Can a Cat’s UTI Be Fatal? The Life-Threatening Risks of Feline Urinary Tract Infections

What is a UTI in Cats?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) in cats is a bacterial infection of the urinary system, including the bladder and urethra. UTIs occur when bacteria, often E. coli from the gastrointestinal tract, travels up the urethra and begins to multiply in the bladder (VCA Hospitals).

There are two main types of UTIs in cats:

  • Lower urinary tract infection (cystitis): This affects the bladder and urethra. It is the most common type of UTI in cats.
  • Upper urinary tract infection (pyelonephritis): This affects the kidneys and ureters. It is less common but more serious.

Common symptoms of a lower UTI include straining to urinate, blood in the urine, and excessive licking of the genital area. Upper UTIs often cause fever, vomiting, and other systemic signs (Guilford-Jamestown Veterinary Hospital).

While UTIs are not directly fatal, they can lead to serious complications if left untreated. It’s important to recognize the signs and get prompt veterinary treatment.

How Do UTIs Develop in Cats?

UTIs in cats most often develop when bacteria enter the urinary tract and travel upwards, infecting the bladder and sometimes even the kidneys. The most common bacteria implicated in feline UTIs is Escherichia coli (E. coli), which is normally found in the intestines and feces but can cause infection if introduced into the urinary tract (1).

Typically, UTIs start in the bladder and then ascend up the ureters to infect the kidneys. Bacteria gain access to the urinary tract through the urethra and multiply within the bladder, adhering to the bladder wall and causing inflammation (2). From there, the infection can continue moving up the urinary tract to the kidneys and ureters if left untreated.

Certain risk factors can make cats more prone to developing UTIs, including (3):

  • Blockages in the urinary tract
  • Bladder or kidney stones
  • Tumors in the urinary tract
  • Anatomical defects
  • Diseases like kidney failure or diabetes mellitus
  • Prolonged use of urinary catheters
  • Suppression of the immune system

By identifying and managing these risk factors, UTIs may be preventable in some cats.



What Are the Symptoms of a UTI in Cats?

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

Straining to urinate – Cats with a UTI will often strain while trying to urinate, as if they are having difficulty passing urine. They may assume the urinating position and visibly push and strain without producing much, if any, urine.

Blood in urine – The inflammation and irritation caused by a UTI can cause bleeding in the urinary tract. As a result, cat owners may notice blood in their cat’s urine. The urine may appear pinkish or reddish in color.

Frequent urination – Cats with a UTI will feel the frequent and urgent need to urinate. They will visit the litter box more often, sometimes multiple times an hour. However, they may only pass small amounts of urine each time.

Crying out while urinating – The pain and discomfort caused by a UTI may cause cats to vocalize when urinating. They may meow, yowl or cry out while urinating due to the painful, burning sensation.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, other symptoms include peeing outside the litter box, increased thirst, lethargy and poor appetite. If a cat displays any of these symptoms, it’s important to see a veterinarian for evaluation and treatment.

Can a UTI Be Fatal for Cats?

Left untreated, a UTI can progress and become fatal for cats. According to WebMD, if a UTI leads to a complete blockage of the urethra, this can result in kidney failure or even rupture of the bladder (source).

Sepsis, a systemic inflammatory response that can lead to multiple organ failure, is one of the most serious risks. The bacteria from the UTI enters the bloodstream and spreads through the body. Per PetMD, sepsis has a mortality rate around 35% in cats (source).

Male cats in particular are at high risk, as a UTI can quickly progress to a complete urinary blockage. According to WagWalking, a blocked urethra can become fatal within just a few hours if emergency care is not received (source).

The key is to recognize symptoms early and get prompt veterinary treatment. With timely care, most UTIs in cats can be successfully managed. However, delayed treatment raises the risks of potentially fatal complications.

How is a UTI Diagnosed in Cats?

If a UTI is suspected in a cat, the veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam and obtain a detailed history of the cat’s symptoms. The physical exam allows the vet to feel the cat’s abdomen for any abnormalities, tenderness, or distension of the bladder. The veterinarian will also check vital signs like body temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure, as these may be abnormal with a UTI.

The most important diagnostic test for confirming a UTI is a urinalysis. The vet will obtain a urine sample from the cat to examine under a microscope and test chemically. With a UTI, the urine often contains bacteria, white blood cells, and sometimes crystals. The pH of the urine may also be abnormal. A urine culture is often done as well to identify the type of bacteria causing the infection. X-rays or ultrasound of the abdomen may be recommended if bladder stones or masses are suspected.

For male cats, the veterinarian may also gently palpate the penis and urethra to check for obstructions. In some cases, imaging tests like radiographs or ultrasound may be needed to fully evaluate the urinary tract system.

How are UTIs Treated in Cats?

Most UTIs in cats are treated with antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian. The vet will select the appropriate antibiotic based on the type of bacteria causing the infection, as determined by a urine culture. Some common antibiotics used for cat UTIs include amoxicillin, cephalexin, trimethoprim-sulfa, and enrofloxacin.

Cats with UTIs may also be dehydrated, especially if they have had difficulty or pain while urinating. Dehydration needs to be addressed, so the vet may administer intravenous (IV) fluids. This helps restore hydration and flush bacteria from the urinary tract.

In severe cases, or for cats who are not improving with oral antibiotics, the vet may recommend hospitalization for more intensive treatment. Hospitalized cats can receive injectable antibiotics, pain medication, and round-the-clock care. Hospitalization allows for close monitoring of the cat’s progress in treating the infection.

Most cats respond well to antibiotic treatment within a few days and make a full recovery. However, cats who have frequent recurring UTIs may need longer term treatment and changes to their diet or environment to prevent reinfection.

With prompt veterinary treatment, most UTIs in cats can be cured and do not cause any lasting problems. Monitoring cats for early UTI symptoms can help initiate treatment right away and avoid complications.

What is the Prognosis for Cats with UTIs?

With prompt veterinary treatment, most cats have an excellent prognosis and make a full recovery from a UTI within 7-10 days 1. However, UTIs can sometimes recur if the underlying cause is not addressed. Cats that have frequent recurrent UTIs may require longer-term antibiotic treatment and urinary acidifiers or diet changes to promote a healthy urinary tract environment.

For cats that develop a UTI secondary to another condition like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or kidney disease, the prognosis depends on effectively managing the primary disease. Chronic kidney disease in particular puts cats at higher risk for UTIs. Recurrent UTIs in cats with kidney disease can potentially lead to further kidney damage over time.

With close follow-up care, monitoring, and treatment, many cats can live comfortably with chronic kidney disease. But UTIs represent a significant threat in cats with compromised kidney function. Preventing UTIs through dietary therapy and prompt antibiotic treatment when they occur is key to supporting quality of life in cats with kidney disease.

How Can I Prevent UTIs in My Cat?

There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent UTIs in their cats:

First, make sure your cat is drinking plenty of water. Increased water consumption helps flush bacteria out of the urinary tract. Use a water fountain or add more water bowls around your home to encourage drinking. Feed wet food, which has high moisture content. Avoid dry food, which can contribute to dehydration.

Feeding a urinary health cat food designed to support urinary tract health can also help prevent UTIs. These foods contain ingredients like cranberries, vitamins, and antioxidants that promote a healthy urinary environment (source).

Additionally, keep the litter box clean to avoid exposing your cat to bacteria. Scoop waste from the litter box at least once a day, and empty the box completely to wash it with mild soap and hot water every 1-2 weeks. Use an unscented clumping litter, since heavily scented litters can deter cats from using the box (source).

With increased hydration, a urinary health diet, and proper litter box hygiene, you can help prevent painful UTIs from developing in your cat.

When Should I Seek Emergency Care for a Cat with a UTI?

A UTI can quickly become a dangerous medical emergency for cats if left untreated. There are several symptoms that indicate a cat’s UTI has progressed to a life-threatening stage requiring immediate veterinary care. These emergency UTI symptoms include:

High Fever – Cats’ normal body temperature ranges between 100.5°F and 102.5°F. A temperature over 103°F often signals a serious infection like a kidney or bladder infection from an advanced UTI. Immediate medical treatment is needed to bring down their temperature before organ damage occurs.

Vomiting – Repeated vomiting along with other UTI symptoms like frequent urination or blood in urine is a sign the infection may have spread to the kidneys. Cats facing kidney dysfunction or failure need urgent veterinary treatment.

Lethargy – Extreme lethargy or weakness indicates the UTI has overwhelmed the cat’s system. Toxins from the infection build up in the bloodstream, and the cat lacks energy for normal activities. Prompt treatment is critical at this stage.

Loss of Appetite – A cat not eating or drinking enough can quickly become dehydrated, leading to kidney damage or failure. Appetite loss with UTI symptoms calls for an emergency vet visit to provide IV fluids and treat the underlying infection.

If you notice any of the above emergency symptoms in a cat with a suspected or confirmed UTI, seek immediate veterinary care. Left untreated at this stage, a UTI can rapidly cause kidney dysfunction, sepsis, and ultimately death in cats within 48 hours. However, fast veterinary intervention can still save a cat’s life in most cases. Do not wait to see if symptoms improve on their own, as a delay may be fatal.


UTIs in cats should always be taken seriously as they can lead to life-threatening issues if left untreated. The most important signs of a potential UTI in a cat include frequent urination, straining to urinate, urinating outside the litter box, blood in the urine, and crying out while urinating. If your cat displays any of these symptoms, it’s crucial to get them to a veterinarian for diagnosis and treatment right away.

While UTIs themselves may not directly cause death in otherwise healthy cats, they can quickly lead to kidney infections, kidney damage or even sepsis if not treated promptly with antibiotics and fluids. Therefore, any potential UTI should be handled as a medical emergency until proven otherwise. The good news is that most feline UTIs are very treatable if caught early. Preventative care like providing ample fresh water, feeding wet food, and keeping litter boxes clean can help reduce the risks.

For further information on UTIs in cats, please consult your veterinarian. Some helpful online resources include:

– The American Veterinary Medical Association:
– The Cornell Feline Health Center:
– The CATalyst Council:

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