I know I’ve been quiet lately. I’ve had a lot on my mind these past few months, and many new challenges to face. You see, my cat was recently diagnosed with Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC).
In a nutshell, FIC is bladder inflammation of unknown cause. In cats. It is a collection of symptoms that has many suspected causes (trauma, environmental triggers, “refrigerator owners”, etc.) and primarily affects young males. According to hundreds of studies, FIC is greatly on the rise, yet is still poorly understood.
In Abbott’s* case, FIC manifests as peeing outside the litter box. Pillows, rugs, stuffed animals, sofas, and so on. He prefers things that are too large to fit in a washing machine, and generally likes to perform in front of an audience.
I was in denial at first. Then I grieved. What had I done to bring this on? Was it birth trauma, or the rabies vaccine that he got when he was two? I became angry. I mourned the cat I would never have. I severed ties with friends whose cats peed exclusively in their litter boxes. FIC became my whole world.
Once, about ten years ago, I was having a glass of wine with a friend outside on the balcony of her apartment. She gestured across the atrium towards a large black cat on the opposite balcony and lamented, “Pyewacket keeps getting out of the house. He’ll eat the bad kibble over there and end up with crystals in his urine again. I just can’t seem to keep him from wandering, and every time he gets out it’s a $100 vet bill.”
“Wow, that sounds rough. Boy, you really have your hands full. I don’t know how you do it,” I replied with a mixture of horror and sympathy. Thank God my cat doesn’t have those kinds of problems.
You just never think it’s going to happen to you someday.
There is no cure for FIC, although some cats will have a decrease in frequency of “episodes” as they get older. For the others, there are a variety of therapies designed to manage symptoms (but never with the intention to “fix” or “cure”), always with the goal of enabling the cat to be his best feline self.
Examples of effective therapeutic interventions include a highly specialized diet, boatloads of supplements, anti-anxiety medications, environmental enrichment, and applied behavioral analysis.
I have to admit, there are days where I feel exhausted and overwhelmed. Not only is it demoralizing to continuously be dealing with these challenging behaviors, but then I can’t even safely vent about it in the cat owner forums without being constantly told: “Having any kind of pet is hard work– get over it!” or, ”FIC is a gift!” or, “When you complain about your cat’s bladder you are tarnishing ALL cats with FIC and making other owners think that it’s okay to put their FIC cats to sleep!”
I don’t think any of that is true. I’m just tired of cleaning up cat pee, and sometimes I just need to gripe about it with others in the FIC community; because a group gripe can be good for the soul, releases some steam, and makes us all able to soldier on better for the long run.
What some cat enthusiasts don’t seem to realize is that while yes, we all know and expect that pets will be a lot of work when they are babies, with FIC, that work goes on for years and years and years. It’s one thing to house-break a kitten or puppy for the first year or two, which is what every pet owner knowingly signs up for, but it’s a different story when you are still doing it eight (or ten, or twenty) years later.
Acknowledging this hardship doesn’t change our love for our cats. It doesn’t make them “less than.” It doesn’t diminish our FIC cats in any way to say that we are just a little weary of cleaning up their pee every day, year after year. And yet, I can’t say any of this to the people in those forums without having my voice silenced. So I say it here instead, because this is a safe place free of judgment and scorn.
In conclusion, I would like to state that despite my struggles, I fully accept that FIC is something to be embraced and accommodated, not marginalized. Additionally, if you or someone you love is living with FIC, you can join the Indoor Cat Initiative which not only celebrates and promotes feline bladder diversity, but also lobbies for pet insurance reform. You’ve probably even seen their awareness ribbon which is made out of string and dangling toys. January is Fresh Water Month, and February is the annual Clean Litter Box Campaign. Best of all, there are actual cats on their board. United, we can all make a difference.
*Prior to telling Abbott’s story, implied consent was first obtained.