The Hidden Dangers Inside. Why Indoor Cats Suffer UTIs


Cats spend most of their time indoors, so issues like urinary tract infections tend to be more common in indoor cats as compared to outdoor cats. According to one study, 14-21% of cats screened had evidence of bacteria in their urine (subclinical bacteriuria) and other studies estimated the prevalence of lower urinary tract disease symptoms as between 1-5% in the general cat population.

Urinary tract infections and other feline lower urinary tract diseases can be extremely painful for cats and lead to potentially life-threatening complications like urinary tract obstruction if left untreated. In this article, we’ll cover the causes and risk factors for UTIs in indoor cats, how they are diagnosed and treated, tips for prevention, and what cat owners need to know if their cat is diagnosed with a UTI.

What is a UTI?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria get into a cat’s urinary tract and multiply, causing inflammation and infection. The urinary tract includes the urethra, bladder, ureters, and kidneys. There are different types of UTIs in cats:

  • Lower urinary tract infection (cystitis) – affects the bladder and urethra
  • Upper urinary tract infection (pyelonephritis) – affects the kidneys and ureters

Common symptoms of a feline UTI include frequent and painful urination, blood in the urine, straining to urinate, crying out while urinating, excessive licking of the genital area, and urinary accidents outside the litter box.

Causes and Risk Factors

There are several potential causes of urinary tract infections in cats:

Bacteria – One of the most common causes of UTIs in cats is bacteria, usually Escherichia coli from the gastrointestinal tract that enters the urinary tract and multiplies. The bacteria irritate the bladder lining and cause inflammation and infection (Cat Urinary Tract Infection – What You Need To Know).

Crystals or stones – Struvite and calcium oxalate crystals or stones can form in the bladder and block the flow of urine, leading to infection. The stones irritate the bladder wall, which allows bacteria to take hold more easily (Cat Urinary Tract Problems and Infections).

Anatomical defects – Birth defects affecting the urinary tract like an unusually narrow urethra can cause urinary blockages and backup of urine, increasing UTI risk (Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) in Cats – VCA Animal Hospitals).

Certain factors are known to increase a cat’s risk of developing a UTI:

  • Age – Older cats are more prone to UTIs.
  • Gender – Female cats are more likely to get UTIs.
  • Diet – Certain diets may promote crystal/stone formation.
  • Litter hygiene – Dirty litter boxes can introduce bacteria.
  • Underlying illness – Conditions like kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism increase risk.


If a urinary tract infection is suspected, the veterinarian will first perform a physical exam to check for signs like frequent urination, blood in the urine, and straining. A urinalysis is the key diagnostic test used to check for signs of infection such as increased white blood cells, bacteria, and crystals in the urine. This helps identify an infection and determine the cause. The urine will also be evaluated for pH balance and concentration.

The most definitive diagnostic test is a urine culture, which allows any bacteria present to multiply so the type can be identified. This helps determine the most effective antibiotic for treatment. Urine can be obtained by cystocentesis, where a needle is inserted directly into the bladder to get a sterile sample. Proper diagnosis and identification of the bacteria involved is crucial; some UTIs in cats are caused by resistant strains.

In complicated cases, additional imaging such as x-rays or ultrasound may be needed to assess the urinary tract. However, a veterinarian should diagnose and treat any potential UTI in cats. Trying to diagnose at home could lead to inappropriate treatment and a delay in proper veterinary care.



Treatment for urinary tract infections in cats often involves antibiotics, pain medications, and dietary changes. Common antibiotics prescribed include amoxicillin, cephalexin, or trimethoprim-sulfa. These antibiotics are usually given for 2-4 weeks to fully clear the infection. Pain medications like buprenorphine or meloxicam can provide relief from uncomfortable urinary symptoms. Dietary changes are also recommended, including increasing water intake, feeding wet food, and reducing stress.

Without treatment, UTIs in cats can progress and lead to complications like bladder or kidney infections. Severe, untreated UTIs may even result in death. That’s why it’s critical to follow vets’ treatment plans, give all prescribed medications as directed, and make diet changes to support recovery. Treatment timelines vary based on factors like the cat’s health history and response to medications. In uncomplicated cases, cats may recover fully within a few weeks. More persistent infections could take 6-8 weeks or longer to fully resolve.

Potential complications if UTIs are left untreated include:

  • Spreading infection to the kidneys
  • Formation of bladder or kidney stones
  • Recurring UTIs
  • Bladder or kidney damage
  • Sepsis
  • Urinary obstruction
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Death


Proper litter hygiene is crucial for preventing UTIs in cats. Make sure to scoop the litter box at least once a day and completely replace the litter every 1-2 weeks. Use unscented clumping litter as the dust from clay litter can be an irritant. Keep the litter box clean and free of debris (cite the url here).

Feeding your cat a veterinary-prescribed urinary health diet can help reduce UTI recurrences. These diets promote a more dilute and acidic urine pH which helps block bacterial growth. Some urinary foods also contain supplements to support urinary tract health (cite the url here).

Ensuring your cat drinks adequate water is important to help flush bacteria from the urinary tract. Use a water fountain, add more water bowls around your home, or mix water into wet food. Offer broths or tuna juice as a treat. Increase water intake if your cat only eats dry food (cite the url here).

Take your cat to the vet for annual wellness exams to check for early signs of UTI. Senior cats should be examined twice yearly. Ask about UTI prevention supplements or a prescription urinary health diet if your cat has frequent UTIs (cite the url here).

When to See a Vet

It’s important to take your cat to the vet if you notice any signs of a potential UTI, which include frequent and painful urination, blood in the urine, and crying out while trying to urinate. Cats that strain to urinate with little or no urine production also need to be seen quickly. Left untreated, UTIs can lead to more serious complications like bladder or kidney infections.

You should also take your cat to the vet immediately if they show signs of a complication or serious illness related to a UTI. These signs include vomiting, lethargy, decreased appetite, and fever, which can indicate the infection may have spread. Recurring UTIs are also cause for concern, especially in male cats. Cats prone to recurrent UTIs may need further testing and treatment to identify an underlying cause.

Outlook and Prognosis

UTIs in cats are very treatable if caught early, according to veterinary sources such as VCA Animal Hospitals. Most cats will fully recover within 7-10 days of antibiotic treatment and switching to a canned cat food diet. However, if left untreated, a UTI can progress to more serious conditions such as bladder or kidney infections.

According to PetMD, the prognosis is good if treatment begins before the infection spreads outside of the bladder (PetMD). However, recurrent or chronic UTIs may cause bladder inflammation and scarring. Kidney damage is also possible if an infection spreads to the kidneys.

To prevent recurrence, vets recommend continuing to feed canned food and increasing water intake. Some cats may need long-term antibiotics or urinary health supplements. Good litter box hygiene and reducing stress can also help prevent recurrent infections.

Coping at Home

There are several things you can do at home to help your cat cope with a UTI and promote healing:

Creating a low-stress environment is important, as stress can worsen urinary tract inflammation. Make sure your cat has access to their own quiet, comfortable space where they can relax and feel safe. Using pheromone diffusers like Feliway can also help reduce stress.

Pay close attention to litter box hygiene. Scoop waste at least once a day, and completely replace the litter once a week. Use unscented, dust-free litter. Place multiple litter boxes around your home so your cat always has easy access to relieve themselves. Keep the boxes clean to encourage use.

Feeding a wet, canned food diet can increase your cat’s water intake to help flush bacteria from their system. Avoid dry kibble, which can contribute to UTIs. You can also add a little water to their wet food to boost hydration. Feed them in easily accessible areas around the house.

Discuss supplements like glucosamine or cranberry extract with your vet, as these may help support urinary tract health. Always get approval before giving your cat any supplements.

With a little TLC at home and treatment from your vet, your cat can fully recover from a UTI. Be vigilant about changes in their litter box habits and contact your vet right away if symptoms recur.


UTIs are a common issue for indoor cats, but they are very treatable if caught early. Prevention is the key to avoiding recurrent or serious UTIs. Make sure to recognize the signs of a potential UTI in your cat, which include straining to urinate, blood in urine, excessive licking of genitals, and crying out while urinating. If you notice any of these symptoms, seek prompt veterinary care for your cat. With proper treatment and prevention measures, most cats recover fully from UTIs.

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