In case you hadn’t heard, the world’s most famous cat, Tardar Sauce, died on Friday. Beloved by millions (literally…) because of “her” Instagram account, her unique facial features were reportedly the result of a form of dwarfism. Some said that she was exploited, but her owners seem to have taken excellent care of her – I’m not going to explore that in this blog though. No, from a veterinary perspective, her death – as reported – was curious. She was seven years old, and according to the media, died of complications of a urinary tract infection. This is unusual, and worth commenting on.
Do you think she was killed then? Was it a plot to steal her money or fame?
No, of course not! We have no reason to doubt the reports coming from her by all accounts loving owners. However, while urinary tract infections are not that uncommon, to develop one at only seven years of age us decidedly unusual.
Why? Don’t cats get cystitis all the time?
Yes, they do – but what we call “cystitis” in cats isn’t the same as in most other animals, or in humans. The term “cystitis” means inflammation of the bladder, and while there are a number of causes, in dogs, humans, and most other species, bacterial infection is the most common cause. It is more common in females than males (because the urethra is wider and shorter, and also because of the greater proximity of the urethra to the anus in many species). However, cats (of course!) are different. In fact, to highlight this difference, we often refer to it as “Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease”, or FLUTD.
What causes cystitis in cats?
There are a wide range of possible causes; in a female cat, the commoner ones include:
- Infection is of course possible, but only accounts for between 5% and 15% of all cystitis cases.
- Urolithiasis – bladder stones are quite common, presenting initially as crystals, but eventually developing into large solid stones which can block the urethra. There are a range of causes, particularly a high mineral diet, and insufficient water intake.
- Tumours of the bladder, typically transitional cell carcinomas. These are often malignant, although fortunately are quite rare.
- Unfortunately, in about 60-70% of cases, the cause is unknown. We tend to refer to these cats as having “Idiopathic Cystitis”. The exact causes are still being investigated, but certainly stress and handling stress poorly seem to be the key factors. Obesity is also thought to contribute to this frustrating condition.
So infection is certainly possible – why is her age a factor?
Because bacterial infection is very rare in cats under 8 years old – the old rule in veterinary diagnostics is “if you hear hoofbeats, look for horses, not zebras” – because “common things are common”.
Why would a urinary tract infection be fatal?
It wouldn’t normally. However, if the infection spread up into the kidneys, causing pyelonephritis, the resulting kidney damage could easily prove fatal. Cats are prone to kidney failure anyway, as a result of their protein-heavy metabolism, and so any additional renal damage is potentially very serious.
Also very likely now, sadly, is antibiotic resistance – more and more bacteria are becoming resistant to the effects of common antibiotics, and as a result, a small but growing number of otherwise minor infections are proving fatal.
What are the signs of cystitis in cats?
Typical signs are the same whatever the cause, and include:
- Pain and difficulty urinating
- Urinating more frequently
- Bloodstained urine
- Urinating in unusual places
- Overgrooming around the back end (possibly due to the sting or pain when urinating)
- Unusual behaviour, e.g. fear of the litter tray
So why did Grumpy Cat die?
We don’t know for certain – although it seems likely that her underlying medical condition probably made it easier for the infection to take hold. However, if her owners are reporting that she died of a urinary infection, that’s surely the most likely cause.
If you think your cat might have FLUTD or cystitis, contact your vet for advice.
In any case, RIP Grumpy Cat – we’ll miss you.