A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when bacteria find their way into a cat’s urinary tract. The bladder and urethra are the body parts most commonly affected. UTIs can also be connected to a cat’s kidneys.
Some cats just develop UTIs idiopathically. More often, unsanitary living conditions, stress, poor diet, dehydration and excess weight will be the cause of a cat’s urinary tract infection. Alternatively, the infection may be a secondary medical concern. UTIs sometimes arise due to diabetes, hyperthyroidism or kidney disease.
A UTI can be quickly resolved. Never ignore the problem, though. Even if it is a passing issue that’s unlikely to return, feline UTIs are painful and uncomfortable. They must be treated, and their cause identified in order to ensure future avoidance.
Table of Contents:
- 1 What Are Urinary Tract Infections?
- 2 Symptoms of Cat Urinary Tract Infections
- 3 What Causes Cats to Get Urinary Tract Infections?
- 4 How Long Do Cat Urinary Tract Infections Last?
- 5 Treatment for Cat Urinary Tract Infections
- 6 Why Does My Cat Keep Getting Urinary Tract Infections?
What Are Urinary Tract Infections?
UTIs are rarely straightforward, and often involve multiple diagnoses. Typically, these will fall under the catch-all banner of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). Cystitis and bladder stones are the commonest examples of FLUTD.
A conventional urinary tract infection is often mistaken for cystitis. The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association confirms that cystitis is the commonest non-obstructive urinary condition to impact cats.
Cystitis is an inflammation of the urinary tract. This will be felt whenever the cat attempts to urinate. A cat with cystitis may cry out in pain when using the litter box. Some cats mask the symptoms well and move on.
Cystitis can be an intermittent condition. If your cat is prone to this inflammation, it will come and go. Often, it will go away within a few days.
Bladder stones or crystals are a slightly more serious form of urinary tract infection. As the name suggests, these are large, rock-like formations in the bladder. These can block the urinary tract, making peeing difficult. They can also rub, leading to blood in the urine.
Bladder stones will typically need to be surgically removed. This can be a fast and effective procedure for a healthy cat. If this is not an option for any reason, bladder stones are managed through diet.
This involves placing the cat on a specialist acidic diet, designed to dissolve the stones. This approach can be time-consuming. Not all cats will eat medical-grade food. It is less intrusive than bladder surgery, though.
Symptoms of Cat Urinary Tract Infections
Feline UTIs have distinct symptoms. If you spot the following behaviors or issues in your cat, a UTI is likely:
- Racing to the litter box seemingly constantly
- Difficulty urinating at all, or only releasing small amounts
- Verbally expressing pain while urinating
- Urinating outside the litter box
- Blood in the urine (typically bright pink spots)
- Excessive licking of the genitals
Cats with UTIs may also spend a disproportionate amount of time in the litter box. Some cats will even sleep in this location. The cat is insecure about making it to the box in time to pee. It is staying put to avoid any potential accidents.
This must be discouraged. The more time your cat spends in the litter box, the likelier a UTI becomes. The cat is constantly surrounded by soiled litter. Tempt your cat out of its litter box and work to resolve the problem.
Alternatively, some cats may refuse to enter the litter box at all. The cat acknowledges that it hurts to empty its bladder. Cats do not understand medical diagnoses of UTIs. The cat is assuming it is the litter box that causes pain. As a result, it will pee elsewhere.
This can become unsanitary and lead to the development of bad habits. Once again, it is critical to get the UTI treated as quickly as possible.
What Causes Cats to Get Urinary Tract Infections?
Unless your cat is unfortunate, you can take steps to reduce the risk of infection. Any cat can get a UTI – breed, age, and sex are not barriers.
Sometimes, a urinary tract infection has no root cause. The Journal of Small Animal Practice investigated 77 cats with urinary issues, declaring 57% of infections idiopathic in nature.
This does not mean that urinary tract infections are, “just one of those things” though. There are multiple potential explanations for why these issues strike. Knowing what they are can be key to keeping a cat comfortable.
Dirty, soiled litter is arguably the easiest explanation for a feline urinary tract infection. Cat urine is not sterile. While litter does a fine job of absorbing cat pee, bacteria will remain. If the cat then sits in this used litter, the bacteria can travel.
Most cats will refuse to use soiled litter for this reason. The cat would rather draw your attention to the problem and wait. This may not be an option for older felines, though. Cats with weak bladders will do what they need to do.
This UTI provocation is easily resolved. Just change your cat’s litter regularly, scooping it in between. Ensure the litter meets the preferences of your cat, too. Unsuitable litter box lining can cause a cat stress – another regular root of UTIs.
Stress is among the most common causes of feline UTIs. When a cat experiences stress, the brain neurons send messages to the bladder. This leads to inflammation and an infection of the urinary tract. This is most common in neutered male cats with narrower urethras.
It is surprisingly easy to inflict stress upon a cat. Any of the following could leave the cat anxious. Any combination makes a urinary tract infection increasingly likely:
- Unreliable routine (feeding times, attention and play, human interaction)
- New residents in the home
- Loud noises
- Competition for food and resources from other pets
- Lack of personal territory
- Unwanted handling
- Boredom and loneliness
Do whatever you can keep your cat devoid of stress, especially as it ages. The dual threat of UTIs and weaker hearts makes stress dangerous in senior felines. If you stick to a rigid routine and avoid unwelcome shocks, your cat will remain comfortable.
If your cat has become overweight, it is at enhanced risk of UTIs. Body fat is made up of adipose tissue. This weakens the body’s immune system, which means your cat will struggle to combat bacterial invaders.
Of course, excess weight also leaves a cat at risk of feline diabetes. Diabetic cats are likely to suffer with recurrent UTIs. This is due to the presence of glucose in a cat’s urine, which feeds bacteria. This is dangerous for a cat.
The more bacteria in the body, the likelier further infection becomes. This could spread to critical organs like the kidneys. A diabetic cat’s glucose levels must be monitored and managed and any UTI immediately treated. Never allow this concern to linger in a diabetic cat.
Many feline health concerns can be linked back to inappropriate diet and nutrition. UTIs are no exception. An abundance of particular minerals can play havoc with a cat’s urinary tract. This becomes especially prominent in middle age and beyond.
Check the ingredients of your cat’s meal, being especially mindful of magnesium, calcium, or phosphorus. Cheap, own-brand cat foods tend to use these to excess. This leads to a lack of acidity in the cat’s urine. This, in turn, prevents crystals and stones from dissolving.
As your cat ages, switch them to a high-quality, age-appropriate food. This will ensure that your cat receives an appropriately balanced meal. Avoid switching to dry food if possible. This enhances the risk of dehydration, which can lead to UTIs.
Cats that do not drink enough water leave themselves at risk of urinary tract infections. The more water a cat consumes, the more it will urinate. This, in turn, flushes any bacteria from the bladder. If the cat is dehydrated, the bacteria has time to multiply.
It can be challenging to convince a cat to drink recommended amounts of water. If your cat is stubborn and refused to drink from its bowl, try these techniques:
- Move the bowl to a new location, far from food or litter
- Change the bowl to something a little shallower
- Use filtered or bottled water – the scent of chlorine in tap water can deter cats
- Offer water-based treats, such as gravy-flavored ice cubes on hot days
If none of this works, invest in a water fountain. Cats will always be happier drinking water from a running source than a still bowl. Felines have an innate distrust of the latter.
As a cat gets older, it may become incontinent. Some cats are incontinent while sleeping, others struggle to manage their bladder at all hours. Either way, there is a link between incontinence and urinary tract infections.
An incontinent episode will not fully empty the bladder. This can cause irritation and inflammation, leading to a UTI. If the cat is incontinent, it may also frequently re-use soiled litter. This invites bacteria into the urethra.
You’ll have to combat this by helping your cat stay clean. Use an unscented wet wipe to regularly clean up your cat. This will go some way to preventing irritation caused by episodes of incontinence.
Injury or Trauma
If your cat has experienced trauma to the bladder, there will potentially be knock-on effects. The urinary tract may not function as efficiently as it should. Examples of trauma include impact injuries or invasive surgery.
Spinal injuries or issues can also cause urinary tract infections. As explained by the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, spine damage can place pressure on the bladder. This makes the bladder excessively sensitive or excitable.
In addition, a spinal injury can lead to stool bacteria finding its way into the bladder. This will lead to further infection. If your cat has been injured, encourage regular elimination and cleaning. The clearer your cat keeps its urinary tract, the less likely an infection becomes.
The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery draws a direct link between hyperthyroidism and UTIs. As hyperthyroidism is common in older cats, this may explain recurrent UTIs in senior felines.
Hyperthyroidism is also known as thyrotoxicosis, or colloquially as, “overactive thyroid.” It stems from the thyroid gland, found in a cat’s neck. If this gland swells and becomes overactive, it releases an excess of T3 and T4 hormones. These will have a range of side effects, including:
- Weight loss despite a hearty appetite
- Increased thirst and urination (linked to UTIs)
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Greasy, matted fur
If your cat is displaying these behaviors alongside signs of a UTI, seek advice. Your cat will need to be placed on medication to manage the thyroid gland. Surgery may also be required in chronic cases.
The connection between kidney issues and UTIs is a little different to most root cause. A cat with kidney problems will experience Feline Upper Urinary Tract Disease, not the usual FLUTD.
Kidney disease is a chronic problem in its own right that must be managed carefully. The prognosis for kidney disease varies, depending on how developed the problem is. As the kidneys filter urine though, reduced function leads to more and more UTIs.
This can be problematic for a cat, as these infections invite more bacteria into the body. Follow medical advice to the letter to minimize infection risk for a cat with kidney issues.
Some cats are simply born of with defective urinary tracts. This is usually a congenital concern, passed on from one or both parents. Such concerns can lead to a misshapen or underperforming bladder or urethra.
If your cat has a congenital deformity in the urinary tract, it will be obvious from kittenhood. All young cats can be prone to UTIs. Your cat will struggle more than most, though. These infections will be more regular, and potentially more debilitating.
Have your cat’s defect assessed by a vet. It may be possible to correct the issue with surgery. If this is not an option, your cat will follow a restricted diet to minimize impact.
How Long Do Cat Urinary Tract Infections Last?
A mild UTI, without any blockage to the bladder, will right itself within a week. A week is a long time for a cat with a urinary tract infection, though.
When a UTI does strike, it is important to take action. Don’t stand aside and wait for nature to take its course. Your cat will be miserable and in pain.
Treatment for Cat Urinary Tract Infections
If your cat has a urinary tract infection, professional treatment is recommended. Some cat owners may prefer to take a natural approach. This is potentially dicing with your cat’s long-term health, though.
The first step is receiving a formal diagnosis of your cat’s UTI. This will typically be achieved by presenting a vet with a urine sample. From there, advice on the most appropriate course of action will be offered.
The first, and most basic, remedy for feline UTIs are antibiotics. A vet will prescribe a course of these medications. Follow the course and your cat will make a full recovery. Do not deviate from the medication schedule and follow instructions carefully.
Some cats may require additional help. If the UTI is related to an inflammatory condition, anti-inflammatories may also be prescribed. This will calm any irritation and soreness in the bladder. Some vets may also prescribe painkillers to cats in significant distress.
If a UTI is linked to a medical ailment, the main problem must also be treated. In cases of hyperthyroidism, kidney disease or diabetes, this will involve lifelong medication. Never deviate from this source of treatment.
If you prefer to do so, consider treating your cat at home. It is advisable to always seek professional advice for a UTI, though. Remember that the problem may be a secondary concern, pointing to another, more serious illness.
Apple cider vinegar is safe for cats to drink small quantities. This can be a powerful weapon in the fight against UTIs. The acidity will kill off bacteria inside your cat’s urinary tract. You may struggle to convince a cat to consume the product, though.
Attempt to add half a teaspoon to your cat’s meals. Avoid applying it to water. Cats are already fussy about hydration. ‘Contaminating’ water with ACV will leave your cat even more reluctant to drink. ACV has a strong and distinctive scent that a cat will not miss.
You could also amend your cat’s diet with more water-based meals. Bone broth can be a great way to do this. It smells and tastes great and brings more fluids into a cat’s diet. This can be especially effective if your cat’s UTI is caused by injury. Bone broth promotes healing.
D-Mannose is another human remedy for UTIs that is cat-safe in small quantities. This is form of sugar that can be sprinkled on food. Cats will not taste the sweetness but will gain the benefits. Obviously avoid this treatment if your cat is overweight, inactive or diabetic.
These methods should see results within a few days. If the symptoms of your cat’s UTI persist or worsen, escalate to a vet. There is nothing to gain by continuing to gamble with long-term health.
Why Does My Cat Keep Getting Urinary Tract Infections?
If your cat appears to constantly suffer with UTIs, there will be a reason. This will typically be related to your cat’s diet or lifestyle. Change will be necessary to make your cat comfortable.
Try to assess the cause of its UTI problem. Once you have done so, undertake a process of elimination. This is essential to your cat’s long-term health. A constant stream of UTIs will eventually take its toll.
If you cannot find a lifestyle explanation, ask a vet to run a full litany of health tests. It is likely that your cat has an ongoing, hitherto-hidden health complaint. If your cat is older than 10, risks of kidney disease or hyperthyroidism are more pronounced.
Preventing Cat Urinary Tract Infections
To prevent your cat from experiencing urinary tract infections, follow these golden rules:
- Regularly clean and change your cat’s litter
- Keep your cat’s life devoid of stress, including boredom
- Feed a balanced and age-appropriate diet
- Encourage regular hydration
- Manage your cat’s weight
- Attend regular veterinary check-ups to monitor general health
Sometimes, UTIs are impossible to avoid. Some cats develop them idiopathically, while others are genetically predisposed to this issue. If you follow these preventative steps, the risk is reduced. In addition, your cat will be altogether happier and healthier.
Urinary tract infections make cats miserable but can be treated. If you take immediate action, your cat will soon be back to its old self. Better yet, prevent the infection from taking hold in the first place. UTIs can be avoided with appropriate feline care.