In January of 2013, I came home to find my cat Moby lying behind the water bowl, panting violently. He had been fine the day before, so I didn’t think too much of it and tried to get him up and moving. He responded by crying and retreating to his litter box, where he laid down in the gravel. At that point, I called the vet. Of course, this happened on a Saturday night, so I had to take him to the emergency veterinarian to be looked at. They told me that if I had waited much longer to bring him, he could have died. He had a urethral blockage caused by crystals in his urine, and since he was unable to pass anything, his body had begun to go into shock and his body temperature had dropped significantly. Luckily, the doctors were able to remove the blockage and save my cat. I left the animal hospital considerably poorer, but relieved.
I recognized the symptoms much sooner over the Summer, when it happened again. This time, when Moby started walking across the room squatting and howling, I got him immediately into the car and to the vet. Sure enough, my cat was clogged again. The veterinarian explained to me that some cats, especially males, around 3 or 4 years old, develop a prevalence for this kind of problem. Horrified at the idea of putting my poor cat and my fragile bank account through this ordeal every six months, I asked “Can anything be done to prevent this happening again?” The vet prescribed a special kind of bladder-health cat food that is rich in fish oil, supposed to dissolve struvites and calcium oxalate crystals. The food is also meant to stimulate cats to drink more water, thereby making their urine cleaner.
The vet also told me that, in Buncombe County, he saw way more pets with blockages than is average, and that the calcium levels in our drinking water may play a part in causing these crystals. He suggested that I start filtering my cat’s water before he drinks it. This sounded ridiculous to me; like putting a lime wedge on the edge of your cat’s water bowl, or garnishing your dog’s kibble with a sprig of parsley. Then, I thought about all the young, healthy people (especially men) I know in this area who have had kidney stones. I went out that day and bought a water filter for myself, as well as my cat.
The hardness of your water is measured by the concentration of alkaline salts (mainly calcium and magnesium) in the water. Several studies have documented that higher water hardness is associated with a higher incidence of urolithiasis, a condition in which crystals in the urine combine to form stones in the urinary tract. Sadly for Moby, most research find genetics to be the largest cause of stones and blockages, although diet can be used to make occurrences less frequent. Everyone seems to agree though, that a large intake of water (2-3 liters) is the most important element in preventing bladder issues. So, now Moby and I are both making sure that we drink as much clear, filtered water as possible.
by Meg Hale Brunton