Q: We lost one of our cats after he became blocked and couldn't relieve himself. We didn't realize he was sick until it was too late. We've heard that vitamin C prevents blockage. Is it true?
A: Feline urologic syndrome, or FUS, is a condition where the urinary tract is inflamed and blocked by formation of crystals in the urine. It is a common malady: Studies reveal that nearly 1 in 10 cats brought to a veterinarian for care has FUS.
Cats fed diets high in certain minerals -- such as magnesium -- will produce urine in which the minerals become concentrated, forming crystals. High alkalinity caused by concentrated urine is another factor, as is obesity.
Although both males and females can become ill with FUS, males are more likely to experience serious problems because their urethra is more easily obstructed.
The disease begins in the bladder, where small crystals the size of a grain of sand or larger form, irritating the bladder wall and causing inflammation. As the disease progresses, the infection becomes more severe and the crystals larger, as the two factors combine to shut off the flow of urine that removes waste from the body.
The symptoms of FUS include lack of appetite, bloody or smelly urine, frequent small amounts of urine and, in later stages, no urine at all. As the disease progresses, the cat becomes frantic in its desire to urinate and may strain for relief every couple of minutes, with little result.
The situation is extremely critical when a cat starts vomiting, becomes dehydrated and shows severe lethargy -- the signs that it is being poisoned by the toxins its body cannot eliminate.
Prompt veterinary attention is imperative. A veterinarian will relieve the blockage and administer antibiotics to combat infection. In some cases, a veterinarian may elect to reroute the urethra of male cats to produce a new passageway that avoids the narrow route through the penis. In such cases, inflammation may recur but blockage will not.
Cat lovers can do much to reduce the risk of a pet contracting FUS, and the same guidelines apply for animals who have never had the disease and those who have survived it:
* Make sure clean, fresh drinking water is always available.
* Keep the litter box clean.
* Take steps to prevent obesity.
* Feed only the food recommended by your veterinarian. Most cats will be able to eat high-quality commercially available food, but in rare cases an animal may need to be fed a special prescription diet with low ash content and high acidity to fight the formation of crystals.
According to the "Cornell Book of Cats," vitamin C is sometimes mentioned as a means of acidifying a cat's urine. The authors point out, however, that since the water-soluble substance is rapidly excreted in the urine, it would have to be given five to six times a day to be of any use, and is therefore impractical.
Q: You wrote a few weeks ago about housebreaking a puppy using a cage. You didn't say what size, and I think it's important you stress that it's cruel to put a puppy in a small cage.
A: Actually, it's probably worse to use a crate that's too large. That's because if a puppy has enough space to get away from his bedding, he'll relieve himself in the crate. If you use too big a crate, you're wasting your time and confusing your puppy. And you will still have to figure out some way to house-train your pet.
Choose a crate that fits the puppy snugly, so he has just enough space to stand up and turn around.
Remember that crate-training works with a pup's natural instinct to keep his "den" clean. A comfortably snug fit ensures that a puppy will "hold it" until the regular and frequent trips to the place you'd prefer him to relieve himself. The use of a crate allows a puppy's behavior to be shaped in a positive way, which is much better than any training method that relies on punishment.
House-training is probably the most important lesson your puppy can learn -- second only to keeping his teeth to himself.
Puppies that have been raised in their own filth -- such as in a substandard breeding operation -- are especially hard to house-train because they've lost their natural tendencies toward cleanliness. It's just one more reason why what happens to a dog in the first few weeks of its life should be carefully considered before choosing a puppy.
Anyone who's struggling with a dog that isn't reliably trained should pick up a copy of "The Evans Guide for Housetraining Your Dog" ($14.95, Howell Book House). Author Job Michael Evans covers everything from how breeders can raise puppies that practically house-train themselves, to how a pet lover can train even a "failed" older dog.
Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.