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Signs Your Cat Has a UTI, and What to Do Next

09/17/2019 by Wendy Rose Gould
September 17th, 2019 by Wendy Rose Gould

A sad cat that may have a UTI

Just like humans, cats can experience urinary tract infections (UTIs) that are uncomfortable and sometimes even painful. 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?

Simply put, a UTI is an infection of the urinary tract. 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).

Common Signs Your Cat Has a UTI

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:

  • Frequent urination: In the same way that humans have the urgency to pee when dealing with a UTI, cats also feel the “I need to pee!” sensation. If your cat has an infection, they’ll likely make more frequent visits to the litter box.
  • Straining to urinate: Even though a cat with a UTI is at the litter box more often, that doesn’t mean they’re actually urinating. They’re dealing with the sensation of having to pee — not an actual need to pee. If your cat is constantly at the litter box but you don’t see any urinary evidence, it’s a sign they’re dealing with a UTI.
  • Peeing outside of the litter box: A cat with a UTI may begin associating the litter box with a feeling of pain or discomfort, so they’ll pee somewhere else instead. If your cat begins peeing on the floor, on towels or clothing, or right next to the litter box instead of inside it, they may have an infection. (Check out these tips for effectively cleaning cat urine along with other reasons why cats pee outside the litter box.)
  • Increased licking/cleaning: The pain and discomfort caused by a UTI may cause your cat to attempt to soothe themselves by licking the area. Cats naturally clean after using the litter box, but if you notice an uptick in this behavior paired with the above, be on alert.
  • Blood in urine: If an infection persists without treatment, it can become worse and lead to blood in the urine. The urine will likely be tinged orange or pink — not bright red.
  • Irritability, anxiety, and acting unlike themselves: Think about how you feel when you’re sick. You may be lethargic, crabby, or anxious. When a cat acts out of character, it’s a potential sign that they’re dealing with something more than simply a bad mood.

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.

How to Treat a Cat UTI

Schedule an appointment with your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your cat has a UTI. Your vet will first do a physical exam, and they may also opt to do a urinalysis, ultrasound, or blood work to determine if there’s an infection and/or where it originated.

Treatment varies depending on the diagnosis, but usually includes 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. If your vet suspects stones or crystals, additional treatments may be recommended.

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!