The Agony of a Feline UTI. Just How Bad is it For Our Furry Friends?


A urinary tract infection (UTI) in cats is defined as a bacterial infection of any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.[1] UTIs occur when bacteria enter the urinary tract and multiply in the bladder, causing inflammation and infection.

Although UTIs are relatively uncommon in cats compared to dogs, they can still affect felines. Studies show that 1-2% of cats will suffer from a UTI at some point in their lifetime.[2]

Common symptoms of a UTI in cats include straining to urinate, blood in the urine, excessive licking of the genital area, and frequent trips to the litter box. If left untreated, a UTI can lead to more serious complications like bladder or kidney infections. Antibiotics and pain medications are typically used to treat UTIs in cats. Identifying and treating a UTI early is important for a cat’s comfort and wellbeing.


Causes of UTIs in Cats

UTIs in cats are often caused by bacteria entering the urinary tract or bladder, usually E. coli from the gastrointestinal tract. Bacteria can multiply rapidly in the bladder or urethra, causing infection and inflammation 1.

Other common causes include urinary blockages that prevent urine flow, like urethral plugs or bladder stones. Anything obstructing urine flow increases the risk of bacteria accumulating and infection setting in 2.

Underlying illnesses like kidney disease, diabetes, or hyperthyroidism can make cats more prone to UTIs as well. Poor immune health also plays a role.

Symptoms of a UTI

Cats with urinary tract infections often exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Frequent urination – Cats with UTIs will frequently visit the litter box but only pass small amounts of urine each time. This is because the infection causes inflammation and irritation in the bladder, creating a constant urge to urinate.
  • Crying or straining while urinating – Due to the discomfort caused by the infection, cats may cry out or whine when trying to urinate. They may also exhibit signs of straining, such as squatting for long periods of time.
  • Blood in urine – The inflammation from a UTI can cause bleeding in the urinary tract, leading to red or pink colored urine.
  • Lethargy – UTIs can cause cats to feel generally unwell. They may seem more tired and inactive than usual.
  • Loss of appetite – The pain and discomfort of a UTI can cause a decreased appetite in cats.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, these symptoms can vary based on whether the cat has a lower or upper urinary tract infection [1]. Upper UTIs involve the kidneys and may also cause vomiting, diarrhea, fever, or back pain. Lower UTIs involve the bladder and urethra and primarily cause increased urinary frequency and discomfort.

When to See the Vet

If your cat shows any symptoms of a potential UTI, it is important to see the vet as soon as possible. Symptoms like straining to urinate, crying out in pain when urinating, urinating outside the litter box, blood in the urine, or excessive licking of the genital area indicate your cat may have a UTI and needs veterinary attention.

The vet will examine your cat and test a urine sample to check for bacteria and confirm if there is an infection present. Testing the urine is crucial so the proper treatment can be prescribed. [1]

If a UTI is diagnosed, the vet will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. It is important to get antibiotics promptly so the infection does not worsen or spread to the kidneys. Starting medication right away will help relieve your cat’s pain and discomfort as the UTI resolves. The prescribed antibiotics should be given to your cat as directed until the infection clears.

Diagnosing a UTI

Diagnosing a UTI in cats begins with a veterinary exam to look for signs of a urinary tract infection. The vet will perform a complete physical exam and obtain a medical history from the owner, looking for any symptoms that point to a possible UTI.

One of the main diagnostic tools vets use is a urinalysis test. The urine sample is checked for the presence of bacteria, white blood cells, and blood, which can indicate an infection. The vet will look for an increased number of red blood cells in the urine as well as bacteria such as E. coli, Staphylococcus, or Streptococcus. The presence of these bacteria in large numbers often confirms a urinary tract infection diagnosis.

In some cases, the vet may take a urine culture to identify the specific bacteria causing the infection and determine the proper antibiotic for treatment. Imaging tests like x-rays or ultrasound may also be used to check for bladder stones or anatomical abnormalities that could be contributing to the UTI.

By combining a physical exam, medical history, urinalysis, and other testing methods, vets are able to accurately diagnose a urinary tract infection in cats. Once diagnosed, prompt treatment can relieve painful symptoms and prevent more serious complications.

Treating a UTI

Treating a UTI in cats usually involves a combination of antibiotics, pain medication, increased water intake, and sometimes diet changes. Antibiotics like Amoxicillin or Cephalexin are commonly prescribed to kill the bacteria causing the infection (source). These are often given for 7-14 days. Pain medications like Buprenorphine or Meloxicam can provide relief from the discomfort and urge to urinate frequently (source).

Increasing water intake helps flush bacteria from the urinary tract. This can be done by feeding wet food, adding water to dry food, or providing multiple water bowls. Diet changes may also be recommended, like switching to a urinary health formula cat food. These contain ingredients to make the urine more dilute and acidic, discouraging bacterial growth (source). With proper treatment, most UTIs in cats can be resolved within 1-2 weeks.

Duration of Treatment

Cats with uncomplicated UTIs are typically treated with antibiotics for 10-14 days according to Antimicrobial Use Guidelines for Treatment of Urinary Tract Disease in Dogs and Cats. However, some cats may require additional rounds of antibiotic treatment if symptoms persist or recur. According to Use of Antibiotics for Treating UTIs in Dogs and Cats, vets may recheck a urine culture 5-7 days into initial antibiotic treatment to confirm the drug’s effectiveness before completing the full course. More stubborn UTIs could require 3-4 weeks or longer of antibiotics to fully resolve.

Preventing UTIs

There are several steps cat owners can take to help prevent their cat from developing UTIs in the future, including:

Increasing water consumption – Make sure your cat always has access to fresh, clean water. Consider getting a cat water fountain to encourage drinking. Cats tend to prefer moving water sources. Canned food also has high moisture content.

Feeding a urinary or kidney supportive diet – Your vet may recommend a special veterinary urinary food to promote urinary tract health. These foods are designed to increase water consumption and urine dilution.

Monitoring litter box habits – Keep an eye on the number of times your cat urinates each day, along with the amount and any signs of straining or discomfort. Look out for blood in the urine as well. Contact your vet if you notice any concerning changes.

Pain Level of UTI

UTIs can be quite painful for cats, but it may be difficult to gauge just how painful as cats are notorious for hiding signs of pain and discomfort. When a cat has a UTI, the pain is generally focused around urination. There is likely a burning sensation when they pee which can cause considerable discomfort. Overall, the cat is likely experiencing general malaise and irritation in the urinary tract area.

According to the ASPCA, “When cats develop these infections, they may strain or take a long time trying to urinate, since urination causes pain and burning in the bladder.”1 The act of urinating with a UTI causes significant pain and discomfort for a cat.

Cats are quite stoic when it comes to showing outward signs of pain. But just because a cat with a UTI isn’t vocalizing or showing obvious discomfort, it doesn’t mean they aren’t in pain. It’s important for cat owners to watch for subtle signs of discomfort and changes in urinary habits as potential indicators of a UTI.

When a UTI Becomes an Emergency

A cat with a UTI can go from uncomfortable to an emergency situation very quickly. According to veterinarians at Rock Hill Carolina Veterinary Hospital, if a cat stops urinating completely, it is considered a medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary care. A blockage in the urethra can quickly lead to a buildup of toxins in the blood from urine and cause death if left untreated.

Other emergency symptoms that require urgent vet care include vomiting, fever, and lethargy. According to AnimERge Urgent Care & Specialty Hospital, these signs indicate the infection may have spread to the kidneys or throughout the body. Sepsis can develop, which is a life-threatening condition.

If a cat displays any signs of an obstructed urethra or the infection spreading, do not wait to see if the symptoms improve. Seek emergency veterinary care immediately to save the cat’s life and prevent permanent kidney damage.

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