If your cat is urinating outside the litter box, straining to urinate, urinating frequently, yowling when urinating, or has blood in the urine, it could mean he or she has a urinary tract infection. Urinary tract infections are extremely painful and they can progress rapidly.
Especially among male cats, urinary tract infections can also lead to urinary blockages, which are very dangerous.
Read on to learn more about urinary tract infections in cats.
What is a Urinary Tract Infection?
A urinary tract infection, commonly called a UTI or a bladder infection, is an infection of the bladder and/or urethra. Cats get urinary tract infections when something foreign enters the bladder. Although infections may occur from fungi or parasites, the most common cause of a UTI is bacteria in the bladder.
Bladder infections are one type of feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD). Other common forms of FLUTD include urolithiasis (urinary stones), urethral obstruction, and feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC). Cats with diabetes mellitus and hyperthyroidism are at an increased risk of developing FLUTD.
What Causes Urinary Tract Infections in Cats?
Infection can occur when bacteria enter the bladder through the urethra, which is the tube that transports urine from the bladder outside the body. Urinary tract infections are more common in older cats, females, and cats with diabetes, but any cat can develop a UTI. Urinary tract infections can also cause cystitis, which is inflammation of the bladder.
Some cats who develop bladder infections also have kidney stones or bladder stones. Also called uroliths, bladder stones are made up of minerals that form in the urine. Uroliths are solid and feel like sand or small pebbles.
Bladder stones can cause a lot of inflammation and damage to the entire urinary tract. Bladder stones can also lead to a urethral obstruction, commonly referred to as a urinary blockage.
With a partial urinary blockage, the cat may only be able to urinate small amounts. A complete urinary blockage occurs when urine cannot pass through the urethra at all. Because the urine cannot pass through the urethra, it remains in the bladder.
This is an extremely dangerous medical emergency. Without prompt treatment, a blocked cat could die. Male cats are at higher risk of experiencing a urinary blockage because their urethra is both longer and narrower than a female cat’s urethra.
Signs & Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections in Cats
Cats tend to hide their illnesses, but paying close attention to your cat’s litter box habits can reveal some cat urinary tract infection symptoms, including:
- Urinating outside the litter box
- Frequent urination
- Straining to urinate/urinating small amounts
- Trying to urinate but not producing any urine
- Painful urination (crying/vocalizing when urinating)
- Blood in the urine
- Strong-smelling urine
- Cat licking the genitals
Diagnosing a Urinary Tract Infection
If you notice any cat urinary tract infection symptoms, it’s important to seek immediate veterinary care. If you’ve ever had a UTI yourself, you know how painful it can be.
You also don’t want to allow a urinary issue to go untreated. Urinary tract infections can progress rapidly, putting your cat’s health—and in the case of a cat urinary blockage, his very life—at risk.
Here’s what will happen when you visit the vet.
If a urinary tract infection is suspected in your cat, the veterinarian will perform a physical examination and will also collect a urine sample to perform a urinalysis (comprehensive testing of the urine). To collect the urine sample, the veterinarian might put your cat into a cage with a clean, bare litter box (no litter) and wait for him to urinate.
Depending on your cat’s symptoms, the vet might instead insert a sterile urinary catheter (a very thin, long tube) through the urethra to collect urine. Another option is for your veterinarian to insert a sterile needle through the abdomen and directly into the bladder to collect urine (this is called a cystocentesis).
Once the urine is collected, the vet will run tests on it, including viewing it under a microscope to look for bacteria and/or crystals. If crystals are seen, this would indicate that the cat has bladder stones. Alternatively, the veterinarian might want to send the urine sample off to a laboratory for testing.
A culture and sensitivity test can reveal if bacteria is present and also tell the vet exactly what type of bacteria it is. This is important because different bacteria respond to different antibiotics. Knowing the exact bacteria that is causing your cat’s UTI means the treatment will be successful.
If the veterinarian suspects your cat has bladder stones, he might recommend x-rays to look at the bladder. Depending on any other symptoms your cat may be showing, the vet may also recommend blood work.
Treatment usually involves antibiotics and pain relief.
Treatment for a urinary tract infection in cats is generally an antibiotic and possibly anti-inflammatory medications and/or pain medications. Exactly which antibiotic is used for cat urinary tract infections depends on the type of bacteria present.
Since a urine culture and sensitively test takes several days, your veterinarian may choose to start your cat on an antibiotic that is effective against the most common bacteria seen with urinary tract infections. If the urine culture shows the bacteria is different, your vet might switch your cat’s antibiotic.
Cat Food/Diet Related to Urinary Tract Infections
If your cat develops recurrent urinary tract infections or if he or she is also diagnosed with bladder stones, your veterinarian might recommend a diet change and increasing how much water your cat drinks.
Cat food for urinary health addresses the issue in several ways.
Therapeutic urinary diets can prevent the development of stones, or in some cases, dissolve the crystals in your cat’s urine so they don’t develop into stones. They also address urinary tract infections by adjusting your cat’s urinary pH to help prevent bacterial growth.
The right diet depends on which type of urinary tract disease your cat has.
While they can also help to prevent infections and inflammation, most diets focus on bladder stones and crystals.
The most common types of bladder stones found in cats are calcium oxalate and struvite. The veterinarian can identify what type of stones your cat has based on crystals seen in the urine. Under a microscope, calcium oxalate crystals have a different shape than struvite crystals.
It’s important to know what type of stones your cat has because this will determine the correct diet formulation to address them. Note that cats with large stones or many stones might initially require surgery to remove them.
Once the stones are gone, diet and lifestyle changes can be implemented to prevent more stones from developing in the future.
Also Read: Best Cat Food for Urinary Tract Health
Where do you get the right cat food for urinary tract health?
Therapeutic cat food for urinary health is available with a prescription, either through your veterinarian or purchased online. If you’d rather not feed a prescription food, any low-ash, high-moisture, meat-based food should also work well.
If your cat was previously eating a plant-based or moisture-depleted diet, switching to a species-appropriate diet could be all he or she needs.
It’s also possible to use homemade cat food for urinary problems.
Always work with a veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist when feeding a homemade cat food, especially one intended to address specific health concerns like urinary tract infections and bladder stones.
What about treats?
When feeding a therapeutic diet for cat urinary health, it’s important to refrain from giving other food, including cat treats. However, some manufacturers offer specific treats formulated for urinary health. Check with your vet before using any treats to make sure they are compatible with your cat’s condition.
Regardless of what you feed your cat, hydration is essential.
In addition to feeding an appropriate cat food for urinary health, veterinarians also recommend increasing your cat’s water intake. The more water a cat drinks, the more diluted his urine will be, which can ward off the development of crystals and urinary tract infections. Drinking more water is also better for your cat’s overall health, especially to help prevent kidney disease.
Most cats do not drink enough water. To increase his water intake, feed your cat wet cat food instead of dry cat food and provide access to fresh, cool water. Pet fountains can also entice cats to drink more water.
Also Read: The 5 Best Cat Water Fountains
What about home remedies for urinary tract infection in cats?
Many cat owners stress about the cost of seeking veterinary treatment when their cat is ill. You might be tempted to search “cat urinary tract infection home remedies” and want to attempt to treat your cat’s urinary tract infection at home.
This is not a good idea.
There are no home remedies that can resolve a bacterial urinary tract infection or address a serious urinary blockage. Cat urinary tract infection treatment and recovery will be easier (and likely less expensive) if you seek help early.
Frequently Asked Questions About Cat Urinary Tract Infections
Why is my cat going to the litter box every few minutes?
Cats with urinary tract infections or other forms of urinary tract disease spend a lot of time going in and out of the litter box. It might look like your cat is constipated, but if you watch closely, you’ll notice that there’s not a lot of moisture in the box.
Frequent trips to the litter box indicate that your cat needs relief but can’t get everything—or anything—out. If your cat keeps trying to pee but only a little comes out, it’s a sure sign that something is wrong. Bring him or her to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
If your cat keeps going to the litter box but nothing happens at all, he or she may be dealing with a complete urethral blockage. In this case, seek emergency veterinary care immediately. Just a few hours of hesitation could be fatal.
What should I do if my cat hasn’t peed in 2 days?
Go to the vet immediately. Get off your computer, pack up the carrier, get in the car, and go.
A cat who hasn’t urinated for 24 hours is at risk of becoming seriously ill. By that point, toxins in the bladder have started to seep into the rest of the body. By 48 hours, those toxins have been circulating for a long time, the bladder is excruciatingly full, and death is a very real possibility.
Why is my cat lying in the litter box?
If your cat has been lying in the litter box a lot lately, it might point to stress or illness, but it’s not always a sign of urinary tract issues. In addition to lying in the litter box, cats with UTIs or other urinary problems will strain, lick at their genitals, hide, meow in the box, and look restless.
If your cat is lying in the litter box and also exhibiting these behaviors, there’s a good chance that a UTI or other urinary tract issue is to blame.
Among cats with urinary tract problems, this behavior appears to result from a mix of stress and, perhaps, a need to stay in the box just in case something changes. Imagine feeling like you had to urinate for hours but couldn’t get everything out—wouldn’t you stay near the toilet?
Why is there blood in my cat’s urine?
Bloody urine is a sign of inflammation or infection. If you notice blood in your cat’s urine, bring your cat to the veterinarian as soon as you can.
What if my cat is not peeing but is acting normal?
Urinary tract issues usually come with behavioral changes, but there are exceptions to this rule. If your cat can’t pee but is still eating, sleeping, and playing normally, you’re one of the lucky ones. You noticed the issue before it spiraled out of control.
But even without other signs of illness, a cat who isn’t peeing is at risk of serious health consequences. Bring your cat to a veterinarian as soon as you can.
Are weak legs a cat UTI symptom?
Urinary tract infections and other forms of urinary tract disease will not paralyze or weaken your cat’s legs. However, some cats may take on an odd gait or hold their bodies differently due to the pain of FLUTD.
If the disease is left untreated for a day or more, your cat may feel extremely fatigued and might not be able to walk normally.
How can I help my cat pee?
Bringing your cat to a vet is the single most reliable way to get your cat unblocked and able to pee again. Veterinarians have the tools and know-how to physically clear the blockage and get your cat back on the path to recovery.
A simple procedure could save your cat’s life. Anything else is a dangerous waste of time.