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How to Care for a Cat With a Urinary Tract Infection or Disease

While urinary tract infections in cats are not especially common, when they do occur, it's typically in senior cats or cats with another condition afflicting their urinary tract in addition to the infection. Today, our Stockton vets explain the symptoms, causes, and treatment options for urinary tract infections and diseases in cats. 

How common are cat urinary tract infections?

While our vets often see cats with urinary problems, cats are more likely to experience urinary tract disease than infection. Cats that do develop urinary tract infections often suffer from endocrine diseases, such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes mellitus, and are typically 10 years of age or older. 

If your cat is showing symptoms of a urinary tract infection (see specific signs below) and is diagnosed with an infection such as cystitis, your vet may prescribe an antibacterial to fight the infection. 

Symptoms of urinary tract infections in cats include:

  • Straining to urinate
  • Reduced amounts of urine
  • Pain or discomfort when urinating
  • Passing urine tinged with blood (urine is a pinkish color)
  • Not urinating at all

Keep in mind that numerous feline lower urinary tract diseases (FLUTD) may cause your cat to display the urinary tract infection (UTI) symptoms listed above. 

What is feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD)? 

FLUTD refers to several clinical symptoms that may cause issues in your cat's urethra and bladder, often causing the urethra to become obstructed, or preventing your cat's bladder from properly emptying. Left untreated, FLUTD conditions can become fatal for cats. 

If your cat is suffering from FLUTD, they may find urinating difficult, painful, or impossible. They may also urinate more often, or in inappropriate areas other than their litter box (occasionally on surfaces that are cool to the touch, such as a bathtub or tile floor). 

What causes feline urinary tract disease?

Vets often find FLUTDs challenging to diagnose and treat, since multiple causes and factors may contribute to your cat's condition. Crystals, stones, or other debris can gradually build up in your feline friend's urethra (the tube that connects the bladder to the outside of your cat's body) or bladder. 

Other potential causes of lower urinary tract problems in cats include: 

  • Spinal cord issues 
  • Congenital abnormalities
  • Emotional or environmental stressors
  • Tumor or injury in the urinary tract
  • Bladder inflammation or infection
  • Urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • Incontinence due to weak bladder or excessive water consumption 
  • Urethral plug caused by buildup of debris from urine

Overweight, middle-aged cats who eat a dry diet, have little to no access to the outdoors, or do not get enough physical activity are more likely than others to be diagnosed with urinary tract disease. However, cats of any age can develop the condition. Since male cats' urethras are narrower than females', and therefore more likely to become blocked, male cats are also more prone to urinary diseases. 

Other factors such as using an indoor litter box, multi-cat households, sudden changes to their everyday routine, or environmental or emotional stress can also leave cats more vulnerable to urinary tract disease. 

If your cat is suffering from FLUTD, determining the underlying cause will be essential to recovery. Many serious conditions, such as bladder stones, infection, or even cancer, can trigger FLUTD symptoms. 

If the vet is unable to determine the cause, your cat may be diagnosed with a urinary tract infection called cystitis which is inflammation of the bladder.

What are the common symptoms of cat urinary tract disease?

If you suspect your cat has FLUTD or a urinary tract infection, watch for common symptoms, such as:

  • Inability to urinate
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Urinating small amounts
  • Urinating more than usual or in inappropriate settings
  • Avoidance or fear of litter box
  • Strong ammonia odor in urine
  • Hard or distended abdomen
  • Cloudy or bloody urine
  • Drinking more water than usual
  • Excessive licking of the genital area
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Howling or crying while urinating

Any bladder or urinary issue must be treated straight away. If left untreated, urinary tract disease or other issues in cats can cause the urethra to become partially or completely obstructed, which can prevent your feline friend from urinating.

This is a medical emergency that can quickly lead to kidney failure or rupture of the bladder. It may also be fatal if the obstruction is not eliminated immediately.

How is cat urinary tract disease diagnosed and treated?

If you believe that your kitty may be having problems with their lower urinary tract, this can be a medical emergency. See your vet for immediate attention, especially if your kitty is straining to urinate or crying out in pain.

Your veterinarian will perform a complete physical exam to help assess your cat's symptoms and perform a urinalysis to get further insight into your cat's condition. Ultrasound, radiographs, blood work, and a urine culture may also need to be done.

Urinary issues in cats can be both complex and serious, so the first step should be to contact your veterinarian for immediate care. The underlying cause of your cat's urinary symptoms will dictate which treatment is prescribed, but may include:

  • Surgery (for emergencies) 
  • Increasing your kitty's water consumption
  • Antibiotics or medication to relieve symptoms
  • Modified diet
  • Expelling of small stones through the urethra
  • Urinary acidifiers
  • Fluid therapy
  • Urinary catheter or surgery for male cats to remove urethral blocks 

Cat Urinary Tract Infection Recovery

When treated early and with an effective treatment and recovery plan, the prognosis for urinary issues in cats is good. Most cats fully recover within a few weeks. 

If your vet has prescribed antibiotics to treat urinary tract disease or other infections, you can expect to see your furry friend return to normal within a few days. Full recovery may take 5-7 days, depending on the specific diagnosis. It's imperative that you administer the full course of antibiotics to your cat, even if they begin to feel better. 

If your cat's treatment plan was more complicated and your vet used a urinary catheter, you'll likely see some redness and swelling around the area. Make sure to monitor the area to prevent infection. Your cat may also lick the area as it heals. After a catheter is removed, some cats may also dribble urine (which is different from actually urinating). This is normal and not anything to be concerned about. 

You will also need to closely monitor your kitty's litter box usage to make sure they can go on their own. While it may take them a few hours after you get home to destress, call your vet if you don't see your kitty pee within 24 hours. If you have a multi-cat household, you might consider locking the cat with the urinary tract issue in a room by themselves so you can be sure they are going. 

Your vet will likely recommend that you check in about a week or two post-treatment to make sure no symptoms have recurred. They may recommend doing another urinalysis to compare progress. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Do you suspect your cat may have a urinary problem or infection? Contact us to schedule an exam.

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