Does My Cat Have Urine Crystals? What Does That Mean? How Can You Tell?

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Does My Cat Have Crystals? What Does That Mean? How Can You Tell?

How Can You Tell if Your Cat Has Urinary Crystals?

Urinary problems in cats are common. You may have heard your vet, a pet food company, or another cat owner mention the term "urinary crystals." I have received a lot of questions about urine crystals, what they mean for cats, and how to get rid of them. Today I'd like to provide some answers.

First, what are urine crystals in cats?

Crystals are defined as a "solid in a liquid." In this case it means that minerals or electrolytes in urine form crystals inside a cat's body.

Why do cats get crystals in their urine?

Several facts influence crystal production. These include:

  • The body's acidity or pH: some crystals form readily in acidic urine and others in neutral or alkaline urine

  • Temperature of the urine: crystals tend to form when the urine cools below body temperature

  • Dietary factors: certain foods can affect pH and urine production and even the time of feeding is thought to influence pH and crystal formation. Medication can also make crystal formation more likely.

    Are urinary crystals a problem in cats?

    Crystals by themselves are not a problem. Some healthy pets have urine crystals no matter what. However, some crystals (such as struvite) can form uroliths (stones) when certain bacteria are present. This is more common in dogs than cats.

    Why are crystals a concern in cats?

    The reason crystals are concerning in cats is because debris and crystals can collect in some cats and form a dangerous "plug." This clump of crystals can get caught in the urethra (tube that takes urine out of the body) causing a life-threatening urinary obstruction.
    This is more common in male cats because their urethra is longer and narrower. Struvite crystals in particular are a concern because they are a major component of most plugs.

    How can you deal with urine crystals in cats?

    Many veterinarians will treat this problem via urine dilution by encouraging water intake and offering canned food. Feeding a diet with ingredients that are less likely to cause struvite stones can also help; struvites more commonly form in alkaline urine therefore diets that lower the pH will help to minimize struvite crystal formation.

    If the crystals persist or your cat has a history of urinary problems, then dietary therapy may be beneficial (such as Hills ® Prescription Diet C/D-s).
    Articles that might be helpful are Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease and Urolithiasis-Struvite in Cats.

    How can you tell if your cat has urinary crystals?

    The best way to tell if your cat has urinary crystals is by having your veterinarian perform a urinalysis. If a cat urinates on a surface such as countertop, floor or crate, you can sometimes see white sparkly powder crystals as the urine dries. However, many times the only way to see the crystals is under the microscope. If you suspect your cat is suffering from urine crystals, please take them to the vet as soon as possible.

    I hope this gives you more information about urine crystals, how to identify them, and what they mean.


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    About The Author

    debra-primovic Dr. Debra Primovic

    Debra A. Primovic, BSN, DVM, Editor-in-Chief, is a graduate of the Ohio State University School of Nursing and the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine. Following her veterinary medical training, Dr. Primovic practiced in general small animal practices as well as veterinary emergency practices. She was staff veterinarian at the Animal Emergency Clinic of St. Louis, Missouri, one of the busiest emergency/critical care practices in the United States as well as MedVet Columbus, winner of the AAHA Hospital of the year in 2014. She also spends time in general practice at the Granville Veterinary Clinic. Dr. Primovic divides her time among veterinary emergency and general practice, editing, writing, and updating articles for PetPlace.com, and editing and indexing for veterinary publications. She loves both dogs and cats but has had extraordinary cats in her life, all of which have died over the past couple years. Special cats in her life were Kali, Sammy, Pepper and Beanie.