Can Your Cat’s Diet Really Give Them a UTI?


A urinary tract infection (UTI) is a bacterial infection of the urinary tract in cats. The most common symptoms of UTI in cats include frequent urination, blood in the urine, straining to urinate, and crying while urinating. Recent studies show the prevalence of UTI in cats is around 2-25%, higher than previously thought, with female cats at greater risk.

While the exact causes of UTI are not fully known, diet and nutrition may play a role. Inappropriate diets that produce concentrated urine can increase the risk of UTI in cats. As such, adjusting a cat’s diet may help prevent and manage UTIs.

Causes of UTI in Cats

There are several potential causes of urinary tract infections (UTIs) in cats:

Bacteria invasion of the urinary tract – The most common cause of UTIs in cats is bacteria, usually Escherichia coli from the intestinal tract, invading and infecting the urinary tract (Source).

Blockages like stones or plugs – Crystals, bladder stones, or urethral plugs can partly or fully block the urinary tract, preventing the normal flow of urine. This allows bacteria to multiply and cause infection (Source).

Anatomical defects – Abnormalities in a cat’s urinary tract anatomy, like an unusually narrow urethra, can impede urine flow and provide an environment where bacteria can thrive (Source).

Weakened immune system – Cats with conditions like kidney disease, diabetes, or cancer are more prone to UTIs because their immune systems are compromised and cannot effectively fight off bacteria (Source).

Risk Factors for UTI

Certain cats are at higher risk of developing urinary tract infections based on factors like age, gender, breed, obesity, and other medical conditions.

Age plays a role, with very young kittens and senior cats being more prone to UTIs. Kittens have underdeveloped immune systems, making them susceptible to infection. Senior cats experience a decline in immunity and other age-related changes that increase UTI risk.

Females are more likely to get UTIs than males, according to research. Their shorter, wider urethras make it easier for bacteria to enter the urinary tract and bladder.

Breeds such as Persians, Burmese, and Ragdolls have genetic traits that predispose them to UTIs and other urinary problems compared to other breeds, according to studies.

Obesity is another risk factor, as excess weight puts pressure on the bladder and urinary tract. Overweight cats cannot properly empty their bladders, allowing bacteria to multiply.

Underlying diseases like diabetes or kidney disease also increase UTI susceptibility in cats. Any condition that compromises the immune system or urinary tract can make a cat more prone to infection.

Symptoms of UTI

Some of the most common symptoms of a UTI in cats include:

Frequent urination – Cats with a UTI will often try to urinate frequently but pass only small amounts of urine each time. This is because the infection causes inflammation and irritation in the bladder, creating a constant urge to urinate. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, cats with a UTI may pass urine more often, sometimes up to several times an hour.1

Pain or straining when urinating – Urination can be painful when a cat has a UTI. Cats may cry out or whine when trying to urinate due to the discomfort. They may also exhibit signs of straining, such as crying out or pushing hard to pass even a small amount of urine.

Blood in urine – The inflammation from the infection can cause bleeding in the urinary tract. As a result, cat owners may notice blood in their pet’s urine.

Excessive licking of genitals – The frequent need to urinate and pain associated with it may cause a cat to excessively lick their genital area. This licking behavior is a response to the irritation and discomfort caused by the UTI.

Crying out when urinating – As mentioned, some cats will cry out when they try to urinate due to the pain and discomfort caused by the UTI. This vocalization is a clear sign that urination is painful for the cat.

Diagnosing UTI

To diagnose a UTI in cats, the vet will start by taking a thorough medical history and performing a physical exam. They will ask about any signs of urinary issues like increased frequency or discomfort when urinating. The physical exam allows the vet to feel for any bladder distension or kidney issues.

The most important diagnostic test is a urinalysis. This checks the chemical properties, cell counts, bacteria, and crystals in the urine. It can identify if there is an infection, inflammation, or abnormal urine. The presence of bacteria, increased white blood cells, and positive nitrites point to a likely UTI.

A urine culture is often the next step to identify the specific bacteria causing the infection and determine appropriate antibiotics. Growing the bacteria in a sterile culture allows for sensitivity testing. This confirms the best antibiotic type and dosage to treat that particular infection.

Imaging like x-rays or ultrasound may also be used to evaluate the urinary tract. This helps identify any anatomical issues contributing to recurrent UTIs. Checking bloodwork helps assess kidney function and the severity of the infection.[1] [2]

Treating UTI

There are a number of ways vets treat UTIs in cats:

Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to eliminate the infection. Vets often start with a broad spectrum antibiotic that targets a wide range of bacteria. Some common antibiotics used include Amoxicillin, Cephalosporins, and Fluoroquinolones. The specific antibiotic and dosage will depend on the cat and type of bacteria causing the infection. Antibiotics are usually given for 7-14 days. It’s important to finish the full course as directed by your vet (source).

Pain relievers help manage discomfort and urge to urinate frequently. Cat-safe NSAIDs like Meloxicam are often prescribed. Opioids like Buprenorphine may also be used for severe pain. Reducing pain and inflammation in the urinary tract allows the cat to pass urine more easily (source).

Fluid therapy through injections or IV can help flush bacteria from the urinary tract. Added fluids also encourage cats to urinate more frequently, relieving pressure in the bladder. Vets may administer subcutaneous fluids while the cat is hospitalized for a UTI (source).

Dietary changes may be recommended, especially canned food with extra water content. This helps cats stay hydrated and dilute their urine. Prescription urinary health diets reduce recurrent UTIs in some cats. Your vet can suggest an appropriate dietary change for your cat’s needs (source).

Can Diet Changes Cause UTI?

Yes, diet changes can potentially lead to urinary tract infections (UTIs) in cats. Certain types of cat food and abrupt transitions between foods can upset the bacterial balance in a cat’s gut and urinary tract, increasing the risk of infection.

Dry cat food that is low in moisture can contribute to UTIs by producing more concentrated urine with higher mineral levels. This allows crystals and stones to form more readily, which can then lead to blockages and infections in the urinary tract. Canned wet food has higher moisture content and helps cats stay hydrated, diluting the urine and decreasing crystal formation.1

Certain ingredients like magnesium, phosphorus, and calcium can also raise urine pH and encourage crystals. Special urinary tract diet foods limit these minerals and promote a more acidic urine pH to prevent crystals.2

Abrupt changes between food types, like switching from dry to canned food, can disrupt the bacterial flora in a cat’s gut and urinary tract. This allows harmful bacteria to proliferate and potentially migrate to the bladder, causing infection. Gradual food transitions over 5-7 days can help avoid gastrointestinal upset and urinary changes.

So while diet itself does not directly cause UTIs, certain foods and improper diet transitions can increase risk factors like concentrated urine, crystal formation, and gut microbiome disruption that enable bacterial overgrowth and infection.

Best Diets to Prevent UTI

When it comes to the best diets to help prevent UTIs in cats, there are some key nutritional factors to consider:

High moisture foods – Feeding canned/wet foods is ideal, as the high moisture content helps cats stay optimally hydrated. Increased water intake helps dilute the urine and flush out the urinary tract.(1)

Calcium oxalate restriction – Reducing oxalate levels can help prevent the formation of crystals and stones. Look for foods with controlled oxalate levels.(2)

Reduced magnesium – Magnesium contributes to forming certain types of crystals, so diets lower in magnesium are recommended.

Moderate protein and phosphorus – Too much protein and phosphorus can increase risk, so aim for moderate levels.

Talk to your vet about choosing the optimal food for your cat based on their health history and needs. Prescription urinary or kidney diets may be recommended in some cases.

Transitioning Foods

When transitioning your cat to a new food, it’s important to do so gradually over 5-7 days. Switching foods too quickly can upset your cat’s digestive system and cause diarrhea, vomiting, or urinary issues. Here’s how to transition foods properly:

Slowly start incorporating the new food by mixing a small amount in with your cat’s current food. On the first day, do a mix of 3/4 original food and 1/4 new food. On the second day, shift to 1/2 original and 1/2 new food. On day 3, do 1/4 original food and 3/4 new food. By day 4 or 5, you should be fully transitioned to just the new food.

Monitor your cat closely during the transition. Make sure they are eating a similar amount as normal and watch for any changes in their litterbox habits, appetite, or energy levels. If you notice decreased food intake, diarrhea, vomiting, straining, or discomfort urinating, slow down the transition by going back to the previous ratio for a couple more days.

Stick with the new food for at least 2 weeks to allow your cat’s digestive system to fully adapt. Only introduce one new food at a time, waiting until your cat is used to it before switching again.

Gradual changes are key when transitioning cat foods. This will allow your cat to get accustomed to new flavors, textures, or ingredients without disrupting their digestive health. Check with your vet if you have any concerns during the transition process.


When to See a Vet

If your cat is exhibiting persistent symptoms of a UTI or has recurring infections, it’s important to promptly seek veterinary care. Some signs that warrant an urgent vet visit include:

  • Straining or crying out when urinating
  • Frequent, painful trips to the litter box
  • Blood in the urine
  • Lethargy or lack of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Fever

Kittens experiencing a UTI should always be evaluated by a vet as soon as possible. UTIs can quickly lead to severe illness in young cats with underdeveloped immune systems.

For recurring UTIs in adult cats, your vet will want to perform diagnostic tests to determine an underlying cause. Prolonged infections that keep coming back could indicate bladder stones, anatomical defects, or other medical issues requiring treatment.

While mild UTIs can sometimes resolve on their own, it’s crucial to have your cat assessed if symptoms don’t dramatically improve within 24 hours. Ignoring a UTI allows the infection to worsen and spread to the kidneys, which can be life threatening. Don’t delay – schedule a vet visit promptly when a UTI is suspected.

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