Don’t let it Linger. How Long a Cat’s UTI can Last Before Turning Dangerous

What is a UTI in Cats?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) in cats is a bacterial infection of any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder or urethra. UTIs are relatively common in cats, especially females.

Common symptoms of a feline UTI include:
– Frequent urination
– Straining to urinate
– Crying out during urination

– Bloody or cloudy urine
– Urinating outside the litter box

UTIs in cats are usually caused by bacteria like E. coli or Staphylococcus entering the urinary tract and multiplying. Some underlying factors that can increase the risk of UTIs in cats include:
– Blockages like bladder stones or tumors

– Anatomical defects
– Bladder inflammation
– A compromised immune system
– Stress

When to See the Vet

If your cat is exhibiting mild symptoms of a UTI like increased frequency of urination, straining to urinate, or crying out when urinating, it’s recommended to monitor the symptoms for 24-48 hours. However, if the symptoms persist or worsen within that timeframe, it’s important to schedule a veterinary appointment.

For more severe UTI symptoms like blood in the urine, inability to urinate, or fever, you should contact your vet immediately for an urgent appointment. Severe symptoms can indicate the infection has progressed or spread to the kidneys, requiring swift veterinary attention and treatment.

If your cat has had recurrent UTIs in the past, you may want to schedule an appointment sooner, even for mild symptoms. Recurring infections could mean an underlying condition is making your cat prone to UTIs.

Overall, mild UTI symptoms present for more than a day or two warrant a trip to the vet for diagnosis and treatment. Severe symptoms, inability to urinate, or recurring infections require urgent veterinary care to prevent complications. Trust your instincts if your cat seems ill, and don’t delay seeking veterinary advice.

Diagnosing a UTI

If a cat is suspected of having a UTI, the veterinarian will perform a thorough physical exam and take the cat’s medical history. They will palpate the abdomen to check for bladder distention or enlargement. The veterinarian will also look for signs of pain when palpating the bladder.

The main diagnostic tests for a feline UTI are a urinalysis and urine culture. For a urinalysis, the vet will collect a urine sample, either by cystocentesis (inserting a needle directly into the bladder) or free catch. The urine sample is examined under a microscope to look for increased white blood cells, evidence of infection. Other abnormalities like crystals or stones may also be found. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, the presence of rods, especially rod-shaped bacteria, points to a bacterial UTI (

A urine culture is needed to identify the specific bacteria causing the infection and determine the ideal antibiotic for treatment. The urine sample is allowed to incubate so any bacteria present can multiply. A colony count determines if the infection is significant. A count of over 100,000 CFUs (colony-forming units) per mL indicates a UTI in cats.

Treating a UTI

The most common treatment for a cat UTI is antibiotics. Antibiotics work to kill the bacteria causing the infection and provide relief of symptoms. Common antibiotics used include amoxicillin and cephalosporins like cephalexin (REF1). For severe or recurrent UTIs, stronger antibiotics may be prescribed. It’s important to give the full course as directed, usually 7-14 days.

Pain medications may also be prescribed to provide relief while the infection clears. Drugs like buprenorphine or meloxicam can help with dysuria and discomfort when urinating (REF2). Increased hydration is also important, which can be encouraged by feeding wet food, adding water to dry food, or using flavored drinks.


Complications from Untreated UTI

If a cat’s UTI is left untreated, it can lead to some serious complications. Some of the most common complications include:

Crystals and stones: The inflammation and bacteria from an untreated UTI can cause crystals and stones to form in the bladder or kidneys. According to PetMD, “these crystals irritate the lining of the bladder and urethra, which can lead to dysuria and stranguria.”

Kidney damage: An untreated UTI that travels to the kidneys, called pyelonephritis, can cause kidney infection and damage. As WebMD states, “If left untreated, a UTI can lead to partial or complete blockage of the urethra. This can lead to kidney failure.”

Sepsis: If the kidney infection goes untreated, bacteria and toxins can enter the bloodstream, causing a life-threatening condition called sepsis or septicemia, according to WCRAH. This is a medical emergency requiring immediate veterinary care.

That’s why it’s so important to get prompt veterinary treatment for a cat’s UTI. Leaving it untreated risks serious harm to the cat’s urinary tract, kidneys, and overall health.

When it Becomes Serious

A UTI can become serious if left untreated. Some signs that indicate a cat’s UTI has become serious and requires immediate veterinary attention include:

High fever
– A high fever over 103°F can develop as the infection spreads. This is a sign the UTI has reached the kidneys. According to the AVMA, a kidney infection (pyelonephritis) is a serious complication of untreated UTIs in cats.

– A cat with a severe UTI may vomit frequently as the toxins from the infection build up in the bloodstream. Vomiting combined with other symptoms warrants an urgent vet visit.

– Lethargy and extreme fatigue are concerning signs, as they indicate the cat’s body is overwhelmed fighting the infection. Lethargic cats may lie in one spot and seem unable to move around normally.

Loss of appetite
– Loss of appetite often accompanies lethargy in cats with advanced UTIs. The cat may refuse food and water, leading to dehydration. This can make the infection worse.

If a cat is displaying any of these symptoms along with UTI signs like frequent urination or blood in urine, do not wait to call your vet. Serious UTIs require hospitalization for intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and supportive care. The sooner treatment begins, the better the prognosis. Left untreated, severe kidney infections can even become fatal.

Preventing UTIs

There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent their cats from developing UTIs in the first place:

Increased hydration is key. Make sure your cat has access to plenty of fresh, clean water at all times. Consider getting a cat water fountain, as cats often prefer flowing water. Wet food or adding water to dry food can also increase fluid intake.

Feed your cat a urinary health diet. These foods are formulated to promote urinary tract health and prevent issues like UTIs. Prescription diets are available from your veterinarian.

Keep litter boxes extremely clean. Scoop waste at least once a day, and replace the litter regularly. Having multiple boxes can also help. Try different litters if your cat doesn’t seem to like their current one.

Consider supplements like D-mannose which can help prevent bacteria from adhering to the urinary tract. But consult your vet first.

Know the signs of a potential UTI like frequent urination or straining to urinate. Catching it early makes treatment easier. Monitoring litter box habits is important.

Bring your cat to the vet regularly for wellness checks to identify and address any potential urinary tract issues before they become major infections.

Outlook and Prognosis

UTIs in cats are usually treatable with antibiotics prescribed by a veterinarian (source). With prompt diagnosis and treatment, most cats make a full recovery. The prognosis for a cat with a UTI is excellent if the infection is caught early and treated properly.

However, UTIs may recur in some cats even after antibiotic treatment. Recurrent UTIs indicate an underlying condition that predisposes the cat to infection. In these cases, the vet will investigate potential causes like bladder stones, anatomical defects, or other illnesses. Addressing any underlying condition can help prevent repeat infections.

Overall, UTIs are very treatable in cats when diagnosed and treated quickly. With veterinary care and monitoring, most cats go on to live normal, happy lives after a UTI. Preventative steps can also be taken to reduce UTI recurrence when necessary. So the prognosis is good provided the UTI is properly diagnosed and treated.

When to See a Specialist

In most cases, a veterinarian can treat a cat’s UTI successfully. But in some situations, you may need to see a veterinary specialist for additional care:

Recurrent UTIs: If your cat has frequent UTIs that keep coming back, a specialist can perform more advanced diagnostic tests and imaging to uncover an underlying cause. Recurrent infections could indicate an anatomical problem or disorder interfering with normal urinary tract function. A specialist can provide advanced treatment options to manage stubborn, recurrent UTIs.

Kidney involvement: If the infection spreads to the kidneys, causing inflammation or kidney damage, your veterinarian will likely refer you to a specialist. Board-certified veterinary internists can provide advanced diagnostics and care for kidney disorders and infections.

Other complicating disorders: Cats with diabetes, cancer, nerve disorders, or other complicating conditions along with a UTI may need a specialist’s expertise. The specialist can manage both the infection and the other disease simultaneously.

In severe or stubborn cases, a specialist can pursue advanced diagnostic testing and imaging and provide tailored treatment plans. Their expertise helps ensure your cat makes a full recovery from the UTI and any related conditions.


When it comes to UTIs in cats, the key takeaways are:

  • UTIs occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract and multiply, causing infection.
  • Symptoms of a UTI in cats include frequent and painful urination, blood in the urine, and urinating outside the litter box.
  • Left untreated, UTIs in cats can lead to more serious complications like kidney damage or kidney failure.
  • Cats with a UTI for more than 24-48 hours are at risk for developing complications and should see a vet promptly.
  • UTIs are diagnosed through urinalysis and urine culture. Treatment involves antibiotics and addressing underlying causes.
  • Prevention centers on providing clean litter boxes, increased water intake, and reducing stress.
  • With prompt veterinary treatment, most UTIs in cats can be cured within 7-10 days.

If a cat has had a UTI for more than a couple of days, it’s crucial to have them evaluated by a vet immediately. The longer a UTI goes on, the higher the risk for complications. Don’t delay seeking veterinary care.

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