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What Can Urine pH Say About Your Cat’s Health?

Many cats deal with urinary issues over their lifetime. If you notice your kitty changes their litter tray habits or is having trouble when passing urine, you'll want to know what's going on and how you can help them. One way you can assess urinary tract health is by measuring the urine pH. This tells us how acidic or alkaline the urine is. Urine that falls outside of the acceptable range can contribute to a number of urinary tract disorders. This article will take a look at the effects on your cat of having an abnormal urine pH level, how to check cat urine pH at home, and what we can do to maintain normal urine pH.

Understanding cat urine pH

The term 'pH' refers to the 'potential for Hydrogen' and is a way of assessing the acidity or alkalinity of the urine. Seven is the neutral point, while a higher number would indicate alkaline urine, and a lower number means the urine is acidic. The urine pH in a healthy cat should be slightly acidic, between 6 and 6.5, though it can range from five to 7.5.

The kidneys regulate the acidity of the urine by reabsorbing bicarbonate and excreting hydrogen ions. As they adjust the amounts they absorb and excrete, the pH balances. We know that urinary pH strongly influences both crystal and stone formation. Several other factors influence crystal formation, including the level of hydration and the presence of any infection.

What does urine pH reveal about your cat's health?

Urine pH by itself is a useful indicator as to what is going on within the urinary tract, but we cannot say anything definitively from just reading the level on a urine pH strip.

It is one measurement used alongside a range of other tests when assessing urinary health, including measuring the specific gravity of the urine (how concentrated it is), the urine protein levels, and the kidney enzyme levels in the blood. Keep in mind that pH can fluctuate and is highly influenced by diet and other factors, such as the presence of a urinary infection and genetics.

If the urine is not at the correct pH, crystals and stones can form. An acidic (low) pH may lead to a type of stone called 'calcium oxalate' developing. A basic (high) pH may mean your cat develops stones called struvite stones. Of course, other factors affect stone formation too, including diet, hydration status, genetics and the presence of kidney disease. Stones can cause chronic discomfort, infections and even trouble passing urine.

Diet and its impact on cat urine pH

Diet has a major influence on how acidic or alkaline the urine is going to be. Typically, when you are wondering how to prevent urinary stones in cats, you will be looking at the food they eat. Cats are obligate carnivores, and they tend to thrive on a diet rich in animal protein.

High-protein diets will acidify the urine (which is what we want), while a diet rich in carbohydrates can lead to a more alkaline urine. For optimal urinary health, we need to ensure our cats' nutritional needs are being met and that they're on an appropriate diet for their species and life stage. Choose a complete diet that meets AAFCO guidelines and always be sure to keep your kitty well hydrated.

Importantly, there are prescription urinary diets available, which your vet may recommend if your cat has had prior issues with their urinary health.

There is even a theory that probiotics can affect urinary pH and prevent urinary infections.

When to see a veterinarian

Cats can be good at hiding signs of illness, so you should be on the lookout for any subtle changes in their habits or behaviors.

The following symptoms would warrant a check-up at the vet clinic:

  • Your cat's litter box habits change
  • Bloody, discolored, or very strong-smelling urine
  • Color changes to the litter
  • Excessive licking of the genitals
  • Straining to pass urine
  • Failure to pass urine for more than 12 hours
Need for emergency vet
If your cat is straining to pass urine and having trouble (not passing any or just passing drips and drops), this is a true medical emergency and they need to be seen right away. This is not something that can wait until the next day.

Diagnosis of urinary issues

When you go to your vet with concerns about your cat's urine, they will ask about their medical history and should also perform a general physical exam. The vet often orders some basic tests, including blood and urine work. Usually, the vet will collect urine from the bladder, by expressing it or by retrieving the urine from the bladder with a needle (cystocentesis). In other cases, they may ask for a collected urine specimen from home. Imaging studies, such as an ultrasound of the bladder and an abdomen and pelvis X-ray, may also be recommended.

Treatment of urinary issues

The next steps for your cat will depend on what is going on and how unwell it is. Many kitties will be given bladder supplements and a urinary health diet, which can alter the pH of the urine. Other potential therapies would include antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, lifestyle changes, or bladder stone removal. For some types of stones, diet alone can dissolve and eliminate the stones completely.

If your cat has a urinary blockage, this is a serious and potentially life-threatening situation. They need emergency care so the blockage can be removed from their urethra as soon as possible, enabling them to pass urine once again.

Does pet insurance cover urinary issues?

While many owners assume pet insurance is for cats who go outside or who are accident-prone, it is important that all cats are insured, even indoor kitties. If your pet is insured, the policy should cover all of the cost of the diagnostic tests and treatment.

A wellness plan sometimes includes annual urine analyses, and this is a great investment, too. Your vet will be able to quickly assess the concentration, pH, and protein content of the urine and screen for bacteria. Any irregularities will be flagged and investigated further as needed.

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Maintaining your cat's urinary tract health

As with many things, prevention is better than cure. There are plenty of things you can do daily to promote urinary health in your cat and prevent future issues such as bladder stones or urinary blockages.

Sensible measures to take include:

  • Providing ample fresh water, adding water to meals, and feeding wet rather than dry food. Interestingly, cats often prefer rainwater to tap water. They also like to drink from free-flowing water fountains rather than bowls.
  • Feeding a high-quality cat food that is aimed at your cat's life stage and avoiding human foods that are high in salts or dairy based.
  • If your vet thinks it is appropriate, consider a cat urinary tract health supplement. These will support the bladder lining and can be given at times of stress or more long-term.
  • Avoiding obesity, as we know that over-weight cats are more prone to urinary problems such as cystitis.
  • Keeping a close eye on your cat's litter tray habits and report any changes to your vet promptly. Do also make sure you have plenty of litter trays (1.5 pet cat) and that they're in private places but easily accessibly.
  • Reducing stress within the home and maintaining a predictable routine. Stress is the most common cause of cystitis in our furry friends. Take a look at this great article on reducing loneliness and providing enrichment.

Something as simple as the urinary pH can be a great insight into both your cat's urinary and general health. Some cats will need help maintaining a urinary pH that is slightly acidic in order to prevent urinary issues from occurring. If you're concerned your cat has developed a urinary health disorder, don't hesitate to contact a vet.

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