Urinary Tract Infection and Preventive Care and Maintenance
By Nancy Faubion
Preventive health care, without a doubt, is now recognized and accepted as the optimal form of treatment for many prevalent disorders, both in humans and in their pets. From heart disease to mental health care, prevention of illness is the treatment of choice. Prevention is by far superior to the use and abuse of some traditional therapies that treat only symptoms as they arise, rather than the causes underlying the illness. Knowing the appropriate preventive measures to take is sometimes difficult, but there are many resources and remedies readily available in the United States today that were not available 20-25 years ago.
Preventive health care for urinary tract disorders in our pets is an excellent example of how highly successful therapeutic deterrents can be in reducing the chances of illness in our animals. Bladder and urinary tract inflammation and infection are prevalent problems for pets - cats more often than dogs and male cats having the highest incidence. (Abbreviations used are UTI, urinary tract infection/inflammation; or FLUTD, feline lower urinary tract disease; formerly known as FUS, feline urologic syndrome.)
Several factors associated with the disease include bacterial or viral infections, crystals in the urine, bladder stones, a genetic predisposition, lifestyle, and stress. This last factor, trauma or stress, is very often overlooked in many animal conditions or illnesses, as it is in humans. Stress suppresses the immune system and offers advantageous circumstances for infections to occur, especially if an animal has been existing on an inadequate diet, or is in poor health to begin with. Other factors contributing to the development of FLUTD and its equivalent in dogs are: a diet high in magnesium or other minerals, not drinking enough water, holding urine for extended periods of time, and excessively acid or alkaline urine (often a direct result of improper diet).
The observable behavior of an animal suffering from urinary tract problems usually consists of one or more of the following:
- Frequent urination or straining
- Producing little or no urine
- Blood in the urine
- Frequent licking of the genital area
- Extreme discomfort with noticeable pain
UTI's or FLUTD can be categorized into three basic presentations: acute, subacute and chronic. Obviously a chronic or subacute ailment can easily become acute if left untreated. When a chronic condition develops to an acute stage, it is still chronic, but has "peaked" to a point where it is an emergency. Crystals can develop or plugs can form, blocking the bladder and quickly putting the animal in a life-threatening situation. The presence of severe discomfort and pain is very serious and requires veterinary consultation immediately. In a matter of hours the animal could suffer serious kidney damage or death. The presence of any of these symptoms should be regarded as serious, calling for immediate attention.
The following information is not offered to replace appropriate veterinary advice, but is suggested as preventive therapies one can take to reduce or eliminate the occurrence of urology problems before they start. It is commonly agreed upon by veterinary caregivers that adequate preventive measures can greatly reduce the chances of your pet suffering urinary bladder, ureteral, or even kidney problems. The occurrence of infections, crystals, and stones generally respond well to preventive care.
Traditional treatment almost always includes antibiotics. Simply administering antibiotics with each onset of symptoms, however, is rarely effective. Antibiotics can reduce an infection or inflammation quickly, but without adequate diet or other long-term supplements, UTIs recur, thus becoming a chronic ailment that can further weaken the animal's overall health. In traditional medicine, long-term doses of antibiotics can have very undesirable side effects such as destroying the normal intestinal flora and causing diarrhea, and they do not always address the primary causes of UTI. Furthermore, continuous treatment of that sort can cause the disease-causing organisms to mutate to a point where they become immune to the drugs' effects. Today we know that alternative therapies can be included; nutritional supplements, medicinal herbs and homeopathic remedies can assist an animal in fighting urinary system disorders and help with recovery and prevention.
The first and foremost preventive measure is proper diet. Long term use of commercial and over-processed foods is thought to be the leading cause of UTI, according to Richard H. Pitcairn, DVM, in his well known book, Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats.
Our pets have strayed a long way from the totally carnivorous diet they once existed upon in the wild. Raw meat contains many components necessary for balancing urine pH and contributing to urinary tract health, as well as the overall health of a cat or dog. These valuable nutrients are processed out of almost all commercial dry foods. If one MUST feed commercial food, one should buy the highest quality preparation that can be afforded and give supplements as outlined later below, or that can be found in many references readily available on this subject. Actually, there now exist several commercial cat and dog food preparations that address urinary tract problems specifically. They contain ingredients that help maintain proper pH and urinary tract health, but one has to examine the labeling carefully. Not every pet food that declares itself as maintaining optimum health has ingredients that specifically foster correct pH to combat UTI.
Most traditional veterinary caregivers recognize the importance of a special diet, however the high cost of special formulas purchased as a prescription through the veterinarian is quite often prohibitive. Many pet owners do not realize that there are now special formula foods available in the grocery, feed and pet stores at much lower cost. If one is able to do so, Pitcairn's book, mentioned earlier, contains recipes for making your own pet food that are rich in the necessary supplements for maintaining urinary tract health. Organic recipes cooked at home are considered the very best. Realistically, not every pet owner can do this.
As stated before, keeping the proper urinary pH is an important factor in the prevention of UTI. A slightly acidic pH forms a hostile environment for opportunistic bacteria, thereby stopping infections before they start. An acidic pH can also help dissolve certain types of crystals, however excessively acidic pH can actually assist in the development of stones. Supplementing your pet's diet with 250-500 mg of vitamin C for cats, 500-1000 mg for dogs, will help keep urine pH at a healthy level to combat infection. Vitamin B complex is another supplement recommended by Dr. Pitcairn that assists animals that have already experienced UTI. Once an animal has contracted bladder problems, there is a high probability that they will recur. Vitamin B complex can be used in a preventive manner, especially with animals that stress easily. One should seek the advice of experts in homeopathy and herbal medicine for alternative remedies that help in the recovery from UTI and foster good urologic health. There is a wealth of information readily available for pet owners and there is much you can do in addition to, or in place of, traditional care. Each animal's requirements are different, some may respond to special commercial food and others may not. It is important that you obtain proper expert opinions for your individual pet.
Case study: Freddy, a four-year old, neutered-male cat that ate only commercially processed food with high ash and magnesium content, no raw meat and no supplements to maintain proper urine pH. He appeared to be a very healthy cat. Freddy developed FLUTD at the time of a household move. He had suffered FLUTD twice before, both incidences (about six months apart) were believed to be related to the stress of separation from his owner. After appropriate short-term antibiotic therapy, Freddy was placed on a high quality commercial formula specifically for urinary tract health that is sold in grocery stores. He was supplemented with raw meat or liver once a week and Vitamin B complex. Freddy has been able to maintain good urinary tract health with no recurrence of infections, even during the absence of his owner. He is now 14 years old and enjoys excellent health. Who can say to what extent Freddy's good health can be attributed to diet change or simply "outgrowing" his problems, but the alterations made in his diet more than likely played the most significant part.
The beginning of bladder and urinary tract problems can go unnoticed, especially in animals that are outside most of the time. By the time the symptoms are obvious to the owner, the illness is fairly far along. This category of disease is very responsive to preventive care, while others are not so easy to remedy. Reducing the chances of UTI occurrence is almost guaranteed by feeding the proper diet and supplements. You can save money and needless hardship for yourself and your pet by not waiting for the symptoms to appear before you take appropriate action.
About the author:
This is an informational article only and is not intended to replace veterinary or professional care.