Urinary Tract Infection In Cats

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comments-icon Medically reviewed by  Bartley Harrison, DVM
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Urinary Tract Infection in Cats Feature

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.

Quick Overview: Urinary Tract Infections In Cats

text-size Other Names: UTI
search Common Symptoms: Urinating outside the litter box, urinating more frequently than normal, straining to urinate/urinating tiny amounts, vocalizing when urinating, blood in the urine, excessive grooming of the groin/genital area.
medical-files Diagnosis: Urinalysis, urine culture and antibiotic sensitivity, ultrasound, bloodwork as well in more advanced cases, x-rays if bladder stones are also suspected.
pill Requires Ongoing Medication: No
injection-syringe Vaccine Available: No
jam-medical Treatment Options: Antibiotics, pain medication.
home Home Remedies: None. Cranberry and vitamin C supplements are unlikely to stop a urinary tract infection. Evidence for helping with prevention of recurrent infections is variable.

What Is A Urinary Tract Infection?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) can affect any portion of the urinary tract, including the kidneys, ureters, and bladder, though it most commonly refers to an infection in the bladder. Cats get urinary tract infections when bacteria (or, rarely, fungi) colonize the bladder.

Bladder infections fit in the broad category feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD). Other common manifestations of FLUTD include urolithiasis (urinary stones), crystalluria (microscopic crystals in the urine), urethral obstruction, and feline idiopathic cystitis(FIC).

Cats with diabetes mellitusand hyperthyroidismare 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, female cats, 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 that develop bladder infections also have kidney stones or bladder stones. Also called uroliths, bladder stones form from minerals in the urine. Uroliths are solid and often feel like sand or small pebbles, though some can grow to an inch or more in diameter.

Bladder stones can cause a lot of inflammation and damage to the entire urinary tract. Both bladder stones and crystals in the urine can 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, which expands painfully. When it cannot expand any more, the kidneys can no longer process urine, leading to a buildup of toxins in the blood.

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
  • Overgrooming of genital area

Diagnosing A Urinary Tract Infection

How Many Litter Boxes Should You Have Per Cat-compressed

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 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).

Most commonly, your veterinarian will insert a sterile needle through the skin and into the bladder to collect urine (this is called a cystocentesis). This is the best way to get a sample without risking outside bacterial contamination that could complicate interpretation of the results of the urinalysis.

For cats that will not tolerate this, another option is to put your cat into a cage with a clean litter box filled with a special non-absorptive 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. Unsurprisingly, this requires heavy sedation and is usually only done if your cat is being sedated for another reason.

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. Alternatively, the veterinarian may 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 and which antibiotic is most likely to be successful in treating it. This is important because different bacteria respond to different antibiotics.

If the veterinarian suspects your cat has bladder stones, x-rays may be recommended to confirm their presence. Depending on the symptoms your cat is showing, the vet may also recommend blood work.

Treatment Usually Involves Antibiotics And Pain Relief

veterinarian uses a syringe to drain urine from cat's bladder

Your veterinarian may use a catheter and syringe to draw urine from your cat’s bladder.

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 sensitivity test takes several days to run, 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 not sensitive to that antibiotic, your vet might switch your cat’s antibiotic if there has not been a good response to treatment.

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 or crystals, 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.

There are no diets that treat or prevent urinary tract infections, but your veterinarian may recommend a diet aimed at urinary health based on other findings on the urinalysis. Therapeutic urinary diets are limited in certain minerals to prevent the development of stones and crystals. These diets also address urinary tract health by adjusting your cat’s urinary pH to help prevent or reverse crystal and stone formation.

The right diet depends on which type of urinary tract disease your cat has.

While they can also help to prevent episodes of bladder inflammation, most diets focus on bladder stones and crystals.

The most common types of bladder stones and crystals found in cats are calcium oxalate and struvite. These crystals can be identified by their shape when viewed under a microscope. The type of bladder stones present can only be identified by sending it to a diagnostic lab after removal.

Luckily, many diets are now formulated to prevent both struvite and calcium oxalate crystals, so it’s much easier than it used to be to treat appropriately. If bladder stones are present, they will usually have to be removed surgically to prevent a blockage, chronic infections, or discomfort..

Also Read: Best Cat Food for Urinary Tract Health

Where Do You Get The Right Cat Food For Urinary Tract Health?

The right diet and adequate moisture intake will help to ensure that your cat won’t develop a UTI again.

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, many companies now make over-the-counter diets for urinary health. Always consult with a veterinarian before changing your cat’s diet.

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.

Also Read: 6 Delicious Homemade Cat Food Recipes

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. Increased water intake leads to more dilute urine and more frequent urination, 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 failure.

Most cats do not drink enough water. To increase 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

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. 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.

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About Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown is a senior content editor on the cats.com editorial team. She also writes on all pet and veterinary topics, including general health and care, nutrition, grooming, behavior, training, veterinary and health topics, rescue and animal welfare, lifestyle, and the human-animal bond. Jackie is the former editor of numerous pet magazines and is a regular contributor to pet magazines and websites.

2 thoughts on “Urinary Tract Infection In Cats

  1. daphne cully

    hi .my cat is on his third antibiotic for a uti it doesnt seem to be helping.can you give me any advice on what is happening and why it isnt clearing up thankyou

    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta

      Daphne, unfortunately, I can’t give an exact answer to this question—a veterinarian who’s able to test and evaluate your cat physically would be better qualified. However, as a non-vet who can’t see your cat, I would encourage you to ask your vet if they have done a urine culture to determine that it is, in fact, a bacterial infection. Because it’s a simple solution, vets often prescribe antibiotics to cats who don’t necessarily have a urinary tract infection, before they’ve done a culture or other diagnostics. Because the antibiotic doesn’t seem to be working, I wonder if it’s not actually an infection. If your cat is still able to urinate, I would recommend supplementing the antibiotics with additional water (make sure he’s on wet food with additional water mixed in). You can also consider a diet specially formulated for urinary tract disease or one of the other recommendations on our list of the best cat food for urinary tract health. If he is not urinating at all, this is an emergency that must be treated within 24 hours. Catheterization may be necessary. Overall, I would recommend talking to your veterinarian to pinpoint exactly what is wrong with your cat and why the vet has chosen the treatment they have.


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