Does Your Cat Have a UTI? How Vets Diagnose This Common Feline Problem

What is a Urinary Tract Infection in Cats?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) in cats is caused by bacteria that gets into the bladder or urinary tract and begins to multiply. This leads to inflammation and infection of the bladder and urethra. Some common bacteria that cause feline UTI are Escherichia coli (E. coli), Enterococcus, Staphylococcus, Proteus, Klebsiella, and Streptococcus.

UTIs in cats can be painful and uncomfortable. Symptoms of a feline UTI include frequent and painful urination, blood in the urine, excessive licking of the genital area, and urinary accidents outside the litter box. It’s important to get a prompt veterinary diagnosis and treatment for a cat UTI, as left untreated it can lead to more serious kidney and bladder infections.

Common Symptoms

Some of the most common symptoms of a urinary tract infection (UTI) in cats include:

Straining to urinate – Cats with a UTI may frequently go to the litter box but have difficulty passing urine. They may assume the urinating position and strain or cry out when trying to pee even if just a small amount comes out. This straining is a sign of bladder discomfort and inflammation from the infection. [1]

Frequent urination – A UTI causes inflammation of the bladder, so cats feel the frequent urge to urinate even if little comes out when they try. They may visit the litter box more often and try to pee in multiple spots. [2]

Crying when urinating – The inflammation and discomfort from the UTI can cause pain and crying when a cat tries to pass urine. This crying indicates they are experiencing pain during urination.

Blood in urine – Hematuria or blood in the urine can occur with UTIs. Blood may be visible grossly or show up on urinalysis. It signals inflammation of the urinary tract.

Urination outside the litter box – Some cats associate the pain of urination with the litter box, so they begin peeing outside the box even if well house-trained. The infection causes them to urinate more frequently and urgently.



When to See the Vet

If any of the common symptoms are observed, it’s important to have your cat examined promptly by a veterinarian. Some signs that warrant an urgent vet visit include:

  • Straining or crying when urinating
  • Frequent attempts to urinate with little production
  • Blood in the urine
  • Excessive licking of the genital area
  • Accidents outside the litter box

Cats are very good at hiding illness, so even mild symptoms could indicate a UTI or other medical issue. It’s always better to err on the side of caution and have your vet examine your cat.

According to the experts at BluePearl Veterinary Partners, “If left untreated, UTIs can lead to more serious conditions, such as bladder or kidney infections, which could result in death. The sooner the infection is diagnosed and treatment begins, the better the outcome for your pet.” (Source)

Prompt veterinary care ensures your cat receives appropriate treatment before the UTI can spread and cause complications. Your vet will be able to diagnose the UTI and prescribe the proper medication to clear the infection.

Veterinary Exam

When a cat shows signs of a potential urinary tract infection, the veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam, palpating the abdomen to check for bladder distension, pain, or abnormal masses. The vet will also collect a urine sample for analysis. There are a few ways to collect a urine sample from a cat:

Cystocentesis uses a needle and syringe to obtain urine directly from the bladder. This is the preferred method as it yields a sterile sample. However, it does require sedation in most cats.

Manual expression involves applying pressure to the bladder to cause urination. The vet will collect the sample in a sterile container. This method runs a higher risk of contamination.

Free catch involves collecting a urine sample during normal urination. The cat’s genital area is cleaned and a sterile container is held underneath to catch the flow of urine. This is the easiest method but also carries a contamination risk.

Once a urine sample is obtained, the vet will analyze it for signs of infection. They will look for increased white blood cells, bacteria, and crystals. The pH of the urine may also indicate infection. Further testing like urine culture or imaging may be recommended if the initial results are inconclusive (

Urine Tests

There are a few different urine tests a vet may conduct to diagnose a urinary tract infection in cats:

Urinalysis – This is one of the most common urine tests. It analyzes a urine sample for things like blood, bacteria, crystals, and pH level, which can indicate an infection. An abnormal urinalysis will usually lead the vet to send a urine sample for culture.

Urine culture – This test grows the bacteria present in a urine sample to identify the type of bacteria causing the infection. Doing a culture determines the best antibiotic to prescribe.

These urine tests allow vets to check for signs of infection like bacteria, blood, and pH changes. Urinalysis provides initial clues while urine culture gives more definitive infection diagnosis.

Imaging Tests

Veterinarians typically use imaging tests like X-rays or ultrasound to check for potential causes of a feline UTI like bladder stones, tumors, anatomic abnormalities, or obstructions. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, survey radiography and double contrast cystography are valuable tools for assessing the feline lower urinary tract (Johnston, 1996).

X-rays allow vets to visualize the size and shape of the bladder and look for mineralized bladder stones or other radiopaque objects. Ultrasound uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the bladder and surrounding anatomy. It can detect masses, bladder wall thickening, and some types of bladder stones. While ultrasonography is useful, radiography is still often needed to fully evaluate the lower urinary tract according to a study in the Journal of Small Animal Practice (Vörös et al., 1997).

Based on initial imaging, vets may recommend advanced imaging like antegrade urethrocystography to assess for anatomical defects or obstructions if a UTI cause is still unidentified.


The main treatments for cat UTIs involve antibiotics, pain medication, and special diets. Vets typically prescribe oral antibiotics that are effective against common UTI-causing bacteria to provide quick relief and clear the infection (VCA Hospitals). Antibiotics usually need to be given for 10-14 days. Some common antibiotics used are amoxicillin, cephalexin, trimethoprim-sulfa, and orbifloxacin.

Pain medication like buprenorphine or meloxicam may be prescribed to help with discomfort during urination. Special veterinary diets for urinary health can help cats increase water consumption and diluted urine, making it easier to pass.

In severe cases of feline UTI that don’t respond to oral medication, hospitalization may be required for intravenous fluids, injectable antibiotics, and urinary catheterization. Hospitalization allows close monitoring and supportive care while the infection clears.

Follow Up

After a course of antibiotics is completed, it is crucial for the cat to have a recheck veterinary exam and urinalysis to confirm the infection has resolved. The vet will analyze another urine sample and may run additional tests if any symptoms persist. According to Today’s Veterinary Practice, “Recheck urine culture 7 days after discontinuing antibiotic therapy. Positive growth should prompt investigation for causes of relapse or reinfection.” If the infection has not fully cleared with the initial antibiotic treatment, the vet may need to prescribe a different antibiotic, higher dosage, or longer duration of medication.

As noted on the VCA Animal Hospitals website, “After the course of antibiotics is completed, it is important to recheck the urinalysis to confirm that the infection is resolved. If it is not, then it is possible that a longer course of medication may be needed or that a different medication should be tried.” The follow up exam allows the vet to ensure the cat makes a full recovery. According to PrettyLitter, cat owners should plan for a recheck “in about a week or two after treatment to make sure there are no other symptoms that have surfaced.” With prompt reevaluation and continued care, most cats can recover fully from a UTI.


There are several ways to help prevent UTIs in cats. The most important is to encourage increased water intake. Cats with diluted urine are less likely to develop crystals and infections. Make sure fresh, clean water is always available and consider getting a cat fountain, as moving water encourages drinking. You can also add water to wet food.

Feeding an urinary health diet designed to promote urinary tract health may help. These foods contain ingredients that help acidify the urine and prevent crystal formation. Ask your vet for diet recommendations.

Reducing stress is also beneficial, as stress can contribute to FLUTD. Provide a consistent routine, proper enrichment through toys and scratching posts, and affection. Using synthetic feline pheromones like Feliway can also help relax cats.

Regular veterinary check ups to monitor urinary health are also recommended. Your vet may prescribe urinary supplements or medications as a preventative measure for at-risk cats. Good litter box hygiene is also important to minimize bacterial growth.


With prompt treatment, the prognosis for cats with UTIs is good. According to PetMD, most cats will fully recover within 7-10 days of developing a urinary tract infection when appropriately treated However, there is potential for recurrence if the underlying cause is not addressed. Cats may need to remain on a prescription urinary or canned diet for a longer period to prevent future UTIs.

Early detection and treatment of a UTI is key to avoiding complications and improving prognosis. If left untreated, the infection can spread to the kidneys, lead to bladder stones, or even rupture of the bladder according to WebMD By being alert for symptoms and promptly seeking veterinary care, cat owners can obtain treatment before the infection worsens. With quick response and adherence to veterinary recommendations, most cats fully recover and go on to live long healthy lives.

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