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Could Tap Water Be Causing Health Issues In Pets?

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We all want to do anything we can to keep our pets healthy and happy. Urinary issues are a BIG problem in both felines and canines. Giving your pet a better life might be as simple as changing their water.

Trupanion, a leading provider of medical insurance for cats and dogs, released a report this week that identified a correlation between urinary health conditions among pets and hard water ratings in U.S. cities as reported by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

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Facts About Urinary Issues

The Seattle-based company reports that cats are 40% more likely to suffer from urinary conditions than dogs based on the claims it receives from pet owners. When looking into cats specifically, pet owners of male cats are 1.5 times more likely to submit claims for urinary conditions than pet owners of female cats.

Overall, the most commonly claimed urinary conditions among cats are urinary tract infections, cystitis, urinary obstruction, and crystalluria, with treatment costs ranging on average from $77 to $1,222 annually to diagnose and treat.

Canine counterparts are not immune, however, with commonly reported conditions including urinary tract infections, incontinence, cystitis, and crystalluria. When looking at dogs specifically, the company found that owners of female dogs are 2.5 times more likely to submit a claim for urinary conditions than owners of male dogs.

But why all these issues? Is there a cause that’s been overlooked? Trupanion looked into one possible cause.

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Your Water Could Be The Culprit

Hard water, which is defined by the amount of calcium carbonate present per gallon, has been linked to medical conditions such as urinary tract infections, cystitis, urinary obstruction, and crystalluria. Areas with hard water also contain more calcium and magnesium.

Trupanion compared urinary claim frequency in pets to hard water ratings in cities across the U.S. The company found that male cats living in areas given an “extremely hard water” rating by the EPA had a much higher incidence of urinary health issues—especially crystalluria – and were three times more likely to have urinary complications compared to male cats living in areas with “slightly hard,” “hard” or “very hard” water.

Image source: Trupanion
Image source: Trupanion

In Tampa, Florida, a city categorized as having “extremely hard” water, Trupanion has paid more than 10 times as many crystalluria (crystals found in urine) claims in male cats compared to male cats living in areas with softer water.

Other areas with “extremely hard” water include Miami, Chicago, Minneapolis, Detroit, and Cincinnati.

One cat covered by the Trupanion policy struggled with urinary blockages for weeks, being seen every four or five days for treatment, diagnostics, and hospitalization. When his chronic condition couldn’t be controlled, he received a perineal urethrostomy (PU), where his anatomy was surgically reconstructed. The total cost of treatment was more than $11,600, not to mention the amount of time and stress the pet owner and the cat had to endure.

According to Trupanion, California had one of the highest payouts for urinary-related pet health claims last year, totaling more than $460,000. Santa Cruz, Santa Clara and Thousand Oaks have some of the highest hard water ratings in the state.

Image source: Trupanion
Image source: Trupanion

“Further study is warranted to identify a connection between hard water and urinary crystals in cats. This information could help pet owners and veterinarians provide their pets with proactive approaches to screening for or avoidance of urinary conditions in their pets,” said Trupanion Chief Veterinary Officer, Dr. Steve Weinrauch, BVMS, MRCVS. “Humans have known for some time that hard water can cause medical issues, it makes sense for this to impact our pets too and our data certainly seems to confirm this. But don’t rush out to buy water softening treatments or bottled water, speak to your veterinarian directly for sound advice on your pet’s health.”

And if you live in an area of hard water? Trupanion told iHeartCats:

Talk to your veterinarian about pet-safe options to manage the hardness of water in your home, and if it is a problem for your pet, ask them about solutions and diets that can help reduce the formation of crystals in your pet’s urine.

Of course, it wouldn’t hurt to use bottled water if you are worried about what’s in your water.

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If you use a pet drinking fountain with a charcoal filter you might think you are getting rid of these harmful minerals, but that is not so. Charcoal filters (the main type of filter in pet drinking fountains) only remove chlorine, sediment, organic compounds, taste and smell. They do not remove minerals, salts, or inorganic compounds. Carbon filters range greatly in what they can and cannot filter, though I didn’t come across one that removes calcium carbonate. Water softeners are made to remove the calcium carbonate, thus softening the water.

For more stats and to read the full study, click here.

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