Cat Urinary Tract Infections
Just like humans, cats can experience urinary tract infections (UTIs) that are uncomfortable and sometimes even painful. In fact, it’s one of their most common ailments! Being quick to recognize and treat a cat’s UTI reduces pain and potential complications, which is priority number one. It also prevents them from urinating out of the litter box, which can be tricky to clean up.
Today we’re breaking down what a UTI is, outlining the most common signs your cat has a UTI, and giving you the rundown for how to treat a cat UTI should they develop one.
What is a UTI?
A UTI is an infection of your cat’s urethra. They occur when bacteria (most commonly E. Coli) enter the urethra which then migrate into the bladder. There, the bacteria reproduce quickly and can cause an infection that leads to physical symptoms of burning, itching, and pain. These infections can also present with stones or crystals.
In general, UTI’s are wrapped up unto the term FLUTD, which stands for “feline lower urinary tract disease,” or a group of diseases that affect the bladder, urinary tract, and urethra. In that sense, UTIs may be considered an ongoing issue for some cats, versus a one-off (though one-offs do happen).
UTIs are most commonly found in kitties between the ages of one and four. It is not as prevalent in cats less than one year old and cats greater than 10 years old.
What are the Symptoms of UTIs in Cats?
Obviously, your cat cannot communicate via words to tell you what’s going on with their health, so it’s important to look for other signs. Some of the common signs your cat has a UTI are:
- Abnormal, frequent passage of urine
- Inability to urinate or only passing a small amount of urine
- Urinating in inappropriate locations (like the bathtub or maybe the closet) and litter box avoidance (Check out these tips for effectively cleaning cat urine along with other reasons why cats pee outside the litter box.)
- Difficult or painful urination
- Blood in the urine
- Loss of bladder control, dribbling urine
- Straining and/or crying out in pain when trying to pass urine
- Prolonged squatting in litter box
- Constant licking of genital area
- Strong odor of ammonia in urine
- Drinking a noticeably larger amount of water
Your vet will also look for:
- Hard, distended abdomen
- Blockage of urine flow through the urethra to outside the body
- Thickened, firm, contracted bladder wall, felt during physical examination
The above symptoms can be exhibited even if your cat doesn’t have a UTI. However, if they demonstrate several of the above symptoms, there’s a strong possibility they could have an infection. In that case, a UTI should be treated immediately. If left untreated, a UTI can turn into a kidney infection and, if they have stones, can lead to bladder rupture. These can sometimes be fatal complications.
Is it a UTI or a UTB (Urinary Tract Blockage)?
Nope, a “UTB” isn’t code for “under the bed” when it comes to veterinary practices. A UTB is a urinary tract blockage (sometimes called an obstruction); it’s where the urethra may be inflamed or compressed, or there is another reason for blockage.
When pet parent Karen noticed that Colin wasn’t feeling well, she brought him into her regular vet not once, but twice, and they still didn’t diagnose him accurately. It wasn’t until she took him to the emergency hospital that Colin was diagnosed with UTB, which were likely formed by crystals in his bladder. UTB is serious and life-threatening – the symptoms begin much like a UTI however, with a blockage, it can cause death within a week.
After diagnostic tests and x-rays, vets could see that Colin needed emergency surgery to remove the blockage, which totaled $3,800, of which Karen was reimbursed $3,100. “He’s doing great now!” says Karen. “He was still groggy and in some pain for a few days after he got home, but now he has more energy than ever. Always running around and playing with his brother. Singing at the top of his lungs at 5am. All that good stuff.”
Why Do Cats Get UTIs and UTBs?
While sometimes cats simply contract bacteria in the area, there are diseases that can lead to a UTI, such as noninfectious diseases like interstitial cystitis (painful bladder syndrome) and certain viruses. Most commonly, however, cats will have urinary tract health issues from a variety of sources:
- Congenital abnormality
- Stones or accumulated debris in the bladder or urethra
- Kidney stones
- Bladder crystals
- Poor diet
- Incontinence or weak bladder
- Injured urinary tract or spinal cord
- Endocrine diseases (hyperthyroidism and diabetes specifically) can also increase the likelihood of UTIs
Diagnosis and Treatment
Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your cat has a UTI. To diagnose your cat’s UTI, the vet will complete a physical exam, a urinalysis and urine culture, and, if necessary, further blood work, x-rays (for blockages or stones), and an ultrasound. They will be looking for bacterial, fungal, or parasitic sources, as well as any physical complications, injuries, or more serious diseases behind the UTI have caused the infection.
Once the source of the UTI has been identified, your vet can prescribe antibiotics, request dietary changes or, if it’s very serious, schedule surgery.
UTBs can be detected with a thorough physical exam, including feeling the cat’s abdomen, and a full blood panel to monitor levels of increased waste products. If there is a blockage, usually the kidneys cannot filter waste adequately, and the blood will reflect increased levels of potassium. Next, your kitty may undergo x-rays and imaging to see if a blockage is present.
How to Treat a Cat UTI
Treatment varies depending on the diagnosis. If there is an obstruction, surgery may necessary as soon as possible, but is fairly routine and most kitties come out just fine. Your vet will then provide a lifelong treatment plan, as crystals and stones are usually repeat-offenders.
Less severe cases usually include a round of antibiotics to kill the bacteria. Your vet may also recommend fluid therapy if your cat shows signs of dehydration (and to pump more fluid through their body, which can help wash out the bacteria), urinary acidifiers, increase in water intake, and a dietary change.
Once your cat is on antibiotics and increasing their fluids, they should begin to improve in a matter of 24 hours. And trust us — they’ll be so grateful you took them in to get treated!
Want to know more information on common cat illnesses? We break down cat health, treatments and veterinary innovation in our Cost of Pet Care report, so you can be prepared to take care of your furry friend every step of the way (and yep, Healthy Paws covers UTI treatment).