Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) in cats
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) do not occur commonly in cats. While other FLUTD conditions may mimic the signs of UTIs in humans, cats often have other underlying conditions causing urinary signs. A visit to your veterinarian is required to diagnose the problem.
What is a cat UTI?
A Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) is a medical term often used to describe a range of urinary illnesses in cats. However, a UTI is actually one of many different urinary illnesses felines can suffer from.
The umbrella term for urinary illnesses in cats is Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). Affecting up to 10% of cats worldwide, this encompasses a wide range of urinary conditions, such as:
- Idiopathic Cystitis - Inflammation of the bladder secondary to an unknown cause, also called Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC).
- Urolithiasis - Cat urine crystals or stones forming in the bladder or the urinary tract.
- Urethral plugs - An accumulation of debris (cells, proteins, crystals) that come together to form a plug that can block the urethra. This is common in male cats.
- Behavioral disorders - Changes to your cat’s day-to-day activities such as urinating in inappropriate places.
- Neoplasia - Various types of tumors in the bladder and the urinary tract, which may need to be surgically removed.
What causes a cat UTI?
Cats evolved from desert-dwelling animals who had to survive on very low amounts of water, so they had to concentrate their urine to an amazing level. Today’s domesticated cat has maintained a low thirst drive and continues to produce highly concentrated urine, which can influence lower urinary tract health.
Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) can include many conditions including bladder stones and infections. Idiopathic cystitis is most common.
Signs indicative of a UTI can be sub-divided into “obstructive” when the cat cannot urinate at all, or “non-obstructive” when the cat can still urinate. Incontinence is the result of a loss of control of the bladder.
The risk of urinary health issues increases in cats that are spayed/neutered, light drinkers (low water intake), or living a sedentary lifestyle. Certain breeds and cats with genetic predispositions may also be more susceptible.
However, in most cases (over 50% of cats under the age of 10 years) the cause of observed FLUTD signs remains unknown.
Signs of FLUTD
If you suspect that your cat may have a urinary problem, watch out for these warning signs and call your veterinarian if you observe any of them.
- Difficulty or straining to pass urine - If your cat strains or shows signs of pain, such as meowing while urinating, this could be a sign of a urinary illness.
- Passing small volumes of urine - Your cat urinating more often and/or passing less urine every time they go could indicate a problem.
- Urinating in inappropriate locations - Inappropriate urination, also called “periuria”, could be a symptom of cat incontinence and urinary issues.
- Passing urine that looks like blood - If you notice pinkish urine, indicative of the presence of blood, you should contact your vet immediately.
- Crouching longer - If your cat is spending longer than usual in the urinary position, this could be a sign of obstruction.
- Behavioral changes - These may include a loss of appetite or showing increased signs of pain or irritability, particularly when urinating.
- Excessive grooming - Some cats suffering from a urinary illness will also over-groom their belly and inner thighs.
- Straining unproductively - If your cat can’t pee despite straining, it could be a sign of an obstruction or a urethral plug, which are most common in male cats.
Seek the advice of a vet for diagnosis
Is your cat straining to urinate or peeing outside the litter box? Have you noticed blood in their urine? These are all signs your cat needs immediate veterinary attention.
Your vet will examine your cat and obtain diagnostics to help determine what is causing the problem. These tests may include a urine sample at the clinic and x-ray and/or ultrasound images of your cat’s bladder. Because urine must be sterile for accurate testing, it is uncommon to obtain urine at home (e.g. free-catch) as you might with other species. However, tests for blood can be done at home. Since blood in urine is not always easy to detect, sometimes your vet will send home granules that can be mixed into the litter to help identify smaller amounts of blood.
What your vet will do if your cat has a UTI or other urinary condition
The course of treatment for FLUTD depends on the underlying issue. Since FLUTD encompasses a variety of illnesses grouped under the same name, you and your vet will first work together to diagnose the problem.
Your vet will recommend treatment aimed at eliminating that problem, whenever possible. This may include antibiotics for a urinary tract infection, diet changes, more hydration for certain urinary crystals, or surgery if bladder stones are present.
Sometimes behavioral medications will be prescribed if stress or anxiety is thought to be a component, in addition to other medical therapy.
Home remedies for a cat UTI and the risks
If you believe your cat may be suffering from a urinary illness, there are measures you can take from home. However, you should always consult a veterinary professional before using home remedies for a cat UTI.
While certain home remedies may be effective in treating mild infections, there’s always a chance that the problem is more severe than you think. By consulting with your vet, you can be sure that you’re on the right course of treatment for your cat.
Recovery and management of illness
If a medical cause for the issue is identified, many feline lower urinary tract diseases can be managed with the help of your veterinarian. This underlines how important it is to see your vet as soon as an issue is noticed.
After the initial consultation, your vet may advise you to change some aspects of your cat's lifestyle to help maintain their urinary health. Overweight cats are more at risk of stones as they drink and urinate less frequently, so your vet may suggest that you help them lose weight and increase the amount of activity they do.
Supporting your cat's urinary health through diet
Your cat's diet can play an effective role in supporting their urinary health, by re-balancing the pH of their urine and limiting the number of minerals that have the potential to crystallize and cause stones.
Wet foods can be useful for some cats as they contain a high percentage of water, therefore encouraging your cat to urinate more frequently and flush out their system. However, if your cat prefers dry food you can encourage them to drink more water through using running water sources, filling the water bowl to the brim so it's easy to access, and placing the bowl away from busy locations, litter trays, or food areas. Ask your vet about other ways to encourage your cat’s water intake.
It's crucial to consult your vet before beginning at-home maintenance of your cat's urinary system, just in case there is a more pressing issue that needs medical attention. As always, they’ll be able to advise you on the best course of action and support you at every step.
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Proactive care for FLUTD in cats
If your cat is suffering from Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, it’s important to visit your vet and take action as soon as possible. Find out how to give your cat the proactive support they need to maintain urinary health throughout their life.Learn more