Hello again, Catvocates!
In the last blog we discussed urinary tract disease, one of the most frustrating conditions to get to the bottom of and treat in cats. Cat pee often looks the same to us. For example, take a cat that urinates out of the box. Is it spraying? Is it marking? Is it soiling? What is the cause exactly? Is it behavioral? Is it medical?
We already learned that urinary tract issues can be lumped together under feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) or feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), “idiopathic” meaning that the cause is not known.
In fact, a number of abnormalities appear to be common in cats with FIC and may contribute to the disease. However, there’s a new school of thought that these “medically unexplained” conditions may be a part of a Pandora Syndrome, named for the Pandora myth and coined by the world's leading researcher in feline urinary health Dr. Tony Buffington, a professor at Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. He suggests that urinary tract disease is not all about the bladder but that stress has a significant impact on lower urinary tract health.
Now, let’s consider the effect that an indoor lifestyle has on our cats. Veterinarians generally recommend that we keep our cats indoors to reduce the risk of exposure to infectious diseases as well as injury from vehicles or other animals. Seems reasonable, right? Human homes are set up ideally for humans, but lacks some critical things that cats require to feel safe, happy and healthy. In addition, cats without access to the outdoors may face more stress from indoor inter-cat conflict, lack of access to outdoor hunting opportunities, competition for resources and diminished exercise. In fact, keeping our cats inside has been associated with an increased risk of an array of medical and stress-related problems. Factors such as excessive body weight, decreased activity and only having access to indoor litter boxes have been associated with lower urinary tract disease. Some studies have even found indoor housing to be associated with a variety of other common diseases in cats, including dental disease (gingivitis, tartar, or periodontal disease) and obesity.
There is no one single cause of Pandora Syndrome and diagnosis can be frustrating. The goal of treatment of Pandora Syndrome is to reduce environmental stress and provide pain relief as needed. Your veterinarian will treat acute episodes of discomfort with medication tailored to your cat’s specific condition.
As Dr. Buffington suggests, we must look outside the urinary tract—as well as in the cat's environment—for diagnostic and therapeutic answers. Environmental enrichment is a technique used to reduce stress and improve welfare by increasing the physical, social and temporal complexity of the environment. It is also an important part of the solution to reduce the risk of recurrence of whatever clinical signs are present and may help reverse the consequences of Pandora Syndrome.