Urinary Tract Infections in Cats

Overhead shot of silica cat litter in a box with a cat looking at it.

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Urinary tract infections are just one of the types of urinary tract problems that can affect cats. Infections cause a variety of symptoms that cat owners should learn to recognize in order to get their cat the help it needs and prevent bigger problems from occurring.

What Are Urinary Tract Infections in Cats?

Urinary tract infections (UTI) occur when bacteria enters the bladder, grows, and reproduces. This results in an infection since urine is normally sterile inside the bladder. Cats do not get urinary tract infections as often as they do some other urinary problems, but that doesn't mean they never happen.

Signs of Urinary Tract Infections in Cats

  • Straining to urinate
  • Crying or whining when urinating
  • Urinating blood
  • Urinating outside of the litter box
  • Licking at the opening to the urinary tract
  • Increased frequency of urinations

Cats that have urinary tract infections are likely to be uncomfortable when they urinate. This discomfort or pain may sometimes cause them to cry or whine as well as strain while in the litter box trying to urinate. A cat with a urinary tract infection may also lick at its genitals in an attempt to ease the discomfort and try to urinate more often than usual. Some cats with urinary tract infections will also have blood in their urine and this may be seen in the litter box or on the ground where the cat was lying.

Finally, many cats with urinary problems, including urinary tract infections, will urinate outside of their litter boxes. This may mean urinating directly next to the litter box or somewhere completely out of the ordinary. This is done in an attempt to communicate with its owner that something is not right. But if a cat owner utilizes special color-changing silica gel cat litter, they may be alerted to a urinary tract infection before unwanted symptoms such as this even develop.

Causes of UTI's in Cats

Bacteria causes urinary tract infections when it enters a cat's bladder. Typically bacteria enters a bladder through a cat's urethra, which is the path urine takes from the bladder to exit the body. Once in the bladder, bacteria grow and reproduce to create more bacteria and infiltrate this once sterile space. Simple things like a dirty litter box, dirty bed, or an overall dirty environment that a cat spends time in can allow bacteria to enter a urethra and cause a urinary tract infection.

Diagnosing UTI's in Cats

If a cat owner is observing symptoms of a urinary tract infection in their cat they should schedule a visit with their cat's veterinarian. A urine sample will need to be collected either by the owner at home with the use of special, non-absorbent litter or by the veterinarian. The veterinarian may temporarily keep the cat in the animal hospital until it urinates on its own in some non-absorbable litter or the urine may be obtained by cystocentesis. Cystocentesis is a quick and non-invasive technique to obtain a urine sample through the use of a needle and syringe. Some veterinarians prefer obtaining urine by cystocentesis while others prefer to allow a cat to provide a sample naturally.

Once urine is obtained a urinalysis will be performed. This type of test checks the urine for bacteria, crystals, blood, parasites, abnormal pH levels, abnormal specific gravity levels, glucose, and other things to aid the veterinarian in making a diagnosis. If bacteria is present in the urinalysis a urinary tract infection is diagnosed. Sometimes a urine culture must also be performed to see exactly what type of bacteria is in the infection in order to choose a specific antibiotic.

Treatment of UTI's in Cats

Antibiotics will be prescribed to kill the bacteria in the bladder and symptomatic treatment may also be necessary to ease a cat's symptoms. This usually includes pain and anti-inflammatory medications. Probiotics may also be recommended to offset the negative effects of the antibiotics.

How to Prevent UTI's in Cats

The best way to prevent urinary tract infections from occurring in a cat is to ensure the urinary tract opening is kept clean at all times. Regular litter box cleaning and the washing of cat beds will aid in this task. Overweight cats may have trouble cleaning themselves and may need help keeping their urinary tract openings clean with a wet cloth or wipe. Adequate water intake will also help flush the bladder out regularly.

Other Types of Urinary Tract Problems in Cats

UTI's aren't the only type of urinary tract problem in cats. More commonly, cats develop inflammation or stones.

  • Urine Crystals - Crystals can be problematic because they can develop into troublesome bladder stones. There are several different types of urine crystals.
  • Bladder Stones - Multiple different types of bladder stones (uroliths) exist and sometimes bacteria contributes to their formation. Small stones can cause a cat to be obstructed and unable to urinate which is why they are life threatening.
  • Urinary Tract Inflammation - Also referred to as cystitis, inflammation can be dangerous in a cat. The urethra may swell and cause a cat to be unable to urinate which can be fatal.