Help, My Cat is in Pain! Should I Rush to the Vet for a UTI?

What is a UTI in cats?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) in cats is an infection of the urinary system, including the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. It is caused by bacteria, most commonly E. coli, that travel up the urethra and multiply in the bladder (Source).

UTIs in cats often cause inflammation in the bladder and urethra, resulting in uncomfortable symptoms. The most common symptoms of a UTI in cats include (Source):

  • Frequent and painful urination
  • Straining to urinate
  • Blood in the urine
  • Urinating outside the litter box
  • Excessive licking of the genital area
  • Crying out when urinating

If left untreated, UTIs in cats can lead to more severe kidney and bladder infections. So it’s important to get veterinary treatment for a suspected feline UTI.

How common are UTIs in cats?

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are a relatively common issue in cats. According to studies, the prevalence of lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), which includes UTIs, in cats ranges from 2.2% to 8% (,

Of cats diagnosed with FLUTD, studies indicate 55-69% of cases are feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), while around 12-25% of cases are due to urinary stones or obstructions (, This suggests UTIs account for a significant portion of FLUTD cases in cats.

In general, UTIs appear to be more prevalent in older cats and cats with additional medical conditions like kidney disease or diabetes. However, UTIs can occur in cats of any breed, age or sex.

When is a cat UTI an emergency?

A cat UTI can quickly become an emergency situation if left untreated. There are several symptoms that indicate a cat’s UTI requires immediate veterinary attention:

Urinary blockage – This occurs when crystals or stones get lodged in the urethra, completely blocking the flow of urine. Urinary blockages are extremely painful and life-threatening if not addressed within 24 hours, as toxins build up in the bloodstream (Source).

Inability to urinate – If a cat strains to urinate but only passes small amounts or blood, this indicates a partial or complete blockage (Source).

Vomiting, lethargy, and loss of appetite – These systemic signs paired with UTI symptoms can signal the infection is spreading to the kidneys or bloodstream (Source).

Cats most at risk for developing life-threatening UTIs are males, cats fed dry food diets, and cats with pre-existing kidney disease or bladder stones. Seeking emergency veterinary care is crucial for cats displaying any concerning UTI symptoms.

What are the consequences of leaving a cat UTI untreated?

Leaving a cat’s UTI untreated can lead to severe consequences including pain, kidney damage, and even sepsis. As the infection spreads from the bladder up to the kidneys, it can cause extreme pain and discomfort for cats when urinating. The bacteria multiplying in the urinary tract releases toxins that not only cause inflammation but also damage the tissues in the kidneys over time. This can lead to potentially irreversible kidney damage or even kidney failure if left unchecked.

Perhaps most seriously, untreated UTIs that have progressed to the kidneys can enter the bloodstream and lead to life-threatening sepsis. Once in the blood, the bacteria and associated toxins can spread rapidly, leading to septic shock, multiple organ failure, and even death in a matter of hours or days. For this reason, it is absolutely critical that any potential UTI in a cat be diagnosed and treated promptly under veterinary supervision before it can spread or cause systemic effects.

In summary, allowing a cat’s urinary tract infection to go untreated risks considerable pain, permanent kidney damage, and in worst cases, sepsis and death. So if a cat is displaying potential UTI symptoms like frequent urination, crying in the litter box, bloody urine or straining to urinate, it is imperative to have them seen by a vet right away. Quick diagnosis and treatment is key to preventing a minor UTI from escalating into a life-threatening emergency for a beloved feline family member.

How are cat UTIs diagnosed?

Veterinarians typically diagnose urinary tract infections (UTIs) in cats using urine tests and imaging:

Urine tests: A urinalysis is usually the first diagnostic test performed. It allows the vet to check for signs of infection such as increased white blood cells, bacteria, and crystalline deposits. Urine culture and sensitivity testing may also be done to identify the type of bacteria causing the infection and determine antibiotic sensitivity.

Urinalysis: A urinalysis examines the physical and chemical properties of a urine sample. It can detect increased white blood cells, red blood cells, bacteria, and crystals which may indicate a UTI. The pH of the urine may also be tested.

Imaging: X-rays or ultrasound may be used to check for urinary stones or anatomical abnormalities contributing to the UTI. These imaging tests provide visualization of the bladder and urinary tract.

How are cat UTIs treated?

Treating a cat UTI usually involves antibiotics, pain medication, and dietary changes.

Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat the infection itself. According to WebMD, vets typically prescribe antibiotics that target common bacteria to provide fast relief and clear the infection [1]. Antibiotics may be given orally or by injection, depending on the severity of the infection.

Pain medication such as buprenorphine may be given to help with discomfort and straining while urinating. This provides relief as the infection clears with antibiotics.

Dietary changes are often recommended as part of UTI treatment and prevention. Increasing water consumption can help flush bacteria from the urinary tract. Prescription urinary foods that promote a dilute, acidic urine pH may also be helpful. Reducing stress is also important, as stress can contribute to UTIs in cats.

With prompt veterinary treatment including antibiotics, pain control, and dietary modification, most feline UTIs can be resolved within 7-10 days.

What is the prognosis for a cat with a UTI?

With prompt diagnosis and treatment, the prognosis for cats with UTIs is generally good. According to PetMD, most cats will fully recover within 7-10 days of developing a urinary tract infection when treated properly (

However, UTIs in cats can often recur. According to Small Door Veterinary, even with treatment, recurrence rates for feline UTIs are around 50-60% ( Recurrences are usually due to an inability to completely eliminate the original infection, a predisposing anatomical factor, or reinfection from the environment.

To prevent recurrences, vets may recommend continued medication after initial treatment is completed. Keeping the cat’s environment clean and reducing stress can also help prevent recurrent UTIs.

With close monitoring, early treatment of recurrences, and addressing any predisposing factors, the long-term prognosis for cats with recurrent UTIs can still be good. However, multiple recurrences over a cat’s lifetime may signal an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

How can cat UTIs be prevented?

There are a few key ways to help prevent UTIs in cats:

First, increasing your cat’s water intake can help flush bacteria from their urinary tract and prevent infection. Feeding wet food, adding water to dry food, using cat fountains, and providing multiple fresh water bowls around the house are good ways to encourage hydration.

Feeding your cat a high quality urinary health diet may also help prevent UTIs by altering the pH of urine and promoting a healthy urinary tract. Prescription diets made for urinary care are available.

Additionally, maintaining good litter box hygiene is important. Scoop waste at least once a day, change the litter weekly, and provide enough boxes for your cat. Clean boxes can help prevent bacterial growth.

Other preventative options include urinary health supplements, probiotics, and veterinary prescription medications. Discuss the best UTI prevention plan for your cat with your vet.

When to take a cat with UTI symptoms to the vet?

Cats with UTIs need veterinary care to treat the infection and prevent complications. According to PetMD (1), you should take your cat to the vet right away if they are straining to urinate with little or no urine production, crying out when urinating, licking their genital area excessively, or exhibiting blood in their urine. These signs can indicate a blocked urethra, a life-threatening emergency in male cats. For female cats, PetMD advises seeing the vet within 24 hours if they exhibit symptoms.

The general guideline is to seek vet care if your cat is frequently visiting the litter box and straining to urinate with little success. They may cry out when trying to pee. You’ll also want to monitor their water intake and urine output closely. Decreased appetite, lethargy, and vomiting can also accompany a UTI. Watch for these signs and contact your vet promptly if you suspect a UTI, as they can worsen quickly if left untreated.

According to Hope Crossing (2), UTIs left untreated can lead to bladder or kidney infections, damage, or even rupture. So it’s crucial to have your vet assess your cat as soon as UTI symptoms arise. They can check for obstruction, perform lab tests on the urine, and prescribe antibiotics or other treatment. Catching it early improves recovery prognosis.

What to ask the vet about cat UTIs

When you suspect your cat may have a urinary tract infection, it’s important to ask your veterinarian the right questions to get a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Here are some key questions to ask:

On diagnosis:

  • What tests will you run to confirm a UTI? Urine cultures are needed for a definitive diagnosis. (Source)
  • Could it be something other than a UTI, like bladder stones or cancer? How will you check for other conditions?
  • Is there anything unusual in my cat’s history or symptoms that suggest a complicated UTI or other issue?

On treatment:

  • What antibiotic will my cat receive? How long will the treatment last?
  • Will my cat need any other medications like pain relievers?
  • What should I do if symptoms don’t improve with treatment?
  • How often will we need to come for follow up tests during and after treatment?

On home care:

  • What can I do at home to help my cat feel comfortable until the infection clears?
  • Are there any dietary changes or supplements you recommend during or after antibiotic treatment?
  • How will I know if my cat’s UTI is fully resolved?

Asking the right questions can help you partner with your vet for the best care plan for your cat’s UTI.

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