cat getting out of litterbox

Key takeaway

Cat urinary tract infections (UTIs) are fairly common and a direct result of bacteria flowing up the cat’s urethra and colonizing in their system. There are treatment options available, but these require proper diagnosis from your veterinarian.

Cat Urinary Tract Infections (UTI): Symptoms To Watch For

A urinary tract infection affects one or more components of a cat’s urinary system, including their kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Typically, UTIs are the result of harmful bacteria, either from the skin or GI tract, entering the urethra (a tube through which urine leaves the body). Once bacteria enters the urethra, it can enter the bladder, where it will spread until treatment is provided.

Urinary tract infections are fairly common in cats, but if left untreated, can lead to serious health conditions. Cats with UTIs may strain to urinate or yelp while urinating. In more severe cases there may be blood in the urine.

If you notice any of these symptoms you should contact your vet immediately so that your cat can receive the  proper care and treatment. This post will look at symptoms of UTIs in cats, general causes, and treatment options.

Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections in Cats

Understanding your cat's typical urination routine can help you spot the symptoms of UTIs, and most pet owners can spot a difference in their cat’s urination habits.

 Here are a few of the symptoms your cat might exhibit if they have a UTI:

  • Frequent urination
  • Small amounts of urine
  • Urinating outside the litter box 
  • Blood in the urine 
  • Straining to urinate 
  • Crying out in pain while urinating 
  • Licking of urinary opening
  • Licking their vulva area
  • Chewing parts of their fur out
Symptoms of UTIs in Cats

If your cat is displaying any of these symptoms, it’s important to schedule an appointment with your vet as quickly as possible. These symptoms may also indicate the presence of FLUTD, which we will discuss in detail below.

What Causes UTIs in Cats?

Generally, a UTI occurs when bacteria travels up the cat’s urethra and enters the bladder. Cats' bodies have natural defenses to prevent bacteria from colonizing, but sometimes this bacteria spreads and can lead to bladder stones or even kidney failure. 

A UTI occurs when bacteria travels up the urethra and enters the bladder

Common pathogens that can lead to a bacterial UTI in cats include:

  • Escherichia coli
  • Staphylococcus
  • Proteus
  • Streptococcus
  • Klebsiella
  • Pseudomonas spp

In some cases, UTIs are a symptom of chronic health conditions. For example, if your cat is prone to UTIs, this may also be a sign of an underlying endocrine disease such as diabetes mellitus. Other conditions that may cause UTIs in cats include1:

  • Infection
  • Inflammation
  • Cancer
  • Stress
  • Congenital abnormalities
  • Spinal cord abnormalities
  • Kidney disease
  • Bladder disease
  • Diabetes mellitus

Cats who are obese are often more susceptible to UTIs. The key is to monitor your cat's behavior. Also, if you find your cat is sensitive to touch, especially around their reproductive area, you should find veterinary care for them immediately. 

Stress or anxiety can also make it difficult for your cat to release their bladder. If you think your cat is having trouble going to the bathroom but struggling to pinpoint the cause, you might think about any major changes to their routine such as a recent move or the introduction of a new family member.

What is Feline Urinary Tract Disease?

Feline urinary tract disease (FLUTD)  is a common medical term used to refer to a variety of symptoms related to your cat's urethral or bladder issues. This may involve your cat's inability to urinate or from the bladder emptying improperly.  Some cats with FLUTD might not be able to urinate at all, while others might exhibit abnormal behavior like urinating outside of their litter box.

While UTI and FLUTD are often used interchangeably as terms, there are some differences; FLUTD describes conditions or diseases related to the cat bladder and urethra without infection, such as urinary stones or diabetes. A UTI implies that there is some type of infection, most commonly caused by spreading bacteria.

Other causes of feline urinary tract disease may include:

  • Emotional or environmental stressors
  • Spinal cord issues
  • Trauma or injury to urinary tract or reproductive area
  • Congenital abnormalities
  • Bladder infection
Causes of FLUTD

Cat UTI Symptoms: Frequently Asked Questions

  • How do I know if my cat has a UTI?

It's not always easy to tell if your cat has a UTI, especially if they are an outdoor cat, but some of the symptoms to watch out for are your cat’s inability to urinate, blood in their urine, or straining or yowling while urinating. If you suspect your cat might have a UTI, you should seek veterinary care immediately. Your vet will probably perform a urinalysis to get more information about your cat's urine. 

A cat urinalysis looks at different urinary signals and can show different signs of UTIs such as proteins, blood, glucose, ketones, and pH levels. Your vet will use all of this information to decide on the best type of treatment for your cat symptoms. The prescription might also involve a change in diet. 

  • Are some cats more prone to UTIs?

Some cats, such as older cats and male cats, are more prone to urinary tract infections because of their longer, thinner urethras. Cats with diabetes can also develop UTIs more often than other cats because of their compromised immune systems. Diet comes into play because bladder stones can also cause UTIs; a change in diet might be a simple solution to preventing bladder stones. If you notice any bladder issues, especially if accompanied by cat diarrhea or other signs of illness, you should contact your vet.

  • How can I treat my cat's UTI at home?

The most common treatment for cat UTIs includes antibiotics; these will help your cat fight off the infection. In other cases, your veterinarian may need to treat another primary cause of the infection via medication, surgery, and other treatment options. 

  • Will my cat’s UTI go away by itself?

In some cases, your cat's UTI may go away by itself, but it’s important to consult your veterinarian at the first sign of a UTI, as it can be painful, and potentially fatal in severe cases. If your cat's bacterial infection is spreading and has potential to create other health consequences, your vet might recommend immediate medication.

There are a few things you can do to help prevent future instances of a cat UTI such as feed your cat smaller meals more frequently, ensure your cat's water is clean and that they stay hydrated, as well as reduce the amount of stress they have. It can reduce stress on your cat by minimizing any changes to their routine and maintaining a healthy diet and play regimen. Keeping your cat's litter box cleaned will also help reduce the likelihood of UTIs in the future.

  • What is the most common cause of FLUTD in cats?

The most common causes of FLUTD  in cats are bacteria, crystals, stones, or other debris that block your cat's urethra; this can make it impossible for your cat to empty their bladder. In the most severe cases your cat's urethra might be completely blocked. If urethral stones or plugs are blocking your cat from releasing their bladder, it can lead to life-threatening complications.

When a cat's urethra is completely blocked, their kidneys can no longer expel toxins and balance pH levels in their body; in the most dire circumstances, this can lead to death in less than 48 hours. The only way to remedy this situation is to seek veterinary care immediately so a urinary catheter can be placed. Fluid therapy can help replace some of the electrolytes your cat might lose, as well as provide adequate hydration. 

Cat sitting in litter box

Final Notes

While cat UTIs or feline urinary tract disease is fairly common in cats, this condition can lead to other health risks such as kidney failure or bladder conditions. Keep an eye out for the signs of a cat UTI, especially if your cat is older, overweight, or diabetic. If you suspect your cat has a UTI, seek veterinary care so that they can perform a urinalysis and prescribe any diet changes or medication.

It can be harder to notice UTIs in outdoor cats since you don't necessarily see them urinate, but paying close attention to your cat's diet, drinking habits, and sensitivity to pain might be clues to a potential infection.  Excessive water drinking can be a sign of a UTI or a more serious underlying health condition such as diabetes or kidney disease.

Some UTIs and instances of FLUTD will go away on their own but others require immediate veterinary care. Keeping your cat's litter box clean can also help prevent any occurrences of a UTI.

If you suspect your cat has a UTI, please seek veterinary care immediately, so the condition doesn’t become life-threatening.

References

  1. Bacterial Urinary Tract Infections, Merck Veterinary Manual, https://www.merckvetmanual.com/pharmacology/systemic-pharmacotherapeutics-of-the-urinary-system/bacterial-urinary-tract-infections

  2. Feline lower urinary tract disease, American Veterinary Medical Association, https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/petcare/feline-lower-urinary-tract-disease

  3. Common Urological Ailments.” PennVet.com,https://www.vet.upenn.edu/veterinary-hospitals/ryan-veterinary-hospital/services/advanced-urinary-care/urinary-care-services/common-urological-ailments.

  4. Dowling, Patricia M. “Bacterial Urinary Tract Infections.