Disorders of the urinary tract are very common in cats. However, urinary tract infections are actually quite rare in cats. Cats have a very different anatomic formation than other pets, such as dogs, so urinary tract infections are much less common than they are in dogs.
While not impossible, they do happen very infrequently in cats, and if they do occur, they are usually secondary to an underlying urinary disorder or systemic disorder.
In this article, I am going to discuss everything you need to know about urinary tract infections and urinary disorders in cats.
Causes of UTIs in cats
In general, a urinary tract infection occurs when bacteria travels up the urethra and into the bladder. The bacteria that is most commonly isolated from infected bladders is E.coli, which originates from fecal contamination.
A urinary tract infection is diagnosed with a urinalysis that reveals increased numbers of red blood cells, white blood cells, and bacteria.
If a cat is diagnosed with a urinary tract infection, the underlying reason is always sought after, and additional diagnostics are recommended to find the root cause.
These diagnostics usually include but are not limited to full blood work, abdominal x-rays, and/or an abdominal ultrasound. Systemic diseases such as kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, and obesity can predispose cats to urinary tract infections.
Additionally, primary urinary diseases such as feline lower urinary tract disease, urinary stones, and urinary tract tumors can lead to secondary urinary tract infections if not treated.
Cats with urinary disorders commonly present to their veterinarians with complaints of increased frequency of urination, urinating outside of the litter box, crying out or whining when urinating, or sometimes visible blood may even be present in the urine.
Urinary issues that ARE common in cats include feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), urinary stones, and urinary tract tumors.
Urinary stones and Tumors
Urinary stones and urinary tumors can be diagnosed with abdominal x-rays or abdominal ultrasound. We rule these diagnoses out first before diagnosing feline lower urinary tract disease. If urinary stones are present, surgical removal of the stones is typically recommended.
Depending on the type of stones present, dietary modification may be recommended for the prevention of stone formation in the future. If bladder tumors are seen, treatment may vary depending on the identity of the tumor (cancerous or not).
Feline lower urinary tract disease is what we call a diagnosis of exclusion. There are many different potential causes for feline lower urinary tract disease (essentially a severe inflammation of the bladder and/or urethra without an identifiable cause).
FLUTD has been linked to stress in cats. There isn’t a curative treatment for FLUTD, and treatment requires lifelong management.
Treatment is focused on preventing stress (behavioral medications, pheromones, routine, and household changes), increasing water intake (water fountains), and making dietary modifications that help to alter urine pH and increase the amount of water in the diet.
Treatment of UTIs
Once a urinary tract infection is diagnosed, it is treated with a course of antibiotics. As previously mentioned, most urinary tract infections are caused by a bacteria called E. coli; however, there are some resistant strains of this bacteria as well as other bacterial species that can cause UTI’s.
Because of this, a urinary culture is also commonly recommended at the time of diagnosis to isolate the exact bacterial species responsible for the infection, as well as identify the drug and exact dose that bacteria is susceptible to.
This process typically takes about a week, so in the meantime, a broad-spectrum antibiotic is commonly prescribed.
If a urinary tract disorder goes undiagnosed or untreated, the urinary tract can develop severe inflammation, which can lead to physical blockage of the urethra.
Urinary blockage is a serious, life-threatening condition that can lead to death if not treated. If you feel your cat is unable to urinate or is exhibiting signs of a urinary disorder, please have him/her seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
How long does a urinary tract infection need to be treated?
Every cat requires an individualized treatment plan that is largely dependent on the type of bacteria we are trying to target. Generally speaking, one week is typically sufficient.
How can I increase my cat’s water intake?
Water fountains (such as the Magic Feline Fountain) provide continuous access to fresh and clean flowing water, which can be very tempting and can encourage cats to drink more water. Additionally, increasing the amount of wet food in your cat’s diet or adding water to your cat’s food can be helpful!
How can I reduce stress?
There are special veterinary diets that support urinary health and reduce stress by including calming herbs. There are also multiple nutraceutical products available that may help to calm certain cats. Additionally, reducing the number of stressors in the house can be beneficial.
This can be done by keeping a household routine, providing a safe space where your cat feels comfortable, and reducing the number of life changes whenever possible (moving, construction, new people, new animals, etc.).
While urinary tract infections are very common in other veterinary species, primary urinary tract infections are quite rare in cats. If a urinary tract infection is diagnosed, it is very likely there is an underlying reason that warrants further investigation.
The most common cause for UTIs in cats is feline lower urinary tract disease, which can be managed typically with stress-reducing techniques. Clinical signs that cats with urinary disorders typically include straining to urinate, increased frequency of urination, blood in the urine, or urinating outside the litter box.
If your cat is exhibiting any of these signs, please have your cat see a veterinarian.
Article by Dr. Kimberly Couch 👩⚕️