Do Struvite Crystals Cause This Much Pain in Cats?

CatChannel veterinary expert Arnold Plotnick, DVM, discusses struvite crystals and how they affect cats.

By Arnold Plotnick, DVM | Posted: June 3, 2011, 3 a.m. EDT

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Q: My 12-year-old male, neutered, domestic longhair cat was diagnosed with having struvite crystals a few weeks ago. I noticed he was experiencing pain around the base of tail, hind legs and even genital area seemed to be painful/sensitive. I followed the vet's instructions to change the cat’s diet. He's not eating all that much of it but my biggest concern is that he's still in just as much pain. He can't really jump; he'll just climb up stuff.  He meows, purrs, growls or hisses if I gently touch him in the areas I mentioned, in addition to having mild spasms or cringing of skin when I touch him. Is it normal for him to still be in as much pain or could the vet have missed something?
A: A few struvite crystals in a cat’s urine is not necessarily a worrisome finding. However, the presence of struvite crystals in a male cat that is showing signs of urinary discomfort is definitely cause for concern. Struvite crystals can coalesce to form sand which can obstruct the flow of urine. This is a life-threatening emergency. To prevent this from happening, get rid of the struvite crystals in your cat. Do this by feeding a special prescription diet to your cat. Ideally, you should feed the canned version of the prescription cat food diets.  

Encourage your cat to take in as much water as possible. Other ways to encourage water intake is to put an extra water bowl in a different part of the house; cats often get excited about seeing a water bowl in a different spot and will often drink because of the newness. If I leave a glass of water unattended on a coffee table, for example, Mittens, my cat, will stick her face in it and start drinking in a flash. Cats often like drinking from running water. Fountain-type water bowls encourage cats to drink more water. Adding a few tablespoons of water to canned food will make a broth that most cats will lap up, increasing their water intake. Also, when refilling the water dish, rather than adding water to a half-full bowl, cat owners should pour out the remaining water and fill the bowl with fresh water, preferably from a chilled bottle in the fridge. Cats prefer fresh water, and chilled.  Doing this will encourage cats to drink more, decreasing the risk of development of struvite crystals.

I’m concerned, however, that something else may be going on with your cat. If the pain is coming from the cat’s urinary tract, crystals alone are unlikely to be the cause. Your cat could have another condition, like a bladder stone, which could cause clinical signs. Arthritis could contribute to his pain and inability to jump. A neurologic condition called feline hyperesthesia syndrome can cause rippling of the skin (this is what I envision when you say that he’s showing “spasms or cringing” of the skin) as well as sensitivity to touch in the areas that you describe.  If your vet hasn’t already done so, have your vet take an X-ray of your cat’s bladder to look for stones, as well as the pelvis and spine to check for arthritis.  I think there’s more to the story here than a few struvite crystals.

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Do Struvite Crystals Cause This Much Pain in Cats?

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Reader Comments

kim    youngstown, OH

6/4/2011 11:12:33 PM

Great article! My one kitty had to have surgery for this and yes it does cause a lot of pain - it did in my boy. I appreciate the suggestions on getting the cats to drink more, I put a bowl in the living room and my big one broke his neck trying to beat the little one to it! Thanks for the advice.

karen    cheektowaga, NY

6/4/2011 10:33:26 AM

Great info !!!

Anon    City, CA

6/3/2011 12:22:55 PM

Great article.

Cathy    Hubbard, OH

6/3/2011 9:11:30 AM

My kitty Teddy Bear had crystals in his bladder. He ended up having to have surgery to remove the larger crystals and also the bladder and kidneys were flushed out. He has been on a prescription diet since (5 years) and has had no further problems.

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