Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a common health problem for cats that can lead to discomfort, pain, and even life-threatening complications if left untreated. Here is a complete guide to understanding the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of UTIs in cats.
What is a Urinary Tract Infection?
A urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection anywhere along a cat’s urinary tract. The urinary tract includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. When bacteria get into this system, they can multiply quickly in the urine-rich environment and cause inflammation, infection, and damage if not treated promptly.
Symptoms of a UTI in Cats
Some of the most common symptoms of a UTI in cats include:
- Increased urinary frequency and urgency
- Peeing outside the litter box
- Straining or crying out when urinating
- Small amounts of urine passed each time
- Difficulty urinating or incomplete bladder emptying
- Blood in the urine
- Foul-smelling urine
- Excessive licking of the genital area
- Loss of housetraining
- Increased thirst and urine consumption
In more severe cases, a cat with a UTI may experience:
- Complete inability to urinate
- Vomiting or loss of appetite
- Lethargy and depression
- Abdominal or back pain
Any symptoms involving the urinary tract should prompt a veterinary visit. UTIs can quickly become serious if the infection spreads to the kidneys.
Causes and Risk Factors
There are several ways cats can develop UTIs:
- Bacterial infection – E. coli is the most common bacteria, but others like Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, and Proteus may also cause infection.
- Bladder stones or crystals – These can damage the bladder wall and provide places for bacteria to multiply.
- Anatomical defects – Abnormalities like urinary tract strictures or bladder stones increase UTI risk.
- Urinary catheters – Catheters can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract.
- Unsanitary litter boxes – Dirty litter boxes harbor more bacteria.
- Weakened immune system – Illnesses like diabetes or FIV may increase susceptibility.
- Kidney or bladder disease – Any diseases of the urinary tract increase infection risk.
- Stress – Stress may temporarily suppress the immune system.
- Older age – UTIs become more common as cats age.
Diagnosing a UTI in Cats
To check for a UTI, a veterinarian will perform a complete physical examination of the cat and ask about any symptoms the owner has observed. They will palpate the abdomen to check for pain, swelling of the bladder, or enlarged kidneys.
Diagnostic tests commonly used to confirm a UTI include:
- Urinalysis – Checks for bacteria, blood, crystals, and concentrations of waste products in the urine. This is the most common test for diagnosing UTIs.
- Urine culture – Culturing a urine sample is the only way to definitively identify the type of bacteria causing the infection. This helps determine the most effective antibiotic.
- Blood tests – May show increased white blood cell count from infection or issues with the kidneys.
- Radiographs or ultrasound – Imaging allows veterinarians to visualize the urinary tract and check for any obstructions, stones, tumors or other abnormalities.
- Cystoscopy – Uses a small camera inserted into the urethra to examine the bladder wall and urethra.
Treating Urinary Tract Infections in Cats
UTIs require prompt veterinary treatment with antibiotics to clear up the infection. Treatment guidelines include:
- Antibiotics – Antibiotics will be prescribed, usually for 7-14 days or longer. It is crucial to finish the entire course as directed.
- Pain medication – Alleviates discomfort when urinating until the infection resolves.
- IV fluids – Helps flush bacteria out of the urinary tract in severe infections. Hospitalization may be required.
- Diet change – Prescription urinary tract diets promote more dilute, acidic urine.
- Address underlying causes – Any conditions like diabetes or bladder stones should be managed to prevent recurrent UTIs.
- Sanitary litter boxes – Keep boxes clean, scoop daily and use unscented litters to support recovery.
- Follow-up care – Repeat urinalysis will be needed after treatment to confirm the infection has resolved.
With appropriate veterinary treatment, most UTIs are curable within 7-14 days. However, cats with recurrent UTIs or kidney damage may need longer term management.
5 Frequently Asked Questions about Urinary Tract Infections in Cats
1. How do I know if my cat has a UTI?
The most common signs of a UTI in cats include frequent urination, straining to urinate, crying out when peeing, blood in the urine and excessive licking of the genital area. Take your cat to the vet at the first symptoms for prompt treatment.
2. What causes recurring UTIs in cats?
Recurrent UTIs usually indicate an underlying condition that will need to be identified and controlled. Causes include anatomical defects, bladder stones, tumors, kidney disease, diabetes, and immune system dysfunction.
3. Are male or female cats more prone to UTIs?
UTIs can affect cats of either sex but are much more common in females. Female cats have a shorter, wider urethra that allows bacteria quick access to the bladder. Male cat UTIs are considered emergencies due to their narrow urethra.
4. How can I prevent UTIs in my cat?
Keep litter boxes extremely clean, use gentle unscented litter, feed a urinary tract health diet, provide ample fresh water, reduce stress, and maintain a healthy weight. Discuss prevention options with your veterinarian if your cat has recurrent infections.
5. Can cat UTIs be passed to people?
It is very rare for the specific bacterial strains that cause UTIs in cats to infect humans. Simple hygiene like hand washing when cleaning litter boxes protects against any potential risk. Human and feline UTIs require different treatments.
Prevention Tips for Urinary Tract Infections
UTIs are painful and distressing for cats, so prevention is a key goal for cat owners. Here are some top tips for helping to prevent UTIs in cats:
- Provide plenty of fresh, clean water sources throughout your home to encourage good hydration. Increased water intake helps dilute urine and reduce bacterial growth. Use fountain-style waterers if your cat doesn’t drink enough.
- Scoop litter boxes daily and deep clean them weekly. The bacteria that cause UTIs thrive in soiled litter. Avoid scented or heavily dusty litters.
- Consider feeding a veterinary urinary tract health diet. These foods promote more diluted urine that discourages bacterial overgrowth.
- Address any urinary tract defects, obstructions, stones or tumors. These increase UTI risk and should be resolved through surgery or medication.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Overweight and obese cats are more prone to UTIs. Weight loss reduces urinary tract inflammation.
- Reduce stress for sensitive cats. Stress and anxiety can increase UTI susceptibility. Use calming techniques if your cat is prone to stress.
- Support immune health with optimal nutrition, regular vet care, and vaccines. Cats with weakened immunity are more vulnerable to all infections.
- Talk to your vet about UTI prevention if your cat has frequent or recurrent UTIs. Long term antibiotics or supplements may be recommended.
With attentive care and preventive steps, UTIs can often be avoided in cats. Be alert for any urinary tract symptoms and seek prompt veterinary attention at the earliest signs of trouble. Your cat will thank you!
Urinary tract infections are a common but potentially serious source of illness in cats. Catching UTIs early and pursuing the appropriate treatment makes all the difference in avoiding kidney damage and other complications down the road. As a cat owner, understanding the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment options for UTIs empowers you to get your cat the best care possible and minimize their discomfort when these annoying infections strike. With excellent at-home prevention and care from your veterinarian, cats can go on to live long and healthy lives free from recurring UTIs.