Cats often have urinary issues, and sometimes they are caused by stress. If you’ve ever wondered how that’s even possible and maybe how you can help with diet, read on!
From a conventional perspective, there are a few reasons that kitties can have blood in their urine, and some are quite straightforward, like a bladder infection. I highly recommend that every cat having urinary issues is seen by a veterinarian and has their urine tested.
One of the frustratingly common urinary issues in cats is what we call “FLUTD”. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease. This is usually a sterile condition (so not an infection), and often is unrelated to crystals or stones. In fact, in conventional medicine we recognize one of the main causative factors for this condition is stress.
How on earth does stress make a cat get blood in its urine? Well, nothing in my conventional training really can give a good answer to that question. However, my Chinese medical training can shed a fair amount of light on this.
In Chinese medicine, we work with a cycle of five elements. These elements are categories that we sort everything into from musical notes to food to personality and even internal organs. It is through this system that we can explain how an inflamed bladder can occur just from stress.
A diagram of basically how the Five Element cycle works
To begin with, bloody urine is Heat in the Bladder. Heat in Chinese medicine corresponds with anything that is burning, itching, yellow, red, or inflamed.
The stress connection is that in Chinese medicine, the organ that deals with stress is the Liver (Wood). The Liver detoxifies everything in the body and keeps energy moving around the body properly. When the Liver is pushed beyond its limits it stops regulating the circulation of energy. What constitutes being “pushed beyond its limits” is different for every individual depending on the strength of your Liver and what your baseline stress is. Because of this, excessive anxiety or stress causes Heat.
The constant movement of Qi (energy) is vital to the proper functioning of the body. The way that we can understand this is to think of Qi as a running car. When Qi is stagnated, or stops flowing properly, the car stops but the wheels don’t. As you might imagine, a stopped vehicle with spinning wheels generates an awful lot of heat through friction. Qi is very similar: When the Liver stops regulating it and it stops moving, it doesn’t stop wanting to move and this Heat can result.
So how does this Heat from the Liver make it into the bladder? Well, that’s a bit of a journey that involves the cycle of elements and the diagram shown above. You can see in the cycle that Fire/Heart is the step after the Liver. Most times when Qi stagnation causes Heat and anxiety, this ends up in the Heart (Fire). A big part of this is because the Heart is physically located higher in the body than the Liver and, as we all know, Heat tends to rise. Additionally, the Heat is simply traveling the path of least resistance along the five element cycle. So it ends up in the heart but only temporarily. The Heat is looking for a way out of the body. If you look at the relationship between the Heart and the Kidneys (Water) on the cycle, you see that Kidneys generally control the Heart (Water generally extinguishes Fire). However, if the Kidneys are weak, or if the Heat in the Heart is simply too much, we will have the Heat traveling the opposite direction on that path and ending in the Kidneys. We can visualize this with the idea of a bucket of water and a campfire. Generally the bucket will be sufficient to extinguish the fire, however if we suddenly have a bonfire and even just approach it too closely with the water, the water will all boil and evaporate leaving the bucket dry and quite hot.
So here we now have Kidneys that are hot and dry. In Chinese medicine organs are paired a solid organ with a hollow organ (Kidneys with Bladder in this example). The solid organ does the functional work of the pair and the hollow organ gets rid of the garbage. The Kidneys really don’t want to have all that Heat, so they move it along to the Bladder where it can exit the body as blood in the urine.
So there you have it. Anxiety causes bloody urine.
That’s all well and good, but how can we treat it?
We must do everything in our power to decrease Heat and to decrease baseline stress (another way of decreasing Heat). There are certainly lifestyle adjustments, Chinese herbs, and pheromone diffusers that can help with stress among other things, but decreasing the overall level of Heat has to do with decreasing the body’s baseline inflammation level.
A major place where pets acquire Heat in our modern world is from their diets. Therefore, simplistically, fix the diet and you will decrease the Heat which will eliminate the problem of excess Heat needing to leave the body in the urine.
What sorts of things cause Heat in the diet? Well, kibble, or dry food, is a major contributor. Kibble must be processed very thoroughly to end up in the state that it is in. Processing increases heat, especially when that processing involves cooking and drying like the processing of kibble does. So the kind of food matters.
What else? Well, particularly for cats, food ingredients are key. Cats do not do well with grains or carbohydrates, for reasons I can talk about in a more in depth exploration of diet. Carbohydrates and especially grains cause a lot of Heat in cats. Feeding a grain-free, or ideally carbohydrate free or low, diet is an excellent step toward reducing Heat.
The next step is to look at the kinds of meat that you are feeding. Some meats are very hot and some are cooling. If we’re talking about a kitty who has chronic problems with Heat, including FLUTD, being sensitive to the temperature of the ingredients is crucial.
Want to learn more? Come have a chat with me about your cat’s diet and how it may be affecting other parts of their life!
– Dr. Erika Raines