Unless you speak fluent feline, it can be difficult to figure out what’s wrong when your cat just isn’t feeling up to snuff. That’s often the case when cats contract urinary tract infections (or UTIs) because the symptoms and behaviors are easy to miss.
Can cats really get UTIs? You bet they can! All it takes is for some rogue bacteria to travel up the urethra and start replicating in the bladder. In cats, bacteria occur naturally on the skin, in the mouth, and in the gastrointestinal system. But sometimes these unwanted bacteria can be introduced into the urinary system.
While the bladder comes with several built-in protections against infections — such as the immune system, the natural antibacterial nature of urine, and how feline anatomy channels urine away when a cat pees — sometimes these defenses get overwhelmed or don’t work correctly, resulting in a UTI.
Though uncommon in healthy cats, UTIs may afflict older cats (ages 6 and up). And male cats that have a history of urethral obstruction, diabetes mellitus, hyeradrenocorticism (Cushing’s disease), anatomical abnormalities of the bladder, bladder stones, or uncontrolled hyperthyroidism are at higher risk for developing a UTI.
In addition, cats that suffer from severe intervertebral disc disease, or have had a perineal urethrostomy or a recently placed urinary catheter are at increased risk for developing a UTI.
What Are The Most Common Cat UTI Symptoms?
How can you tell if your cat has a UTI? Be forewarned: Sometimes, cats will not display any signs, even if they have a UTI. However, some common clinical signs that could indicate a UTI include:
- Urinating Outside the Litterbox: If your cat suddenly starts urinating on your bed or laundry or anywhere else outside the litterbox, your cat isn’t trying to annoy you -- it might be a UTI! Urinating outside the litterbox can indicate a urinary tract infection or it can indicate that your cat is stressed and has stress cystitis.
- Straining to Urinate: Straining to urinate is called pollakiuria. If a cat is straining, you will notice that they posture longer than normal to urinate in the litterbox. Or they may posture, but nothing comes out. They may also urinate small dribbles, or even vocalize in pain while urinating. Straining to urinate can also be a major sign of a life-threatening urethral blockage in male cats.
- Urinating More Often: If you have ever had a UTI, then you know that it causes an increased urge to urinate. If your cat is making more trips to the litterbox than normal, a UTI could be the cause.
- Excessive Grooming or Licking: Excessive licking “back there” can be a sign that your cat has a UTI. In addition, stress from bladder inflammation can cause increased grooming and hair pulling, resulting in bald patches.
- Bloody Urine: Drops of blood in the urine indicate that something is wrong upstream -- either in the urethra, the bladder, the ureters (the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder), or the kidneys.
- Acting Sick: While many cats won’t show any signs at all, some cats can become very sick with a UTI, especially if the infection spreads to the kidneys, or if mucus or debris block the urethra in male cats. Signs associated with these conditions include hiding more, loss of appetite, vomiting, becoming aggressive if touched, or acting lethargic.
Cat UTI Treatment: What Should I Do if I Think my Cat Has a UTI?
If you notice your cat exhibiting any urinary tract infection symptoms, then schedule an appointment with your local veterinarian as soon as possible.
Your veterinarian will listen to what you have to say, examine your cat, and recommend testing and treatment. If you can bring a sample of urine then do so, otherwise, your veterinarian will collect a sample from your cat to check for evidence of infection. If your cat is sick, having recurrent UTIs, or previously prescribed medications aren’t clearing up the issue, additional testing may be recommended.
Tests may include x-rays or ultrasound to look for stones or anatomical abnormalities, bacterial culture of the urine, and/or bloodwork. Sometimes a veterinarian will need to check your cat’s urine multiple times to ensure that the treatment is effective.
Veterinary testing and treatment can be pricey, so cover your financial bases and offset your costs ahead of time by purchasing pet insurance. Many plans will cover the bulk of veterinary expenses associated with a UTI, and several plans include wellness coverage, which pays for things like annual exams, vaccines, and routine lab work.
If your cat has a simple, uncomplicated UTI, then a round of antibiotics should clear up the problem. If there are other complicating issues, then additional testing and treatment are required, and costs of testing and treatment increase. In some cases, surgery may be required to correct anatomy or remove stones.
Cat UTI Prevention: How Can I Stop UTIs From Reoccurring?
A normal, healthy cat should be able to recover without incident from a simple UTI. If your cat is suffering from recurrent UTIs, then there is another problem under the hood that needs to be addressed first before the UTI can be completely eliminated. Additional tips to prevent recurrent UTIs include:
- Feed your cat appropriately. If your cat is predisposed to forming bladder stones, then it will be important to feed your cat food that can prevent or reduce stone-forming. There are several therapeutic diets available through your veterinarian, and she can advise you which ones to feed for your cat’s specific issues.
- Make sure your cat is drinking enough water. Cats are desert animals and don’t experience thirst the way dogs and humans do, and they often don’t drink enough. Encourage water consumption by giving your cat a water fountain to drink from and feed your cat a combination of canned and dry food to increase the intake of water and high-quality protein.
- Make sure your cat’s litterbox is in a quiet, out of the way spot. Do not put water and food bowls right next to it. Make sure your cat likes the type of box you have provided, and if you have multiple cats, make sure you have one more litterbox than cats in your household. Remove feces from litterboxes daily and clean the box frequently, but don’t use harsh chemicals that can irritate your cat’s delicate nose.
- Take your cat in for yearly checkups at the veterinarian. Many cats won’t show any signs when they have a UTI, so having your cat’s urine checked yearly is a good way to prevent UTIs and also monitor your cat for any signs of kidney insufficiency.
Managing urinary problems in a cat can be tricky, especially because there can be a lot of factors involved. Fortunately, your friendly local veterinarian is there to help you sort things out and get your cat back on the road to health.
By: Sarah J. Wooten, DVM. Dr. Sarah Wooten is a small animal veterinarian and certified veterinary journalist.