Does my cat need to stay on a vet diet forever?
May 29, 2013 7:45 PM   Subscribe

My cat was just diagnosed with crystals in her urine, and placed on a urinary diet to dissolve the crystals. The vet says even after the crystals are gone, she'll be on the diet for the rest of her life. How necessary is this? I'm not sure I can afford the expense, frankly, and I'm not sure how to handle it.

Laurie is about 2.5 years old and has been with me for approximately five months. This is her first time having urinary problems. I had her on Wellness Core diet, which is a high protein diet, which can apparently lead to crystals in cats disposed to them. She's never had problems before.

I'm wondering, given that she's never had problems before, if we do the urinary diet for a while, and then switch to a non-high protein diet and just do regular cat food if that would be okay. She has a 20-lb monstrosity of a adopted brother who while on a diet, will also have to eat the vet food with her.

I just got done with grad school, and while the end of the tunnel is visible, I'm still broke and had to put the vet bill on the credit card to pay off over time, so I'm feeling nervous about a life-time commitment of more expensive food. I'll do it if its what she needs, because I obviously want the best for her, but if we can get away with a year of the expensive stuff and then test the waters with going back to a good quality regular food that would be a relief. Anybody have any experience they can share?

Thanks so much!
posted by gilsonal to Pets & Animals (24 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I have a female cat who had crystal issues early on. I have her now on the Before Grain food (wet and dry) and haven't had any problems in years. I switched because my other cat has allergy issues that made the vet-prescribed urinary formula impractical, but honestly I am inclined to think that the prescription food is kind of a scam. The grain-free food isn't all that cheap, but I can get it at PetCo and both cats are fit and happy on it.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:49 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Try lemon in her water or cranberry pills. I had a male cat who was prone to crystals and did this. I also switched to a homemade food, but with grad school it's probably not feasible.
posted by checkitnice at 7:51 PM on May 29, 2013

Response by poster: Interesting, the vet suggested the fact that she was on grain free food led to the development of crystals
posted by gilsonal at 7:52 PM on May 29, 2013

That might be a miscommunication because I think most vets agree that grain free food is best for cats. After all, cats were not designed to eat grain. Could they have said that wet food would have been better than dry?
posted by treehorn+bunny at 7:58 PM on May 29, 2013

Response by poster: She said both, actually, but said that some cats can't handle the high protein content in grain free foods, and that can lead to the development of crystals.
posted by gilsonal at 7:59 PM on May 29, 2013

Did you tell the vet the Rx food is not really doable? Maybe they can recommend an alternative commercial brand that isn't so expensive. When my cat was first diagnosed with a different chronic condition (inflammatory bowel disease), we went through so many different Rx foods thinking she had an allergy and she wouldn't eat any of them. I had to give her food she would actually eat (good ol' Purina One) and keep her condition under control with medication.

Depending on what the crystals are, the vet probably just wants to make sure the urine stays at a certain pH level to prevent crystals from precipitating. There are several commercial foods that are for "urinary health" so perhaps once she is controlled from this episode you can try one of those. Good luck.
posted by eldiem at 8:01 PM on May 29, 2013

If it helps, when I had two cats, one of whom was fat and one of whom was on special food, I simply fed the fat cat on the kitchen floor and the "special food" cat on a designated countertop that fat cat was too fat to leap up on. Worked out well.
posted by juniperesque at 8:02 PM on May 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might find this webpage about cat urinary tract health helpful.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:08 PM on May 29, 2013

Best answer: My cat had the exact same issue. We were feeding him high protein and low carb wet food to help him lose weight because he is overweight. He developed crystals too and we had to use the prescription food for a few months. We've switched to Natural Balance Reduced Calorie and Indoor Cat Formula - both wet food. Sometimes he gets dry food too. And he has not had any problems since (about 2 years). So once your cat is better, I think you can get off prescription food. Just be careful not to repeat the too high protein diet again.
posted by serunding at 8:13 PM on May 29, 2013

Our vet suggested that a high-quality grain-free food would be ok, so we've had our guy on a raw-meat-based food for several years now, with no relapse. My understanding is that liquid intake is part of the equation too, so wet is better than dry,
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 8:44 PM on May 29, 2013

I had my cat on Royal Canin Urinary S/O for years and it seemed to manage the problem, until he developed the unfortunate habit of throwing up all his food after every meal. They wanted to switch him to a 'sensitive stomach' food, but I was worried about taking him off the Urinary prescription food. I talked to a pet nutritionist (eh, I live in Portland) and now he's on an all-raw diet and he's never been healthier (all issues - urinary and otherwise - cleared up once I switched him over). It's actually pretty easy, as the grocery store I use grinds and freezes a chicken "pet food" blend - basically livers and other organs with muscle meat and back and neck bones. It's what he's designed to eat (cats are obligate carnivores) and he's so happy and healthy these days. It used to be controversial but I think more people are discovering the benefits. I'm happy to answer any questions if it's an avenue you want to explore!

(on preview, i_am_joe's_spleen has a similar answer!)
posted by girlalex at 9:43 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

I also think that vet prescribed food is a scam, and generally low quality. Our female cat who had recurring urinary problems has been doing very well for the last six years on a diet of only wet food. This is generally considered the best diet for cats anyway - it more closely matches their natural diet of complete small wild animals. Most cats are constantly slightly dehydrated with dry food. It was very difficult to switch her over - she hated wet food, but well worth it. And it doesn't need to be fancy food either, the worst wet food is better than the best dry food.
posted by catatethebird at 9:49 PM on May 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Our vet was also thinking it had to do with high ash content in food, so that is something else to look at.
posted by catatethebird at 9:55 PM on May 29, 2013

One of my cats was having suspected urinary crystals and we put him on the Royal Canin Urinary S/O until he was symptom free (a month, I think). Now he's on Science Diet wet food in the poultry flavors, which the vet said was less likely to create crystals. He gets half of a 5oz can twice a day mixed with about 2 tablespoons of water to up his water intake.

She also recommended slowly transitioning from the Royal Canin to the Science Diet by changing the ratio in the bowl a day or so at a time. For instance: Day One mix of 1/4 new food with 3/4 old food; Day Two mix 1/2 and 1/2, etc. She said this was to avoid stomach upset.

I feed my cats separately since he is a chow hound and would eat all my other cat's kibbles if he had the chance. I recommend separating them at mealtime if possible.
posted by fozzie_bear at 10:37 PM on May 29, 2013

Best answer: I suppose it depends on the severity of the urinary issue. I have a male cat who has been on SO for years. If he goes off of it for longer than a few weeks, he has a relapse. My vet decided against switching him to a less potent/maintenance food due to this.

All three of my cats eat the dry version of SO for breakfast and while the other two eat half a can of regular wet food for dinner, the sickly cat eats half a can of wet SO and, unless something else (cheaper please!) comes along always will.
posted by eunoia at 11:06 PM on May 29, 2013

Best answer: Kinetic Jr. who is a surgical veterinary assistant (but not your vet) loves to bring home abandoned catz from the hospital and one of our fellas, Mikko, has the same problem and after surgery was also placed on the very expensive prescription diet.

For 7 years now he's been eating Purina One Urinary Tract Health dry food and hasn't had a problem since.

Kinetic Jr.'s advice is to slowly switch Laurie to this less-expensive, non-prescription formula (and it's even cheaper if you do Amazon Subscribe and Save) and keep an eye on her. She said you could bring her in for a urine test preventively but that'll be expensive and cats are very good at peeing in the wrong place when they have issues, so you could just wait and see.
posted by kinetic at 4:10 AM on May 30, 2013

I was just wondering the same thing, since two of my monsters have urinary tract issues and one (2.5 years old) just had a very expensive trip to the emergency vet when he had a blockage. My (super hippie) vet said that they both must be on the wet Science Diet C/D forever, instead of their previous diet of all-raw. I'm not happy with the change in food quality for the price of the prescription stuff (about the same as the raw that I was feeding, but for way worse ingredients).

This Stanford website says the key is grain-free wet food + l-methionine which acidifies the urine to prevent crystals and can be purchased as a supplement. It's probably worth asking your vet about.
posted by shesdeadimalive at 5:25 AM on May 30, 2013

Best answer: Do you have hard water in your area? Our cats were diagnosed with crystals/stones while on high-quality grain-free dry food after moving to an area with very hard water. We switched them to wet food and distilled water (no tap for them any more) and the problems went away. They still get only distilled water in one of those continuously circulating pet fountains, plus a mix of wet and dry food now - the water seems to be the key for them.
posted by bookdragoness at 5:46 AM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding hard water. We have very hard water, and we installed a softener and got a nice water fountain, so they drink a lot more, which helps to prevent crystal formation. Apparently cats tend not to drink enough and the circulating fresh water is very appealing to them.
posted by tatiana131 at 8:03 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Our younger cat had the same problem, and we switched to Halo food (Spot's Stew flavor specifically). Our vet even suggested that--she actively discouraged us from switching to the prescription stuff she sells permanently, as it's so expensive.

We feed Felidae wet in the mornings as well--we used to feed Felidae dry until Sora had his second bout of crystals (his first bout was on Blue Buffalo dry).
posted by telophase at 8:38 AM on May 30, 2013

Best answer: I am a vet assistant, I am not your vet assistant.

Some crystal conditions really need long term prescription diets. Some don't. There are many kinds of crystals. Please consult with your vet before changing. That being said, there are many options! I have a kitty with urinary problems who is on a grain free, high protein diet. My boss has me add Cosequin to his food to help instead of keeping him on Royal Canin SO long term. (He has Feline Idiopathic Cystitis, not crystals)

Also good reading: Struvite stones in cats and Calcium Oxalate stones in cats
posted by faethverity at 9:57 AM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I had a vet who pulled this shit on my and my dog during his recent involuntary indoor-peeing incidents. I phrase it that way because he: misrepresented how long the treatment would last, changed the diet without talking to me about it, and when I got in his face (in front of his customers) about his lack of communication and miscommunication, he admitted that 70% of dogs with this problem DO NOT need to be on a lifetime of expensive, purchasable-only-from-vets, bland, weight-increasing dog food.

He just assumed I'd rather line his pockets for another ten years, rather than look at my dog as an individual with individual health concerns who might be perfectly healthy.

Naturally, I took my dog off the meds; he's fine; we won't be going back (Pittsburghers: his office in The Strip.)

Were he a human doctor, I'd have complained to the AMA.

Off the soapbox. Anyway, cats are different from dogs, but feel free to seek a 2nd opinion, because some vets are lazy, incommunicative, and self-interested.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:58 AM on May 30, 2013

My cat had one crystal issue, circa 9 years ago. Our vet didn't put him on prescription food at all. He had a couple of weeks of medicines of various sorts, and we did shift the balance of his food from dry to wet, and put out lots more water dishes. But no specific shifts in brand of food. For a few years after that I kept him away from certain flavors of food I had read about as linked to the type of crystals he had. (Liver, I think, was one of them.) But no symptoms ever re-emerged, he eats whatever he wants now, and he certainly didn't need prescription food for life.

My mother's cat has recurrent crystals and has needed surgery, plus she has had to add supplements (I believe Wysong brand) to his food to help keep the recurrences to a dull roar. Prescription food didn't seem to help so she doesn't do that, just the supplements with regular high-quality cat food.

Some cats probably do need the prescription stuff. You'll need to figure out what works for your cat - you may well be able to skip the prescription food, but monitor your cat closely when you try it. There's also, I vaguely recall, cat litter that detects bladder infections/problems. I seem to recall it was super-expensive and not something you'd use regularly, but if you were changing foods, maybe you'd want to use the special litter for a week to help you monitor.
posted by Stacey at 10:16 AM on May 30, 2013

I have a cat who's had crystals before... the vet said we HAD to put him on the prescription diet but instead we just started feeding him wet food instead of dry, and we mix a little water into the wet food too to make it soupy. A fountain drinking dish will get them to drink more water, but don't buy one of those $40.00 rip-off fountain dishes, get a big bowl and a small adjustable water pump like this one which you can usually find in an aquarium store or pull out of one of those little desktop water fountains. Stick the pump in the bottom of the bowl and this will make the water move, which makes it far more appetizing to cats for whatever reason.
posted by signsofrain at 12:22 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

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