Urinary tract infections (UTI’s) are common health ailment in cats. If your cat is displaying unusual behaviors around their litter box, they may have a UTI.
A urinary tract infection is very painful for your cat. Worse still, the infection could easily spread and become fatal. This makes it important that a UTI is treated quickly and efficiently. This in-depth guide will help you identify a UTI in your pet, and advise on next steps.
What is a Urinary Tract Infection?
UTI in cats are linked to Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease, or FLUTD. This is a catchall term that describes any number of different UTI’s. These impact upon your cat’s bladder and/or urethra.
A UTI can prevent your cat from emptying their bladder appropriately. This will be frustrating and painful for your pet. If left untreated, however, your cat’s urethra could become blocked. The urethra is the tube that connects the bladder to the exterior of your cat’s body. This is prevalent in male cats.
If the urethra is blocked, your cat will be unable to eliminate through urine. If this is the case, your pet will be unable to flush toxins from their body. This is every bit as dangerous as it sounds.
Some cats are also prone to Feline Upper Urinary Tract Disease. This condition is also known as Pyelonephritis. The symptoms of Pyelonephritis are virtually identical to FLUTD. The consequences are potentially much more dangerous, however.
This is because FLUTD involves bacteria that attack the kidneys. Kidney failure can cause fatality to the healthiest of pets, but thankfully Pyelonephritis can be treated. The potential for this condition is, however, another reason to investigate any signs of a UTI.
Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections in Cats
Many symptoms suggest your cat is living with a UTI. These include:
- Straining and crying while urinating. Becoming uncharacteristically vocal while eliminating is usually a surefire sign that your pet has a UTI.
- Urinating outside the litter box. This symptom goes hand-in-hand with the above. Your cat may assume that it’s the litter box that is causing them such discomfort. This may lead them to attempt to eliminate elsewhere – usually somewhere soft. This may mean your bed, or furniture. Also, a UTI may make your cat incontinent and cause constant dribbling urine.
- Frequent, unsuccessful attempts to urinate. If a cat’s urethra is blocked, they will be unable to empty their bladder. Your cat will always feel that they need to eliminate.
- Blood in the urine. Bleeding is a common symptom of feline UTIs. This is due to inflammation in your cat’s genitals caused by the infection.
- Constant licking of the urinary opening. Your cat’s UTI will be causing them no end of pain. Grooming is a common self-soothing behavior in cats. If your pet appears determined to groom themselves to excess, a UTI could be the reason.
- Vomiting. This is a tough one, as cats are prone to vomiting for many reasons. A build-up of toxins in the body due to a UTI could be to blame, though.
- Uncharacteristic aggression. If your cat has a UTI, they will not be feeling themselves. This means that they could become aggressive. If your cat suddenly claws and scratches out of the blue, look out for other symptoms. It is likely that physical contact amplifies their discomfort.
If caught early, a UTI can be treated with a minimum of fuss with no lasting effects. If ignored and left to fester, however, a UTI can cause any number of longer-term health concerns. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. Take your cat to the vet as soon as you hear a cry from the litter box.
What are the Causes of Urinary Tract Infections in Cats?
Sometimes, a feline UTI is idiopathic. This means that no direct explanation can be found. However, there could be an avoidable cause. The reasons for a UTI in cats include:
- Accumulated debris and foreign objects in the urethra or bladder. These can often crystallize, and form stones.
- Blockage in the urethra caused by these foreign objects.
- A severe injury to the urinary tract or spine.
- Incontinence caused by excessive water consumption. This irritates the bladder, causing a UTI.
- Birth abnormalities that result in a dysfunctional urinary tract.
- Problems with the kidneys.
- Diabetes can occur because glucose in the urine is a breeding ground for bacteria.
Except for rare birth abnormalities, any of these triggers can be avoided. Just because you follow such advice, however, your cat will not be immune to urinary tract infections. They can strike any cat, often seemingly without good reason.
Can Male and Female Cats Get Urinary Tract Infections?
In humans, UTIs are more common in women due to differences between male and female anatomy. The same can also be said for felines. Female cats are more likely to develop a UTI than their male counterparts. The flipside of this is that a UTI in a male cat is often significantly more dangerous.
A male cat has a much narrower urethra than a female. This means that it’s much easier for a male cat to find their urethra blocked. If there is an obstruction in a male cat’s urethra, it will turn to stones. These are called uroliths.
If this has occurred, it will be too late to treat your pet at home. A vet will attach a urinary catheter, which will clear the blockage. From there, antibiotics will also be necessary to flush out any remaining infection.
Are Senior Cats More Prone to Urinary Tract Infections?
Older cats are considerably more likely to get a UTI than their younger counterparts. If you have a young cat that experiences any symptoms, seek medical help. There could be a more severe medical condition at play.
As cats grow older, their kidneys are likelier to struggle to function appropriately. This is a natural part of the aging process. This is why it’s so important to have your senior cat’s health monitored regularly. Once your cat reaches the age of 7, take them for check-ups twice a year.
A vet will run routine tests on the performance of their kidneys and other organs. If there is any reason to suspect a problem, medication can be prescribed to manage it. As with all feline health matters, the earlier you discover the problem, the better the prognosis.
Are Urinary Tract Infections in Cats Contagious?
A UTI itself cannot be passed from cat to cat through physical contact, or any other reason. Likewise, a human will not develop a UTI by spending time with a cat.
If you have multiple pets that all seem to have a UTI, this is theoretically a coincidence. However, it’s worth looking at the potential causes. Do all the cats spend time in the same outdoor locations? If so, they may be picking up the same debris. Are all the cats experiencing stress as a group, due to erratic routines or lifestyle changes? You may need to look at the home life if your pets as a whole.
One explanation could be if multiple cats are sharing the same litter box. If bacteria live within the litter, it will not discriminate on who is infected. It’s advisable for multi-cat households to have individual litter trays anyway. If they must share, however, be vigilant about keeping it clean.
How Long Can a Cat Have a UTI?
Cats are excellent at hiding signs of illness. They will typically only show any symptoms of a UTI when it becomes impossible not to. This may be because the pain becomes too much to bear, or because they become incontinent.
Typically, a feline UTI will last for around a week. If your cat has a good poker face and high pain threshold, you may remain unaware. Try to be vigilant about monitoring for any symptoms, though. Just because your cat can tolerate this discomfort, it doesn’t mean they should.
Do Urinary Tract Infections in Cats Go Away on Their Own?
A UTI can clear itself up within seven days. This means that, in theory, you could leave the infection to clear itself up. The question is, why would you?
- Your cat will be in a great deal of pain. Why on earth would you want that to happen? Medication can ease your pet’s discomfort, if nothing else.
- If your cat has a blockage in their urethra, the problem will not resolve itself. It will only get worse – until it becomes potentially fatal. Are you prepared to take that chance?
- A UTI is sometimes a one-and-done health concern. In other instances, however, something else within your pet’s body causes the issue. Your pet may have an underlying health concern that a vet can identify.
- By ignoring the cause of a UTI, you may be leaving the door open for it to return. Your cat could be trapped in a constant cycle of infections.
How Do Vets Test for UTI in Cats?
The least invasion test for a UTI in cats is cystocentesis. This involves a vet extracting a urine sample from your cat through a syringe. This is usually completely painless for your cat. If this is not possible, your vet may attach a catheter to your cat’s urethra. This is slightly more invasive.
An experienced vet will often be able to identify a UTI visually. Blood in the urine will be one key giveaway. The color of the sample, and the odor, will also provide insight. If the sample is inconclusive in sight, your vet may study the sample under a microscope. Alternatively, they can use a dipstick. If this changes color, it suggests the presence of a bacterial infection.
Your vet will also likely take a blood test while your cat is in their care. A blood test will not be able to identify a UTI. However, it will uncover any potential health concerns that led to the condition. If your cat has a kidney problem, for example, this will be uncovered through blood work.
If there is still no explanation for your cat’s troubles, an x-ray or ultrasound may be required. This will determine if your cat has a tumor that is blocking their urethra, or bladder stones.
How Do Vets Treat Urinary Tract Infections in Cats?
The best solution for infection is antibiotics. Once your vet has run the appropriate tests, they will know how to proceed. If the UTI is due to bacterial infection, a course of medication will clear it up.
In the event of a blockage to the urethra, your vet may recommend surgery. This will only ever be a last resort. In many cases, a blockage can be dissolved through diet or medication. Your vet will discuss this with you if that’s the case. It’s crucial that you follow professional advice to the letter. If your cat gets a UTI once, they can easily do so again.
Naturally, more serious healthcare concerns that cause your cat’s UTI will also need to be treated. Thankfully, this not always the case. Often, a UTI is just that. However, if your cat does have problems with their kidneys or other organs, surgery may be necessary. Alternatively, your vet may just recommend some lifestyle changes.
Overweight and lethargic cats are always more likely to develop a UTI. If your pet carries extra weight, your vet will draw up a diet and exercise plan. If your cat is at risk of feline diabetes, this will become particularly important. In addition to impacting a pet’s general quality of life, diabetes can lead to regular UTI.
What Antibiotic is Used for Cat Urinary Tract Infections?
Your vet will decide on which antibiotic will suit your cat best. According to the MSD Vet Manual, common cat UTI medications include:
Provide your vet with as much information about your cat’s general health as possible. If your pet has any allergies, for example, your vet must be informed.
How Much Does it Cost to Treat a Cat UTI?
This depends on the cause, and severity, of the infection. If your cat has a basic UTI that requires antibiotics, the bill won’t be too high. Expect to pay around $50 for their medication and painkillers.
Alternatively, your vet may recommend lifestyle changes, and discuss these with you. This will leave you with no treatment cost. You will also need to pay for the vet’s time, and for any testing that is undertaken. These tests are essential, as we have discussed.
If surgery is necessary, the average cost is around $500. It’s likely that a pet insurance policy would cover this, but check with your provider. It all depends on which operation is undertaken, and the price of your insurance policy excess.
If you are struggling to find the money for a vet appointment, don’t leave your cat to suffer. The Humane Society lists bodies that provide financial assistance for pet healthcare by state. Alternatively, discuss your cat’s symptoms with your vet over the phone before taking them in. It’s possible that you will be able to come to an agreement or payment plan.
Cat Urinary Tract Infection Home Remedies
If you cannot get your cat to a vet, there are natural remedies for feline UTI. There is no real substitute for professional treatment. Remember, your cat may have a more serious problem that requires attention. As a short-term measure, you may wish to try these home treatments:
- Apple Cider Vinegar. This kitchen staple is a natural prebiotic. This means that it should flood your cat’s body with good bacteria. In theory, these will overpower any unwelcome invaders. Mix up to three teaspoons of Apple Cider Vinegar with a quarter-cup of water. You can then offer your cat a teaspoon of this remedy each hour. Mix it with food if necessary, as many cats will reject the taste. Just be careful that you don’t overfeed your cat.
- Bone Broth. Sometimes, increasing the moisture of your cat’s food helps a UTI. Bone broth is a tasty, healthy way of achieving this. It can be served alone, or poured over dry food. You can purchase bone broth from a pet store, or make your own. If you take the latter route, avoid adding onions or garlic into the broth. Both these ingredients are toxic to felines.
- D-Mannose Powder. This supplement is available from any health food store, or even a supermarket. D-Mannose is found in cranberries, which is why cranberry juice is a popular human UTI remedy. Sprinkle it over your cat’s food, ideally a wet or moist meal.
- Echinacea. This herb has a reputation are a cure-all for human ailments. It can also be just as effective for cats, and clear up the infection. The safest way to provide Echinacea to a cat is by opening a capsule, and sprinkling the contents over food. Don’t over-do it, though. Around a quarter of a human dosage per day is plenty.
Avoid the temptation to eschew medical help for your cat’s UTI entirely. These home remedies should be considered complementary healing, as opposed to alternatives to formal treatment.
Your pet should undertake an examination when unwell. There is nothing to gain by allowing a UTI to develop. If the problem appears chronic and keeps returning, you should see a vet.
My Cat Keeps Getting Urinary Tract Infections
As cats grow older, they undoubtedly become more prone to UTI. However, if they occur with unstinting regularity, there may be something serious at play.
The highest likelihood is that your cat is experiencing Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD). This will usually be detected as part of a routine check-up.
The symptoms of CKD include:
- Loss of appetite and sudden weight loss.
- It has increased, seemingly unquenchable thirst.
- Increased urination – potentially unsuccessfully, if your cat has a UTI.
- High blood pressure, aka hypertension.
- Loss of interest in grooming.
- Foul breath.
- Lethargy and muscle weakness.
Sadly, CKD cannot be cured, or reversed. Caught early enough, however, it can be slowed down. Stay in touch with your vet following a diagnosis, and monitor your cat’s general health. Around 50% of senior cats develop CKD, so it may be unavoidable.
Of course, your vet may be able to rule out CKD as a cause of your pet’s UTI. This is great news. It means that you will be able to improve your pet’s health through diet and lifestyle.
Cat UTI Prevention Diet
Diet can be pivotal to both preventing and treating UTI in cats. Feeding your pet the right food is always pivotal to their health. It’s particularly essential if your cat is older, and prone to UTI.
Tips for finding the perfect diet for a UTI-prone cat include:
- Plenty of protein. As obligate carnivores, cats need to eat animal products to stay healthy. This is especially important if your cat struggles with UTI. The acids found in animal flesh dissolve much faster and can be urinated away. Dry foods tend to be higher in grain, which is alkaline. This is harder for a cat’s body to break down, and could lead to UTI. Transition your cat onto a raw food diet. If this is not possible, consider wet canned food. Tuna is also helpful as an occasional treat, but don’t feed too much. Your cat may get mercury poisoning.
- Low ash content. If you feed your cat store-bought food, take a look at the ash found within. Ash doesn’t sound appealing, but it’s a pet food’s mineral content. 0% ash is a bad thing, as it means your cat is receiving no magnesium, calcium or phosphorus. Each of these is essential to cat’s health – in moderation. Too many minerals can cause UTI. In wet, tinned food, 1.5% if the ideal amount of ash.
- Supplements. Check your local pet store, and you’ll find all kinds of supplements that promote urinary health. It’s always advisable to consult a vet before applying a supplement to your cat’s diet. Also, ensure that none of the ingredients will trigger an allergic reaction. If safe, however, supplements can be excellent complimentary health treatments for your pet.
- Encourage drinking water. Cats sometimes live on the brink of dehydration before they drink. This is because they are descended from desert-dwelling ancestors, and retain water well. Also, hunting cats gain moisture from their prey. Try to encourage your cat to drink more. The best way to do this is to invest in a cascading water fountain. Many cats find plain water bowls boring, and prefer to drink from a moving source. Keep this away from your cat’s food bowl, too. Some felines prefer not to drink close to their food source.
Cats have very sensitive digestion, and changes need to be made gradually. Start with a 90:10 ratio in favor of familiar food, steadily increasing the new meal plan. This takes time, but it will keep your cat comfortable in the long term.
Cat UTI Prevention Methods
In addition to dietary changes, there are lifestyle adjustments that can stave off UTI in cats. These include:
- Keep your cat at a healthy weight. Overweight and obese cats are always more likely to develop UTI. Indoor cats are particularly at risk of gaining weight. Moderate your cat’s food intake, but perhaps more importantly, exercise them. Playing games will boost your bond with your cat, and help them stay healthy.
- Keep your cat’s litter box clean. Bacteria can thrive in a cat’s litter, sparking UTI. As soon as you notice your cat eliminate, change their litter. Wash the litter box with soap and water. Perhaps most importantly, keep the litter box in a dry location. If moisture gets into bacteria, it can become a breeding ground for bacteria. You should also have at least one litter box for every cat in your home.
- Reduce your cat’s stress. Stress and anxiety can cause UTI in cats. Keep your pets in a very strict routine, so they remain calm. They may require anti-anxiety medication.
What Conditions Are Mistaken for UTI in Cats?
Bladder infections are often mistaken for UTI in cats. This is a little confusing, because all UTI are bladder infections. However, not all bladder infections are UTI. Cystitis is the most common infection mistaken for UTI. This is the condition that frequently leads to blockages of the urethra.
Cystitis is relatively uncomplicated to treat. Once diagnosed, a course of antibiotics will clear up the problem. It’s vital to deal with cystitis quickly though. Blockages to the urethra can be very dangerous.
Does Spaying Increase the Risk of UTI?
Many myths surround spaying and neutering cats, with the enhanced risk of UTI chief among them. As per the Cat Fanciers Association, no link has been found between spaying pets and UTI. Allow this to set your mind at rest if you are resistant to spaying. Studies show no difference between cats that have been fixed and those that have not.
Feline UTI is a comparatively common problem, especially in older, female cats. Just because something is commonplace, however, it doesn’t make it any less dangerous. Your cat will be in a considerable amount of discomfort when they live with a UTI. This can lead to long-term impact. If they convince themselves that elimination is painful, they’ll become reluctant to urinate.
At the first sign of a UTI, speak to a vet. On paper, these conditions are not life-threatening. They certainly will not be, if you get them treated quickly. Allowing a UTI to develop and spread can have serious repercussions, though. Remember that cats often prefer to suffer in silence.