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Does My Cat Have a UTI?

If you’ve ever experienced a urinary tract infection (UTI), you’re all too familiar with the discomfort, burning, and urgency they can cause. While UTI-prone humans are usually able to recognize this unpleasant ordeal by its symptoms and seek treatment, our cats need our help. 

If you’ve noticed unusual litter box activity or other signs of distress, it’s possible that your feline friend may be experiencing a urinary tract infection. Here’s how to recognize a UTI so you can get your cat on the road to recovery. 

Blue eyed cat experiencing a urinary tract infectionUTI Symptoms in Cats

Cats tend to be stoic when they are in pain. Often the most tell-tale signs of a feline urinary tract infection are sudden changes in toileting habits. Keep an eye out for:

  • Frequent trips to the litter box that don’t produce much urine
  • Straining, yowling, or crying while urinating
  • Dark or bloody urine
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Urine outside of the litter box
  • Obsessive licking or grooming near the urethra 

While uncomplicated UTIs can resolve quickly with a course of antibiotics, untreated infections can lead to kidney failure, bladder ruptures, and even death. 

What Causes a Feline UTI?

Urinary tract infections occur when bacteria enter your cat’s urethra and begin to reproduce in the bladder. When your cat’s body mounts an immune system response to fight the infection, the tissues of the urinary tract become swollen and inflamed. 

The most common culprit is E. coli, a bacterium present in cats’ feces. For this reason, cats living in unsanitary conditions and cats who can’t properly groom themselves due to age, injury, or obesity are more likely to experience a UTI. 

Another key risk factor is chronic dehydration. When cats don’t drink enough water, they can produce very concentrated urine that is an ideal breeding environment for bacteria. Adding wet food to their diet or upgrading their water dish can encourage your feline friend to stay hydrated.

Other Urinary Tract Problems in Cats

Urinary tract infections are just one kind of urinary illness cats may experience. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD) is a catch-all term that encompasses UTIs and other causes of urinary discomfort. 

While pet parents may be quick to attribute frequent urination and signs of pain to a UTI, these symptoms can be similar to those of other common urological issues. 

Urinary StonesTabby cat with feline UTI

Cats’ urine naturally contains salts and minerals. Occasionally, these minerals can crystalize into hard formations called urinary stones. Urinary stones can have sharp edges that irritate the walls of the bladder, causing bloody urine, pain, and difficulty urinating. 

Small stones can sometimes pass on their own, but more often, they have to be cleared with a catheter or surgically removed.

Urethral Obstruction

Unfortunately, it’s easy to mistake a urethral obstruction — a life-threatening emergency — for a UTI.

If the urethral opening becomes blocked by urinary stones, mineral buildup, or an overgrowth of tissue, a ruptured bladder is inevitable. If your cat stops passing urine, get to the vet right away. A fast surgical intervention is your pet’s best chance of survival. 

Feline Idiopathic Cystitis

Sometimes, cats can experience urinary tract inflammation without the presence of an infection, blockage, or bladder stones. 

Scientists don’t know exactly what causes idiopathic cystitis, but most suspect that it is related to stress. If your vet has ruled out all other explanations for FLUTD, changes in diet, routine, or your litter box arrangement can help ease your cat’s urinary issues.  

Feline Diabetes or Thyroid Illness

While feline diabetes and hyperthyroidism are not urinary tract diseases, they do feature frequent urination as a common early symptom. 

If incontinence or excessive trips to the litter box are accompanied by changes in thirst, appetite, or weight, it’s a good idea to have your cat screened for these conditions. Early detection and careful management can keep your cat’s quality of life at its best. 

Can I Treat My Cat’s UTI at Home?

Before you reach for the cranberry pills or apple cider vinegar supplements, visit your vet. Because the symptoms of several common urinary tract diseases can look very similar, it’s important to be certain of what you’re treating. 

A urinalysis can confirm the presence of a UTI, and, depending on its severity, your vet may prescribe antibiotics. Because unresolved UTIs can cause kidney failure and other serious complications, it’s best to act fast and get your cat some relief.