Does My Cat Have a Urinary Tract Infection?

Britt
by Britt
Photo credit: New Africa / Shutterstock.com

Is your cat using the litterbox more frequently? Have you seen them straining or struggling to do their business? These are common signs of a urinary tract infection (UTI), a struggle faced by many aging cats.


While a UTI is not life-threatening if caught early, it can be incredibly uncomfortable for your feline friend.


This post will help you learn the signs and symptoms of a UTI in cats, understand the causes of an infection, and equip you with the information needed to decide if a trip to the vet is necessary. Most importantly, it will help you take steps to keep your cat feeling happy and healthy as quickly as possible.


What Is A Urinary Tract Infection in Cats?


Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are bacterial infections that occur in a cat’s bladder or urethra. UTIs are common in dogs but much less regularly seen in cats. However, senior cats and those with endocrine diseases, like hyperthyroidism or diabetes, are at a much higher risk. Luckily, these infections areas easily treated in most cases if caught and addressed early. This is why it’s so crucial for cat parents to be familiar with the warning signs.


Common Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections in Cats


When a cat begins to experience an infection, the warning signs are subtle and may be hard to spot. This is further complicated by the fact that symptoms can mimic many other conditions that affect the urinary tract or bladder.


The most common signs to watch out for include:

  • Straining or struggling to urinate
  • Only passing small amounts of urine or failing to urinate completely
  • Blood in the urine
  • Crying or vocalizing while urinating
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Accidents outside the litterbox
  • Frequent licking of the genitals


As some of the conditions associated with these warning signs can be severe or life-threatening, and a UTI left unaddressed can quickly become more serious, you shouldn’t ignore any of the red flags. If you notice any of these signs, contact your veterinarian.


Can Urinary Tract Infections in Cats Go Away on Their Own?


If the infection is mild and your cat has a strong immune system, there is a chance that their body can fight off the infection effectively. However, this only occurs in the early stages, before any noticeable symptoms. If you have noticed any of the signs I listed above, the infection has likely progressed to the point that it requires treatment and veterinary care.


Are Urinary Tract Infections Contagious?


If you have multiple cats in your home, you will be relieved to hear that UTIs are not contagious from cat to cat. However, the development of a UTI in one cat could indicate that lifestyle or nutritional choices are being made that could increase the risk of other cats suffering from a similar struggle.


This is a good sign to take a step back and reevaluate the decisions that have been made, including what you feed your cats, accessibility to fresh water (or encouragement to drink more water), and potential stress triggers. For more about this, keep reading to see tips to prevent a UTI in cats.


How Does a Veterinarian Diagnose a UTI?


When you first visit your vet’s office, they will conduct a physical exam and likely perform a urinalysis. This will help them better understand your cat’s physical condition and will help rule out many of the conditions associated with the warning signs. They will likely ask you several questions related to your cat’s lifestyle, water consumption, how often and how much they are urinating, and whether there have been any noticeable behavioral changes.


The urinalysis checks your cat’s urine for the presence of substances like blood, proteins, sugar, and ketones. This provides unique insight into your cat’s overall health and well-being, helping your vet better understand what is happening.


Your vet may also send a urine sample for a urine culture. This will confirm if there is a bacterial infection and the type of bacteria present. Unfortunately, a urine culture will often take several days before the results are available.


Additional testing may be needed in rare cases, depending on the results of the initial exam. This could include x-rays, blood pressure, ultrasounds, or biopsies. Your veterinarian will provide you with more detailed information about what tests are needed and why they are necessary.

Photo credit: Natasha Zakharova / Shutterstock.com

Remedies and Treatments for Your Cat’s Urinary Tract Infection


An antibiotic targeting the bacteria responsible for the infection is the most effective treatment for a UTI in its early stages. Your cat’s veterinarian may also prescribe a painkiller to address their discomfort while undergoing treatment. Most antibiotic courses will last approximately 5-7 days.


In more advanced cases, additional measures may need to be taken. This could include fluid therapy, urinary catheters, urinary acidifiers, modified diets, or surgeries for more severe cases.


Throughout the treatment process, you must keep the lines of communication open with your cat’s veterinarian. They may ask you to monitor your cat’s litterbox usage or the condition of their surgical site if surgery was required.


For those with a multi-cat home, you may need to consider separating your cats during treatment. This isn’t due to concerns about infections being spread. Instead, it is to help your cat stay calm and relaxed during their recovery. It also makes it easier for you to monitor their litterbox usage.


Tips to Prevent a Urinary Tract Infection in Your Cat


There are no guaranteed ways to prevent your cat from experiencing a UTI, but preventative steps can help reduce the risk and make an infection much less likely. Here are a few options to consider:


Encourage Your Cat to Drink More Water


Cats are prone to dehydration, which can increase their risk of several conditions, including urinary blockages and diseases. If you worry your cat isn’t drinking enough water, you can take steps to encourage them. First, ensure that your cat always has access to fresh water. This means cleaning and refilling their water bowl daily.


Another option we find to be most effective in our house is to introduce a cat water fountain. Our cats use the Catit Flower Fountain with Triple Action Filter. The water is constantly being filtered, ensuring that it is always clean and fresh. The movement of the water is also enticing for many cats, encouraging them to drink more than they may have if their only option was still water in a bowl.


You can also encourage your cat to drink more by adding some flavor to their otherwise tasteless water. A few drops of salt-free chicken broth, bone broth, or tuna juice in your cat’s water may make it far more interesting.


Introduce Hydration in Your Cat’s Diet


Another way to boost your cat’s water intake is by finding ways to include hydration in their diet. If your cat is eating dry kibble, you may want to switch to wet canned food or feed a 50/50 mix of wet and dry food. There are also food toppers, like Tiki Cat Born Carnivore Broths, that can be used to add moisture to an otherwise dry meal.


You can also introduce hydration through your cat’s treats. Rather than feeding a dry, crunchy treat every time you want to spoil your cat, consider offering a creamy treat like Wellness Lickable Treats. These are great for giving your pet a treat on the go, as they come in individual tubes, and their high moisture content is a significant hydration boost. My cat Pippen loves the Tuna Recipe.


Consider Specialty Foods


If your cat has previously had issues with UTIs or is high risk due to other factors, like living with an endocrine disease, your veterinarian may recommend a specialty diet. These foods work to dissolve bladder stones, prevent urinary crystals, and prioritize urinary tract health. If your cat isn’t currently on a special diet but you are concerned about the risk of trouble, contact your veterinarian.


Keep An Eye on Your Cat’s Bathroom Habits


One of the best ways to identify a problem as early as possible is to be aware of your cat’s bathroom habits. One way to keep an eye on this is to note how much urine is in the litterbox when you clean it. However, if you have multiple cats, knowing which cat is responsible for the urine in a shared box is impossible.


Another way to monitor your cat’s urinary health is to place the litterbox in a location where you can see who is using it and how many times they are visiting it. This will also make it easier to catch if your cat is going to the litterbox but is straining and not actually able to go. Litterbox placement can be a bit of a balancing act – finding a location that is visible for you to monitor their use by also far enough away from the most trafficked areas of the home to avoid the litterbox area being stressful, causing your cat to avoid it.


Monitor and Manage Your Cat’s Weight


Keeping your cat at a healthy weight is a great way to prevent health problems affecting many different areas of the body, including their urinary tract health. Obesity is associated with many complications, including endocrine diseases, which will increase your cat’s risk of UTIs.


When trying to maintain a healthy weight, two key areas of focus are your cat’s diet and physical activity levels.

Feed your cat according to the recommended serving sizes to avoid overfeeding. If your cat is currently overweight, you may want to switch to diet food. Don’t forget to consider the calorie content of any treats you offer between meals.


The best way to improve your cat’s activity levels is through play. This includes both interactive play with you and solo play when you’re not available. We have many different styles of cat toys in our home. However, our cats Pippen and Jinx have a few favorites that never fail to get them up and moving, including:


Annual Veterinary Checkups


Of course, one of the best ways to prevent health issues (and catch them as early as possible) is to keep up with your cat’s annual veterinary checkups. This will allow your veterinarian to check for any signs of trouble and make adjustments or recommendations for treatment, addressing and eliminating problems early.

Final Thoughts: Urinary Tract Infections in Cats


While a urinary tract infection is generally easily treated, the first step to helping your cat feel happy and healthy is recognizing there is a problem. This is why you must pay careful attention to any warning signs and contact your veterinarian at the first signs of trouble.


Several steps can be taken to lower your cat’s risk of infection. This is especially important if your cat is entering their senior years or living with an endocrine disease, which puts them at a higher risk level. However, even with all precautions in place, your cat may still encounter trouble. Early treatment with antibiotics can clear up the infection and give your cat the relief they need.


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Britt
Britt

Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Indiana and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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