UT treats, which have sufficient probiotics in them (there is this enzyme and probiotic blend which may be more dual-purpose if you’re looking to give your pet both).
Because Riley flared up three times in a matter of 8 weeks, we wanted the last one to be his last. So, I had a consult with his fantastic vet and we decided to give him ozone treatment.
Ozone can help lower inflammation, boost immunity, and fight infections. It’s a perfect targeted treatment to combat chronic issues like FIC. Since he’s a finicky cat, we needed to sedate him for the procedure since the ozone would be going directly in his bladder. While he was chilled out for this, we also did an ozone blood transfusion to give his whole body a boost, as well as gave him subcutaneous vitamin C and vitamin A. He got the works!
If you are local to Massachusetts or New England, our vet is M.A.S.H. vet in Hopkinton, MA (yes, the same town where the Boston Marathon starts!). Feel free to tell them I sent you if you make an appointment, they are fantastic.
While it was one of the most stressful periods in my life to see Riley go through all of the pain that goes along with feline cystitis, each flare has helped me learn better and better ways to support his health and learn more about his condition. I am very confident in the plan we have him on and seeing him so comfortable and carefree today makes all of the sleepless nights and hours of research entirely worth it. I hope this saves you from a few sleepless nights and hours of research.
If you have questions, I’m happy to try and answer, but I also encourage you to find an alternative, integrative, or holistic vet in your area to discuss the specifics of your animal and come up with a plan.
If it were up to his conventional vet, I don’t know if Riley would be here today, as the only ‘treatment’ they wanted to give him was pain medications to dull the pain and antispasmodics to help him pee, if there wasn’t a blockage. I was devastated that they couldn’t offer more, which was a big motivation of mine to put in the work and get to the root of this. As a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition Practitioner by day, this is what I’m trained to do for my human clients, after all, so Riley’s case wasn’t too different.
I truly hope this information is helpful to you. Please bookmark this page for future reference if you need it, or share it with others who have animals going through the same issue. I will continue to update this as I continue to learn more and more.