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Prescription urinary formula food can help cats with bladder problems, but can healthy cats eat urinary food? When my clients mention urinary food for cats, they usually mean prescription food made for cats with bladder inflammation. In multi-cat homes, this is an important consideration. 

Most prescription urinary foods for cats are OK to feed to healthy adult cats without urinary problems. But there are a few situations where it’s not a good idea. Ask your vet before using prescription urinary cat food for growing cats, pregnant or nursing cats or cats with other health conditions. See the table below for information specific to popular prescription urinary cat foods. 

Popular Prescription Urinary Formula Cat Foods

Cat food manufacturers specify which cats should and should not eat each of their prescriptions foods. I’ve made a list of the most popular urinary formula foods for cats with feeding information from the manufacturers. Affiliate links lead to Amazon.com if you want to look at the packaging.

BrandFoodHow It Helps Urinary Tract HealthWho Should NOT Eat It
Blue™ Natural Veterinary Diet®W+U Weight Management + Urinary CareControlled mineral levels.None listed.
Hill’s®Prescription Diet® Metabolic+Urinary FelineControls weight, controlled mineral level, potassium citrate for calcium oxalate prevention, omega-3 fatty acids & anti-oxidants, produces acidic urine pHCats with concurrent use of urinary acidifiers, growing kittens, pregnant or nursing cats.
Hill’s®Prescription Diet® c/d Multicare Stress Urinary Care
Feline
Controls weight, controlled mineral level, potassium citrate for calcium oxalate prevention, omega-3 fatty acids & anti-oxidants, produces acidic urine pH, L-tryptophan & hydrolyzed casein for stressCats with concurrent use of urinary acidifiers, growing kittens, pregnant or nursing cats.
Hill’s®Prescription Diet® s/d FelineReduced magnesium, produces acidic urine pH, antioxidants.Cats with concurrent use of urinary acidifiers, growing kittens, pregnant or nursing cats. Aso cats with non-struvite urolithiasis, kidney disease, hypokalemia or metabolic acidosis. Veterinary supervision required for feeding longer than 6 months.
Hill’s®Prescription Diet® c/d Multicare FelineControls weight, controlled mineral level, potassium citrate for calcium oxalate prevention, omega-3 fatty acids & anti-oxidants, produces acidic urine pHCats with concurrent use of urinary acidifiers, growing kittens, pregnant or nursing cats.
Iams Veterinary™Urinary-S Plus Low pH/S™Produces acidic urine pH, low magnesium, targeted fatty acid ratio.Cats with calcium oxalate-related FLUTD, growing kittens, pregnant or nursing cats.
Iams Veterinary™Urinary-O Plus Moderate pH/O™Produces higher urine pH with potassium citrate to prevent calcium oxalate, targeted fatty acid ratio.Cats with struvite-related FLUTD, growing kittens, pregnant or nursing cats.
Purina® Pro Plan® Veterinary DietsUR Urinary St/Ox®Controlled mineral levels, produces acidic urine pH, increases urine volume (dry), contains more moisture to increase total water intake (canned), antioxidants.Cats with renal failure, cardiovascular disease or concurrent use of urinary acidifiers.
Royal Canin®Urinary SO®Increases urine volume, controlled minerals, omega-3 fatty acids & anti-oxidants.Growing kittens, pregnant or nursing cats.
Royal Canin®Urinary SO® + CalmIncreases urine volume, controlled mineral levels, omega-3 fatty acids & antioxidants, hydrolyzed milk protein & L-tryptophan for stress.Growing kittens, pregnant or nursing cats.
Royal Canin®Urinary SO® + SatietyIncreases urine volume, controlled mineral levels, omega-3 fatty acids & antioxidants, hydrolyzed milk protein & L-tryptophan for stress, helps control weight.Growing kittens, pregnant or nursing cats.

Some Cats Should Not Eat Urinary Food

As shown in the table above, prescription urinary formula cat food is not safe for certain cats. 

  • Cats under a year of age are still growing. Urinary cat food might not have enough protein, fat and minerals for them. 
  • Pregnant or nursing cats have increased nutritional needs. The controlled nutrients in urinary food may not be enough to support them during this physiologically stressful time. 
  • Cats who are already taking urinary acidifying medications like ammonium chloride (Uroeze is a brand name) may not do well with additional acidification of urine from food. Consult your vet before using both. 
  • Avoid feeding cats who form oxalate crystals an acidifying diet since a lower urine pH favors the formation of calcium oxalate crystals. 
  • Cats who form struvite crystals should avoid eating prescription urinary foods that aim to increase urine pH. 
  • Cats with kidney disease or heart disease might have unwanted side effects from eating urinary formula food due to increased salt present in some formulas.
“I’m healthy and I eat my friend’s prescription urinary food.”

What Is So Special Urinary Formula Cat Food?

Urinary formula food for cats is made to help cats with sensitive bladders. The goal is to reduce the formation of mineral crystals in the urine and minimize bladder lining inflammation. Urinary formula prescription food for cats uses one or more of the following strategies:

Decreases Urine Mineral Content

Cats with Feline Idiopathic Cystitis/FIC (also called feline lower urinary tract disease or FLUTD) tend to have more crystals in their urine. The crystals form when the minerals in the urine conglomerate. Sometimes crystals form larger stones that are very irritating to the lining of the bladder. 

Some urinary formula cat foods limit the amount of magnesium, phosphorus and/or calcium in the food to try to prevent the formation of crystals in the urine. 

Optimizes Urine pH 

Crystals can only form when the conditions are just right in the bladder. Feeding a urinary diet can decrease (or increase in some cases) the pH of a cat’s urine so that crystals and stones are less likely to form. 

Struvite crystals form best in urine with an alkaline pH while calcium oxalate crystals form in urine with an acidic pH. Different urinary formula diets adjust for a lower or higher urine pH depending on which kind of crystals a cat forms. 

Increases Urine Volume

When a cat produces more urine, it dilutes the mineral content so stones and crystals are less likely to form in the bladder. In essence, more urine keeps the bladder “flushed out.” There are two main ways of increasing the amount of urine a cat produces. 

First, you can feed a moist diet to get more water into them. Cats fed a moist diet with a water level of 75% will stop drinking water (Cave, 2013). When cats eat a diet with this much moisture, it effectively causes their urine to become more dilute and the urine volume increases. 

The second way cat food manufacturers have found to increase a cat’s urine output is to add more sodium to the diet. Sodium naturally increases a cat’s thirst and causes them to drink more (Hawthorne & Markwell, 2004). 

The amount of extra sodium in prescription urinary cat foods is small. In fact, it’s within the acceptable limits recommended for healthy cats and does not cause any problems for cats (Xu, Laflamme & Long, 2009). 

It would be like you eating a serving of salty potato chips with lunch–it’s more than the minimum amount of salt you need, but it won’t hurt you!

Decreases Anxiety with Calming Supplements

Some cat food manufacturers now incorporate extra nutritional ingredients that are supposed to have a calming effect on cats. The two I’ve seen are hydrolyzed casein and L-theanine. While both of these supplements seem to be very safe, there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence to support their use. 

Still, if I had a cat with FIC, I would give these anti-stress foods a try! Many people report the calming supplements seem to make a difference for their sensitive cats. 


Got a cat with a sensitive bladder? Check out my article How to Prevent Bladder Inflammation in Cats


Are Prescription Urinary Diets for Cats a Scam?

Considering that pet food is a huge money-making business in the US, it’s natural for some people to wonder if they’re being scammed by prescription pet foods. I personally don’t believe prescription urinary diets are a scam because we have scientific evidence to support their use

For instance, Markwell, et al. showed in 1999 that both canned and dry urinary formula cat foods decreased the incidence of bladder symptoms. And Kruger, et al. did a study in 2015 that found feeding cats urinary formula food decreased episodes of bladder inflammation symptoms significantly. 

But there is still a lot we don’t know about feeding cats with bladder problems. Urinary diets are not a cure-all for cats with bladder inflammation. Some cats will experience recurrence of bladder symptoms even when eating prescription diets. 

The bottom line: prescription urinary cat food does not cure the tendency for bladder inflammation in cats. But they do significantly decrease the rate of recurrence of major symptoms. 

My professional opinion is that prescription urinary food is a good option for many cats with recurring FIC/bladder inflammation symptoms.

Non-Prescription Substitutes for Prescription Urinary Cat Food

Cats with milder cases of lower urinary tract inflammation often do well simply switching to non-prescription moist food. When choosing over-the-counter food you should consider:

  • Fat and protein levels–many low carb cat foods are very high in fat which can upset some cats’ stomachs. Look for foods with 20-40% fat on the catinfo.org food list.
  • Carbohydrate levels–many experts recommend sticking with 15% or fewer carbs on a calorie basis. 
  • Moisture level–should be at least 75% for maximum benefit for cats with FIC. 

It’s also important to think about any sensitivity your cat might have to the food. Look at the ingredients, especially the proteins. Finally, your cat needs to like the food because if he won’t eat it, it can’t do any good. Ask your vet for help!

Dr. Lisa Pierson makes good moist cat food recommendations for your cat at catinfo.org. If you can find one that meets all the criteria mentioned above and has been through AAFCO feeding trials, those are the best. 

Here are a few non-prescription canned cat foods from various price ranges that could be fed to cats with mild FIC symptoms (affiliate links to Amazon.com):

  1. Meow Mix Classic Pate with Real Tuna Moist
  2. Purina Pro Plan Focus Adult Weight Management Ground Turkey & Rice Canned
  3. Natural Balance Delectable Delights Purrrfect Paella Stew 
  4. Fancy Feast Gravy Lovers Turkey Feast in Roasted Turkey Flavor Gravy 
  5. Royal Canin Intense Beauty Thin Slices in Gravy Canned Cat Food

Urinary Formula vs. Renal Formula Cat Food

I find some of my clients get confused when talking about urinary and renal prescription diets for cats.

Urinary foods are formulated to help with bladder problems. Renal formula foods are geared toward supporting cats with compromised kidney problems. 

These are generally two different problems, although occasionally they occur in the same cat.

Cats with bladder problems tend to be younger while cats with kidney problems tend to be older. 

Symptoms of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) include increased drinking, increased volume of urination, weight loss and decreased appetite. 

Symptoms of Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC) are increased frequency and urgency of urination, straining to urinate, blood and crystals in the urine. Cats with FIC don’t usually drink a lot more or lose weight. 

Ask your vet to clarify whether your cat has a bladder problem, a kidney problem or both. That will help you and your vet choose the best diet option for your cat. 

Many renal/kidney diets aren’t good maintenance food for growing young cats since they have a lower protein level. Make sure you ask your vet before you let young cats share prescription kidney diets!

Can I Mix Other Food With Prescription Food?

If your cat is eating prescription urinary food and doing well with it, don’t make the mistake of mixing in other foods. The prescription urinary food depends on a delicate balance of ingredients to produce healthy conditions in your cat’s bladder. Adding treats, table food, non-prescription cat food or other supplements can change physiological conditions enough that the prescription food won’t work. 

If your cat doesn’t like the prescription food he’s supposed to eat, ask your vet to recommend a different brand, form or flavor. There are plenty of choices so you should be able to find something your cat likes. 

Is Urinary Cat Food Safe for Sensitive Tummies?

If your cat has a milder sensitive stomach, you might be able to get away with feeding him the canned version of his favorite food. Check the list at catinfo.org to find some good options with relatively low levels of carbohydrates and high levels of moisture to benefit the bladder. 

For cats with a severe food sensitivity or food allergy, I often recommend feeding a moist/canned version of hypoallergenic food such as Royal Canin Selected Protein (rabbit, venison or duck-based). 

Ask your vet for help choosing cat food if your cat has a sensitive stomach and urinary troubles. 


You can learn more in my article about Food for Cats with Sensitive Stomachs


My Cat Won’t Eat Urinary Prescription Food

If your cat refuses to eat the urinary prescription food prescribed by your vet, ask for a different formula. There are many, many options for dry food, moist food and even pate or chunky moist foods. 

If you still can’t find a food your cat likes, ask your vet if it would be safe for your cat to try a non-prescription food, preferably a moist version. 

There are some cool tricks of the trade to get your wet-food-hating cat to see the light. Do a little reading about how to persuade your cat to eat wet food before you give up. Check out this amazing article on Canned Food Transition for Cats Addicted to Dry Food from Dr. Lisa Peirson.

Prescription urinary food for cats is only one of the tools we have for preventing bladder inflammation. Remember that multimodal environmental enrichment can help your cat’s chronic bladder symptoms as much or more than any particular diet (Buffington, Westrop, Chew & Bolus, 2006). 

If your cat is stuck on eating non-prescription cat food, refuses to eat moist food or whatever other stubborn food habits she has… You can still make a big difference by changing your home and activities to support her mental health. 

The folks at the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine have a brilliant web site telling you how to make your cat’s world much more welcoming. 

Can healthy cats eat urinary food?
Wet food has a lot of moisture like a cat’s natural diet

Is Wet Food Better for Cats with Bladder Inflammation?

Wet food seems to help most cats with FIC/bladder inflammation. At least one study supported the use of canned food over wet food (Markwell et al. 1999) but the study was small and had some design flaws so it’s not clear if this applies to all cats. 

Vets recommend feeding an all wet food diet because it increases urine volume. More urine keeps the bladder “flushed” out so the mineral, protein and mucus content of urine is more diluted. Keeping the bladder flushed decreases the chance of urethral obstruction. 

Cats as a species are very sensitive to change. That includes the type of food they prefer. Some cats simply refuse to eat wet food. This may be due to habit, preference for the texture of dry cat food or because of flavor enhancers added to dry food that are missing from moist cat food. 

Another drawback to feeding an entirely wet food diet to your cat is that moist cat food is more expensive than dry food. Wet food is more likely to go to waste if not eaten right away and it’s not as convenient as dry cat food. 

Considering that there are millions of cats who eat dry food who don’t have any urinary problems, it’s reasonable to conclude that wet/moist cat food is not necessary for a cat to have a healthy bladder. But if your cat has a history of bladder problems, wet food is definitely worth trying. 

Which Human Foods Are OK for a Cat With Urinary Crystals?

Human foods that would be OK for a cat with urinary crystals include lean meats like chicken breast, turkey breast, or fish. Many vegetables and dairy products have high mineral content and could cause increased urinary crystals.   

If your cat is eating prescription urinary food, be careful about adding any additional foods regularly. It’s OK to give a small treat a few times a week, but once you approach more than 10% of total food intake, treats can cancel out the good effects of urinary diet food. 

Remember that changing food or introducing new treats can be a source of stress for many cats. Stress can set off an episode of FIC, so proceed very cautiously.

Cats love flowing water!

How to Get a Cat to Drink More Water

All is not lost even if your cat absolutely refuses to eat canned food despite your efforts. There are other ways to increase your cat’s water intake besides feeding wet cat food. 

Try different kinds of water dishes–try plastic, metal, and ceramic. Use differently shaped dishes–shallow, deep, large, small. Try locating water dishes in various areas around your home so there’s always one convenient when your cat feels thirsty. 

A lot of cats love drinking from a flowing fountain and there are many products available to choose from these days. The cute flower fountain shown below is a favorite amongst the cats I know. Just be sure to disassemble and thoroughly wash the entire fountain every few days or your cat might not want to drink from it. 

You might try adding a flavored liquid to your cat’s food or as a side dish. Tuna water, chicken broth, beef broth or clam juice are popular flavors. You can try diluting the flavoring ingredient with water. Freeze the extra flavored water in ice cube trays and thaw when you’re ready to use them. 

Can My Cat Still Get Blocked While Eating Urinary Food?

Your cat can still become “blocked” with a urethral obstruction while eating urinary prescription food or non-prescription wet food. A male cat’s chances of getting blocked are higher than female cats and it can still happen even if he’s eating a vet prescribed food. 

A moist food diet is not a cure for every cat with bladder problems. In one study, some cats eating non-prescription wet food still had a recurrence of bladder symptoms (Naarden & Corbee, 2020).

The bottom line is that you shouldn’t rely on prescription food or wet food as the only preventive for bladder inflammation. Environmental enrichment and stress reduction play a very important role in preventing your cat from getting blocked. 

Summary

  • Can healthy cats eat urinary food? Yes, most healthy adult cats with no bladder problems can share prescription urinary food with no side effects. For cats with other health problems, consult a veterinarian before having them share urinary formula cat food. 
  • There is scientific evidence showing that prescription urinary cat food decreases how often and how severe a cat will experience bladder inflammation symptoms. 
  • Many cats with bladder inflammation do better when eating an all-wet food diet. Even non-prescription wet cat food can help. 
  • Feeding your cat urinary formula cat food or wet cat food is not a guarantee that they will never have lower urinary tract symptoms again. 
  • Stress reduction and environmental enrichment are just as important as feeding your cat prescription urinary food or wet cat food. 

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Click to View References

References

Buffington, C. T., Westropp, J. L., Chew, D. J., & Bolus, R. R. (2006). Clinical evaluation of multimodal environmental modification (MEMO) in the management of cats with idiopathic cystitis. Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 8(4), 261-268.

Cave, N. Water-The Forgotten Nutrient. World Small Animal Veterinary Association World Congress Proceedings, 2013.

Hawthorne, A. J., & Markwell, P. J. (2004). Dietary sodium promotes increased water intake and urine volume in cats. The Journal of nutrition, 134(8), 2128S-2129S.

Kruger, J. M., Lulich, J. P., MacLeay, J., Merrills, J., Paetau-Robinson, I., Brejda, J., & Osborne, C. A. (2015). Comparison of foods with differing nutritional profiles for long-term management of acute nonobstructive idiopathic cystitis in cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 247(5), 508-517.

Markwell, P. J., Buffington, C. A., Chew, D. J., Kendall, M. S., Harte, J. G., & DiBartola, S. P. (1999). Clinical evaluation of commercially available urinary acidification diets in the management of idiopathic cystitis in cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 214(3), 361-365.

Xu, H., Laflamme, D. P., & Long, G. L. (2009). Effects of dietary sodium chloride on health parameters in mature cats. Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 11(6), 435-441.

Prevent UTI in cats

Last update on 2021-01-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API