This May Be Why Your Cat Has Struvite Crystals or Cystitis

53590533 - portrait of a 10-year old female grey cat

Have you scoured the Internet for reasons why your cat keeps getting struvite crystals or recurring cystitis no matter what you do? Maybe you’ve tried everything. You’ve fed your cat the special prescription diet, or you’ve switched to a no carb, high protein diet of wet food. Maybe you’re adding a natural cranberry supplement to your cat’s meals, or you’ve switched to feeding a raw meat diet. If you’ve tried everything, but your cat still gets struvite crystals, have you considered your cat’s drinking water?

I’m not a vet, and what I discovered was through personal experience, so it hasn’t been thoroughly vetted—so to speak, nor does it mean that it will apply to your cat and their situation. However, I’m sharing my experience in the hopes that it may help other cat owners who are baffled over why their cats have persistent urinary tract issues.

This information is not intended to replace veterinary care. Struvite crystals can be life threatening so always follow your vet’s recommendations. But if you’re at your wit’s end, maybe this is the missing puzzle piece that will help prevent recurring crystals or cystitis in your cat.

“Some cats get them no matter what you do”

Over the course of my cat, Furball’s, 15-plus years, he’s had three instances of a blocked bladder due to struvite crystals. The first time it happened was when he was about two years old. I took him to the vet and he got the works: catheter insertion, subcutaneous fluids, antibiotics, and antispasmodics. About a thousand dollars later, I asked the vet what could be done to prevent struvite crystals from recurring in the future.

She told me to feed him a prescription diet and also to give him lots of water with his food so that any crystals would be continuously flushed out of his system. When I asked her why cats got crystals, her answer surprised me. Maybe veterinary medicine has improved since then, but she told me that they didn’t really know. “Some cats get them no matter what you do.”

I didn’t leave feeling very reassured, but I felt like I had no other options. So I gave Furball the prescription food and filled his food bowl with water. I fed him the diet for a few months, and the crystals were under control, but Furball’s normally lustrous coat turned dry, dull, and wiry.

He’d always had super shiny soft fur, so I knew it had to be the food. Since he’d been stable for several months, I decided to try tweaking his diet and eventually shifted him to a diet of half prescription food, with the other half consisting of a rotation of natural cat foods. He thrived on this diet, and was fine for years.

But then we moved to a new apartment, experienced an earthquake, and my husband accidentally dropped a tray of cutlery on the floor—all within a short timeframe. These events completely stressed out Furball, and it was not long before he had another case of a blocked bladder. I took him to the emergency vet, went through the usual routine, and got the same recommendations and lack of answers on how to prevent crystals. Sensing there had to be more I could do, I took him to a holistic vet once Furball was out of the emergency phase.

Views from a Holistic Vet

The holistic vet visit was very illuminating. No prior vet had told me about the importance of maintaining an acidic urine level to prevent struvite crystals. The holistic vet told me that was how prescription diets worked. They had additives to make the cat’s urine more acidic. She told me the same thing could be achieved by feeding my cat grain-free cat food that was high in protein.

She highly recommended that Furball get moisture from his food, namely wet food as opposed to adding water to dry kibble. She explained that simply adding water was hard on his kidneys because cats are desert animals not used to processing a lot of water. Here’s a list of the natural cat foods that she recommended.

She also told me that obesity and stress increased my cat’s risk of getting struvite crystals and a blocked bladder. So I made changes to his diet again, and Furball was good for another few years. But then we moved into our first house, and the baby arrived.

I don’t remember all that much from those sleep-deprived years of raising a baby/toddler. But I do recall there was a point where Furball started showing signs of straining to use his litter box, so I immediately took him to the vet. He once again tested positive for struvite crystals and he also had cystitis.

Furball was placed back on the prescription diet. I was advised again to give him as much water as possible, and we also had to give Furball antibiotics and antispasmodics. This time however, even though the level of struvite crystals in his urine went down, he continued to have recurring issues with straining to pee.

The vet was an assh*t, competent but with a tendency to dominate the animals. Furball hated him so I took him to another vet. This one was nice, but couldn’t offer any additional insights. The holistic vet wasn’t available, and then one day, my poor cat stopped eating. He became lethargic, and it looked like he had reached the end of his nine lives.

Rather than subject Furball to the stress of visiting the vet again when they had no new insights or information, I figured it would be better to let Furball pass away peacefully at home. He didn’t seem to be in pain even though he was not very responsive.

As I sat with my cat, crying and petting him, I got the idea to place my hands on his back shu points (acupuncture points) for the bladder. I imagined sending him loving energy through my hands, and an amazing thing happened. Furball began purring. So I stayed in that position for almost an hour, imagining healing energy flowing to my cat, and he continued to purr.

It was getting late so I said what I thought might be my final goodbye and went to sleep. I woke up the next morning not knowing what to expect, but surprisingly Furball was absolutely fine. He was running about, eating food, drinking water, and purring. It was like nothing had happened.

Realization

I kept wondering why my cat kept getting recurring cystitis when he was on the prescription diet, getting cranberry supplements, and drinking so much water. How did he get crystals in the first place when he was on a premium pure chicken, all-protein diet formulated for cats?

Then it suddenly dawned on me. Furball had been eating a dehydrated cat food that required the addition of water. And because of the cystitis and recent bout of struvite crystals, I was giving my cat extra water all the time. Was it the water?

When we moved, our new home was in a different municipality. Was the water in this district somehow different? It did seem to have a high mineral content because we always had a ring build up in the toilet bowl. Could the minerals be alkalinizing the water or causing sediment in my cat’s urine?

test-ph-cat-urineI needed pH testing strips like the ones used in high school science classes. I found pH strips on Amazon (the strips for testing cat urine can also be used to test water), and when they arrived, I tested our tap water. It tested slightly alkaline. No wonder my cat was forming crystals in his urine. He needed an acidic diet to prevent the formation of struvite crystals, and I was giving him lots of alkaline water. No one had told me to check the water. It’s supposed to be pH neutral, but it wasn’t.

I went to the grocery store, bought a bottle of water, and tested it with a pH strip. It was surprisingly slightly acidic. Perfect for my cat, but not so perfect for people or the environment. Anyhow, I’ve been buying bottled water for my cat for over three years now.

I know, I know, you’re cringing at the idea of bottled water. How can I do such a thing when California has been in a drought for four years, and when I wrote about hardcore ways to save water? And what about the plastic waste? Even New Delhi banned disposable plastics. So how can I in good conscience give my cat bottled water?

Well I’ll be honest. It’s one of those things you wrestle with. For some people, this crosses the line and I can respect and appreciate that. Furball’s my furbaby so I try to find other ways to offset the impact, kind of like buying carbon tax credits when you fly. The people in our household don’t drink bottled water—only the cat. We drink tap water and use reusable water bottles wherever we go.

Since I switched Furball to bottled water, I weaned him off the prescription diet again because it was making him vomit and made his coat dull. We also moved again, experienced a few earthquakes, and Furball was shut in a bedroom for an entire day while workmen with loud machinery cleaned and replaced the insulation in the attic.

Despite all of these stresses, it’s been three years and Furball has not had a single reoccurrence of cystitis or a blocked bladder. Fingers crossed that my kitty lives into his second decade in good health. And I hope your cat does too.

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Green Little Cat is the only blog that's all about eco-friendly ideas for cats and cat lovers. This blog is a labor of love, created by Holly Tse, author of Make Your Own Cat Toys.