Can Cats Get Uti From Not Drinking Water?


A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection in any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. UTIs are relatively common in cats, with signs including frequent urination, straining to urinate, blood in the urine, and urinating outside the litter box. The infections are often caused by bacteria that enter the urethra and travel up to the bladder. Dehydration can be a contributing factor, as lack of sufficient water intake can allow bacterial growth and make it easier for bacteria to ascend into the urinary tract. Without adequate fluid intake, urine becomes more concentrated, irritating the lining of the urinary tract and allowing bacteria to more easily adhere to cell walls. Concentrated urine also contains higher levels of mineral crystals that can cause inflammation. The thesis of this article is that lack of drinking enough water can contribute to urinary tract infections in cats by allowing bacterial growth and irritation of the urinary system.

Causes of UTIs in Cats

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) occur when bacteria enter a cat’s urinary tract and begin to multiply. There are several ways this can happen:

Bacteria can enter the urethra and move up into the bladder. The most common bacteria is Escherichia coli (E. coli), which comes from the gastrointestinal tract. Bacteria is more likely to enter when cats don’t urinate regularly or fully empty their bladders.1

Blockages can occur in the urethra, bladder, or ureters, preventing urine from flowing out normally. This allows bacteria to grow. Blockages are often caused by crystals or stones forming in the urinary tract.2

Anatomical abnormalities affecting urine flow increase UTI risk. Examples include bladder stones, tumors, strictures, cystitis, and incontinence. Certain urinary tract deformities present at birth also make UTIs more likely.3

Dehydration Increases UTI Risk

Dehydration can significantly increase the risk of developing a urinary tract infection (UTI) in cats. When a cat is dehydrated, their urine becomes more concentrated as their body tries to conserve water. According to the UT Southwestern Medical Center, “Dehydration is a leading risk factor for UTIs.”

Concentrated urine contains higher levels of minerals, salts, and metabolites – an ideal environment for bacteria to thrive. As the UT Southwestern article explains, “Bacteria can grow rapidly in concentrated urine.”

In addition, dehydration leads to decreased urine flow and urinary stasis. As CompuCare notes, “With dehydration, you produce less urine, and what urine you do make just sits in your bladder.” This urinary stasis allows bacteria more time to multiply and adhere to the bladder wall.

Cats who chronically drink too little water are at higher risk for repeated UTIs. Ensuring proper hydration is key to reducing UTI risk. According to UGA Telehealth, “Staying hydrated is a great preventative way to avoid urinary tract infections.”

UT Southwestern Medical Center
UGA Telehealth

Signs of Dehydration in Cats

There are several signs cat owners should watch out for that may indicate their cat is becoming dehydrated:

Reduced urination – Dehydrated cats will often urinate less frequently and the urine will appear dark yellow and concentrated. Healthy cats should urinate at least a few times a day and the urine should be pale yellow and more dilute. If you notice your cat hasn’t urinated or there’s little volume when they do go, dehydration may be setting in.

Dry gums – Gently lift your cat’s lips and press your finger against their gums. Healthy gums should feel moist or “tacky.” If the gums feel dry and sticky, it can be a sign of dehydration according to

Lethargy – Dehydrated cats often become less active and more sleepy. They may lack interest in play and sleep more than normal. This fatigue results from cellular dysfunction and electrolyte imbalances caused by fluid loss.

Loss of appetite – Dehydration can cause nausea, so cats may show a decreased interest in food and water. An unwillingness to eat is especially concerning in cats since they can develop hepatic lipidosis from prolonged anorexia.

Encouraging Water Intake

There are several ways cat owners can encourage their cats to drink more water to help prevent dehydration and UTIs:

Provide fresh, clean water daily. Refresh your cat’s water at least once a day. Wash water bowls thoroughly to prevent bacteria buildup. Use filtered or bottled water if your tap water has an odor or taste cats dislike.

Use fountains or flowing water. Cats are attracted to moving water, so consider a cat fountain. Catit Flower Fountain and PetSafe Drinkwell Platinum are popular choices.

Wet food has high moisture content. Feeding canned or pouched cat food boosts your cat’s water intake through their diet. Choose low-sodium varieties.

Place water bowls away from food. Cats don’t like food near their water sources. Have multiple water stations around your home.

When to See the Vet

If your cat is showing any signs of a potential UTI, it’s important to schedule a veterinary visit right away. According to PetMD, some of the most common symptoms that warrant an urgent vet visit include:

  • Straining or crying out when urinating
  • Frequent attempts to urinate with little success
  • Blood in the urine
  • Excessive licking of the genital area

These signs indicate your cat is experiencing pain or discomfort when trying to urinate. Left untreated, the UTI can quickly spread to the kidneys and cause potentially life-threatening damage.

In addition to UTI symptoms, you should also watch for signs of dehydration like lethargy, dry gums, sunken eyes, and skin that lacks elasticity. According to Small Door Veterinary, dehydration makes cats more prone to developing UTIs in the first place.

Your vet will run a urinalysis to check for white blood cells, bacteria, and crystals as part of diagnosing a UTI. They may also take urine or blood samples for a culture to identify the type of bacteria causing the infection. Getting an accurate diagnosis quickly allows your vet to prescribe the most effective antibiotic treatment.

Treating Feline UTIs

If a veterinarian diagnoses a UTI in a cat, they will typically prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. Common antibiotics used for feline UTIs include amoxicillin, cephalosporins, trimethoprim-sulfa combinations, and fluoroquinolones. Antibiotics work by killing the bacteria causing the UTI and preventing further growth and infection.

In addition to antibiotics, vets may prescribe urinary alkalinizing agents or recommend increasing water intake to help flush bacteria from the urinary tract. These medications make the urine less acidic, which discourages bacterial growth. Increased hydration also dilutes waste in the urinary tract and allows more frequent urination to flush bacteria out.

Treating the underlying cause of the UTI is also important. If bladder stones or crystals are present, a special diet may be recommended. For UTIs caused by anatomical defects, surgery may be required. Identifying and addressing predisposing factors like stress, inappropriate litter boxes, or obesity can help prevent recurrent infections.

With prompt veterinary attention and proper treatment, most feline UTIs can be resolved without complications. However, untreated or recurrent infections can potentially lead to more serious conditions like bladder or kidney infections. That’s why it’s essential to follow up as directed and take preventative measures to promote urinary tract health.

Preventing Dehydration and UTIs

There are several ways cat owners can help prevent dehydration and reduce their cat’s risk of developing a UTI:

Ensure your cat always has access to fresh, clean water. Refresh your cat’s water bowl daily and clean it thoroughly with soap and hot water weekly to keep bacteria from accumulating. Consider getting a cat water fountain, as the moving water will encourage more drinking.

Feed your cat a wet food diet, which has high water content. Canned food can provide the majority of your cat’s daily fluid needs. Avoid dry kibble as the main diet. If you do feed dry food, make sure your cat also gets wet food.

Provide multiple water bowls around your home so your cat always has access. Place them away from food to prevent contamination.

Take your cat to the vet for regular checkups to monitor kidney function and watch for early signs of infection. Annual exams are recommended for healthy adult cats.

Increase water intake gradually if your cat is reluctant to drink more. Try different types of bowls, flavored waters, or broths. Get your vet’s advice on the best approaches.

Keeping your cat well hydrated is key to flushing the urinary tract, diluting the urine, and preventing the crystals that can lead to infections. Consult your veterinarian if you have any concerns.

Outlook for Cats with UTIs

The outlook for cats with UTIs is generally good if proper treatment is administered promptly. Most cats will fully recover within 7-10 days of developing a urinary tract infection when given the appropriate medications like antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian (source). However, some cats may need to remain on a canned or wet food diet long-term to help increase water consumption and prevent recurrences.

Depending on the underlying cause, the cat’s home environment and routine may need modification as well. Things like increased access to clean water sources, adequate litter boxes, and reducing stress can help. Even with treatment, there is always a possibility of UTIs recurring in cats. So owners need to watch for signs like frequent urination, straining, and crying in the litter box. Follow up visits with a vet are recommended to monitor the infection and ensure it has resolved fully.

While frustrating to deal with, UTIs are not usually life-threatening for cats if caught and managed early. Paying attention to proper nutrition, hydration, and veterinary care can help prevent recurrent infections and allow cats to live normal happy lives.

The Bottom Line

In summary, lack of adequate water intake is a major risk factor for UTIs in cats. When cats don’t drink enough water, toxins and bacteria can become concentrated in the bladder and lead to inflammation and infection. Well-hydrated cats have more frequent urination, which flushes out bacteria before they can multiply and cause trouble. Encouraging your cat to drink more water is one of the best ways to prevent painful UTIs.

Make sure fresh, clean water is always available and consider offering flavored waters or fountain-style water bowls to entice drinking. Watch for any signs of dehydration like lethargy or dry gums, and contact your vet if you notice decreased drinking or any possible UTI symptoms. With proactive hydration care and awareness of UTI risk factors, cat owners can help keep their kitties healthy and reduce the need for UTI treatment down the road.

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