Crystals in Cat Urine: Symptoms and Causes

For the most part, pet owners are happy to let their furry friends relieve themselves in peace after they have been properly trained.

However, the call of nature may hold some clues to your pet’s overall health. And if you’ve noticed your cat going to the bathroom more often or start seeing mysterious crystals, you may be dealing with a serious health issue.

Bladder stones in cats have increased over the past few decades, especially those created by oxalate buildup. Find out more about crystals in cat urine and why this could be an issue that leads you to your experienced veterinary provider for more answers.

What causes crystals in cat urine?

Cats naturally have urine that is highly concentrated, acidic, and composed of a complex mix of minerals. When some of these minerals, like struvite, calcium oxalate, and urate, are either lacking or overproduced, it can lead to the formation of small crystals in urine. A small amount of crystals in urine is normal. It is when they combine and start to form larger stones that health issues can begin for your cat.

Experts aren’t exactly sure why crystals increase and form stones. Some of the suspected causes have to do with feline diet, dehydration, lack of activity, inflammation and infection, and the acidity levels of the cat’s urine.

What do crystals in cat urine look like?

If you want to check the litter box to see if your cat is producing any crystals, it might not be as easy as it seems. Some of the naturally produced crystals are microscopic. So, if you can’t see anything, that means things are working well for your cat. If you notice larger, grit-like stones in the box or toothpaste-like blobs, then it could be a sign of bladder problems.

What are some other symptoms?

If you suspect an issue with your feline, don’t worry if you don’t discover crystals in the cat urine. Symptoms present themselves in a variety of forms, and these are often a better gauge of the problem than peering in the litter box. Some of them include:

  • Frequent urination
  • Straining to urinate
  • Changes in the color of urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Genital licking

Also, pay attention to where your cat urinates. If they start choosing strange places outside of the litter box to do their business, it could be a sign they are hurting.

What are the different types of crystals?

There are two primary crystals that can build up and cause bladder problems in your pet.

  • Struvite crystals are a combination of ammonium, phosphate, and magnesium. In some cases, they form due to a urinary tract infection. In other cats, they can develop without any prior infection. Research shows that struvite stones are more common in Siamese cats.
  • Calcium oxalate crystals were once uncommon but now represent a large swath of bladder problems in cats, suggesting that modern diets may have led to an increase in this issue. Pet food companies started making products to reduce struvite stones, but the increase in acids inadvertently led to a rise in oxalate stones.

How does the vet determine if there are bladder stones?

Bring your pet in for a complete evaluation if you suspect there is a problem. Your vet will perform a urinalysis, blood work, and potentially do an X-ray. They may be able to determine if there are stones by pressing on your cat’s abdomen. They will then discuss a course of action to relieve the stones.

How to dissolve struvite crystals in cats?

One treatment option to relieve struvite crystals is through a special prescription diet for your cat. This diet helps change the composition of the urine to the point where the crystals will eventually dissolve. But owners must remain vigilant and feed their cat only what is prescribed. Regular check-ins are also required. If everything works well, the crystals will dissolve in a couple of months.

What about surgery?

Surgery is the other option for crystals and bladder stones in cats. Surgery costs can differ depending on the procedure, but a general range is from $750-$1,500. Some stones are removed through a cystotomy, where the vet will cut open the bladder and remove the stones. Another option is a cystoscopy, which uses a small camera and basket to gather the stones.

How can I prevent stones in the future?

While there is no guarantee that crystals or stones won’t develop again in your cat, providing a healthy, balanced diet is one way to keep a measure of checks and balances in their internal systems. Some vets recommend a wet food diet as it provides more hydration and antioxidants than dry kibble.

Most importantly, your cat should stay well hydrated. Try to keep your cat’s water bowl filled with fresh water and place several bowls around the house to help keep your cat’s urine less concentrated.

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