The Mystery of the Recurring Cat UTI. How to Help Your Feline Friend


It started with a trip to the litter box a little too often. Then came the straining and discomfort. Before you knew it, your cat was diagnosed with yet another urinary tract infection. This distressing cycle of recurrent UTIs can leave any cat owner feeling helpless and concerned.

You do everything you can to keep your cat comfortable when episodes flare up. You give the medications prescribed by your vet and monitor your cat closely. But time and again, those pesky UTIs keep coming back.

If your cat is prone to chronic or recurrent UTIs, you’re not alone. Many cat owners face frustration when their feline friends face urinary and bladder problems that just won’t go away. The good news is that with some detective work and commitment, it may be possible to break this cycle of recurrent infection. Identifying the underlying cause is key.

This guide will cover the common causes of recurring UTIs in cats, typical symptoms to watch for, diagnostics to ask your vet about, and both short-term and long-term treatment strategies. With a deeper understanding of why UTIs keep returning, you and your vet can craft an individualized plan to help your cat move towards a future free of those painful infections.

What is a UTI?

A urinary tract infection (UTI) refers to an infection in any part of a cat’s urinary system, including the bladder, urethra, ureters or kidneys. It is caused by bacteria that enters the urinary tract and multiplies, most commonly E. coli from the GI tract. UTIs in cats are often recurrent and can be a frustrating problem for cat owners.

Bacteria clump and adhere to the lining of the urinary tract, causing inflammation, irritation, and sometimes obstruction. This leads to painful, frequent urination, hematuria (blood in urine), and dysuria (difficulty urinating). If the infection spreads to the kidneys, it can lead to more severe illness. UTIs in cats that are left untreated can become life-threatening.

Common Causes of Recurring UTIs

There are several potential causes of recurring UTIs in cats:

  • Urine crystals – Certain types of crystals like struvite and calcium oxalate can irritate the urinary tract and allow bacteria to more easily gain a foothold. Crystals form when the urine becomes too concentrated or imbalanced. In some cases, diet change can help reduce crystal formation.
  • Bacterial infections – The bacteria may not be fully eliminated with a short antibiotic course, allowing the infection to return. Using the wrong antibiotic or not giving the full course as prescribed can also lead to recurrence. Getting a urine culture can identify the specific bacteria to target.
  • Anatomical defects – Physical abnormalities like bladder stones, tumors, bladder inflammation, urethral strictures, or malformed urethras can trap bacteria and make treatment difficult. Imaging tests like x-rays, ultrasound or cystoscopy may be needed to identify an underlying defect.
  • Bladder inflammation – Previous infections may damage the bladder lining and make it easier for bacteria to adhere and grow. This is sometimes seen after frequent antibiotic use. Medications to soothe the bladder may help.
  • Urinary catheters – Indwelling urinary catheters provide a route for bacteria to directly enter the bladder. Infections commonly develop even with proper catheter care. Limiting catheter use can reduce risk.
  • Weakened immunity – Diabetes, kidney disease, cancer or medications that suppress the immune system can make cats prone to more frequent UTIs. Treating the underlying condition may help strengthen defenses.

Identifying and addressing the underlying cause is key to resolving recurrent UTIs in cats. A vet can help get to the root of the problem through diagnostic testing.

Symptoms of UTIs in Cats

Cats with UTIs often exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Straining or difficulty urinating – Cats with UTIs may frequently visit the litter box but only pass small amounts of urine. They often cry out or strain while trying to urinate due to discomfort or blockages. Straining while producing little to no urine is a common sign of a UTI.
  • Blood in urine – Blood in a cat’s urine, known as hematuria, indicates inflammation and irritation in the urinary tract. It can make urine appear pink or red. Always contact your vet if you notice blood.
  • Excessive licking of genital area – Licking around the urinary opening is a sign your cat is experiencing pain or irritation. They may lick persistently in an attempt to relieve discomfort.
  • Inappropriate urination – A cat with a UTI may start urinating outside the litter box. This could indicate an urgent need to urinate or associating the litter box with pain.
  • Excessive thirst and urination – Some cats with UTIs feel a constant urge to drink and urinate. They may pass large volumes of urine frequently.
  • Vocalizing pain – Your cat may cry out when urinating or when picked up, if movement causes discomfort in the urinary tract area.
  • Poor appetite – UTIs can cause nausea, pain and discomfort leading to a decreased appetite in cats.

If your cat exhibits these symptoms, contact your vet for an examination. Catching a UTI early is important to prevent complications.

When to See a Vet

You should take your cat to see a veterinarian as soon as you notice symptoms of a UTI. UTI symptoms often get worse quickly, so prompt veterinary care is important. If symptoms like frequent urination, straining, and blood in the urine persist for more than 24 hours, you should make an appointment right away.

Letting a UTI go untreated allows it to worsen, spread, and potentially lead to life-threatening complications. A veterinarian can evaluate your cat’s symptoms, run tests to diagnose the cause of the UTI, and prescribe medications to treat the infection. The sooner treatment begins, the better the chances of a full recovery.

Some signs that require immediate veterinary care include:

  • Inability to urinate
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Severe pain

Take your cat to an emergency vet right away if you notice any of these acute symptoms on top of UTI signs. Leaving UTIs untreated can allow the infection to spread to the kidneys, causing potentially life-threatening damage.

Diagnosing the Cause

To determine the underlying cause of recurrent UTIs in cats, veterinarians typically start with a thorough physical exam, urinalysis, and urine culture. These tests can identify infection, inflammation, crystals, and anatomical abnormalities.

Urinalysis looks at the chemical composition of urine and can detect the presence of white blood cells, bacteria, and crystals that may be causing recurrent infections. Urine cultures specifically identify the type of bacteria causing UTIs and which antibiotics they are susceptible to. This guides treatment.

Vets may also recommend imaging tests like X-rays or ultrasound to visualize the urinary tract. These can detect kidney stones, tumors, obstructions, or other issues leading to UTIs. Contrast X-rays using dye can show urine flow problems. Endoscopy can directly examine the bladder’s interior. Vets will likely perform multiple tests to pinpoint the root cause.

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Treatment Options

The most common treatment for feline UTIs is antibiotics. Antibiotics like amoxicillin or cephalosporins are typically prescribed for 7-14 days to clear the infection (1). Adding a urinary tract support supplement or probiotics can help prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea.

For recurring infections, longer antibiotic courses of 3-4 weeks may be needed. In stubborn cases, cultures can identify the specific bacteria to target with antibiotics (2). Sometimes surgery is required to remove bladder stones or tumors contributing to UTIs.

Making dietary changes can also help. Increasing water intake by feeding wet food or adding water to dry food helps flush bacteria from the urinary tract. Reducing stress and providing easy litter box access are also important.

Severe, chronic cases may require prescription urinary foods long-term. These foods alter urine pH to prevent crystal formation. But they should only be used if recommended by your vet, as they can increase calcium oxalate stone risk (3).

Preventing Recurrences

There are several ways to help prevent recurring UTIs in cats:

  • Ensure your cat stays hydrated by providing fresh, clean water at all times. Consider getting a cat fountain to encourage drinking.
  • Feed a urinary health diet that is specially formulated to support urinary tract health. These diets contain ingredients to make the urine more dilute and acidic, which helps reduce crystallization.
  • Consider supplements such as cranberry, D-mannose, glucosamine, probiotics, or herbs like marshmallow root. These may help support the urinary tract and bladder. Consult your vet first.
  • Clean the litter box daily to reduce bacterial buildup. Scoop waste at least twice per day.
  • Use unscented, clumping litter. Avoid scented, crystalline, or pellet litters which can irritate the urinary tract.
  • Provide multiple litter boxes, ideally one per cat plus an extra. This gives more opportunities to void and reduces stress.
  • Give your cat wet food, which has higher moisture content than dry food. This increases water intake.
  • Limit stress by providing a comforting home environment. Stress can contribute to UTIs in some cats.
  • Ensure your cat gets daily exercise and playtime. Obesity is a risk factor for UTIs.

Consult with your veterinarian if your cat has recurring UTIs to determine the underlying cause and best prevention plan. With some simple management steps, most cats can avoid frequent UTIs.


With prompt and appropriate treatment, the prognosis is usually good for cats with recurrent UTIs. According to one study published in the National Library of Medicine, most cats showed improvement in clinical signs within 3-7 days of antibiotic treatment (

However, some cats may experience frequent recurrences even after treatment. This is more likely in female cats with anatomical defects or other underlying medical conditions. Working closely with your veterinarian to determine the underlying cause and prevent future UTIs is important.

Overall, by identifying and addressing predisposing factors, most cats can fully recover and go on to live a normal, healthy life. Close monitoring and follow-up care with a veterinarian are key to ensuring recurring UTIs are properly managed.

When to See a Specialist

You should consider seeing a specialist like a veterinary internal medicine specialist or veterinary urologist if your cat’s UTIs continue to recur despite appropriate treatment by your regular veterinarian. Specifically, if your cat has:

  • More than 2-3 UTIs within a few months despite antibiotic treatment and prevention measures.
  • A UTI that does not respond to multiple courses of antibiotics.
  • An abnormal urinalysis showing significant inflammation, crystals, or bacteria despite antibiotic treatment.
  • Kidney or bladder abnormalities such as stones, strictures, masses, etc.

A specialist has advanced training and access to specialized equipment to fully evaluate the urinary tract. They can perform additional diagnostic tests like advanced imaging, culture and sensitivity testing, urinary protein analysis, endoscopy procedures, kidney function testing, etc. This helps pinpoint any underlying causes contributing to the recurrent infections.

Specialists also have expertise managing complicated UTIs and recurrent cases. They can provide advanced treatment options not typically available from a general veterinarian. This includes long-term antibiotics, immunosuppressive therapy, dietary therapy, advanced surgical procedures, and other therapies tailored to your cat’s specific problems.

Getting a specialist’s input can be crucial for identifying and resolving recurrent UTIs in cats. They provide the best chance at determining why infections keep happening and how to stop the cycle. This gives your cat the best probability of overcoming this frustrating condition.

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