Most of us usually focus on feeding our pets well, but how well do we keep them hydrated?
Our cat, Cujo, has had two fairly major urinary tract issues in the past, both having to do with her water intake. Her first issue came out of nowhere when one day I found her crying out in pain, peeing blood in random spots around the house. This happened about nine or ten years ago and it was definitely not a good sight to see. After a trip to the Riverdale Animal Hospital on the Danforth and some x-rays, Cujo was found to have had a large crystal in her bladder, causing an extremely painful blockage when she tried to urinate. This issue tends to happen more frequently in male cats because of their narrower urinary tract. It doesn't take a huge crystal to block up a male cat, but females like Cujo would need a pretty big crystal for them to experience what she was experiencing.
I scheduled a surgery to remove Cujo's crystal at the Blue Cross Animal Hospital on the Danforth, near Broadview, which was successful. Man, was I ever relieved when I brought her home after the surgery and she peed normally!
The doctor at the clinic mentioned changing Cujo's diet to a higher quality food, so I started switching her onto Pro Plan and then Nutro Max and Natural Choice. Later, I switched her to Blue Buffalo Wilderness, with no visible issues. I did not do anything about her water intake because I wasn't yet aware that I should be monitoring this. (Oh, by the way, Cujo has been an outdoor cat for almost all her life, so I couldn't monitor her as closely as I could have if she was indoors.)
All was well until two summers ago, when I happened to notice Cujo using her litter box. She was peeing a smaller amount of urine and that it had some blood in it. She was also hiding from me under the car for most of the day and she was barely eating. So I scheduled another visit to the vet.
This time, I took her to the Laird-Eglinton Pet Hospital. The vet, Dr. Tung, took some x-rays, blood sample and a urine sample. The results came back: Cujo had another possible crystal in her bladder. Her bloodwork was ok, but she may have had a small bladder infection as well. Lastly, she also had a heart murmur. Dr. Tung was very honest about the possibilities. He said he would not initially recommend surgery to remove the crystal because of complications from Cujo's heart murmur. Instead, he recommended trying a diet switch, from Blue Buffalo to MEDI-CAL Urinary SO to see if the food can dissolve the crystal or if Cujo can pass the crystal herself with some extra water intake. He also prescribed some antibiotics for the small bladder infection and sent us on our way.
Thankfully, the food worked amazingly well. It has a higher sodium level than regular cat food so it causes cats to drink more water, keeping the bladder operating smoothly. Cujo passed the crystal (or it may have dissolved, depending on what type of crystal it was). She also responded to the antibiotics and started to gain some weight. Everything was great until last spring.
As I mentioned, Cujo is an outdoor cat, so she does what outdoor cats do. Unfortunately this means she drinks water from strange sources. Last spring, I went to check on Cujo after I hadn't seen her for a day or so. She was lying down in pain in a room. She didn't want to move at all. I freaked out and took her to the Kingston Road Emergency Animal Hospital (it was after-hours). They couldn't find out what was wrong with her, so after spending $1500 and almost euthanizing her, we took Cujo back to Laird-Eglinton. A quick checkup revealed the probable cause: a bladder infection. This one was a particularly nasty bout of e-coli, and it took several months of antibiotics before Cujo felt better. Dr. Chung, the vet, couldn't tell me the exact cause, but I have a hunch it was Cujo's attraction to random puddles of dirty water. I have now found that Cujo like to drink from extremely shallow bowls; she is currently drinking healthy amounts of water from an upside-down coffee mug. She is also attracted to upside-down buckets lying around outside, so I've had to empty them of water along with other potential unintended water bowls.
So what have I learned from my experience? Make sure our pets have plenty of clean water to drink. Cats can be tricky because they like their water and food in different areas. Some may not drink if their food and water bowls are close to their litter box, for example. The key is to be aware of our pets' water intake and to adjust to their particular preferences.