If you suspect your kitty is suffering from a urinary tract infection, there are certain signs in your cat’s behavior that are easy to spot.
What are cat UTI symptoms?
The most common cat UTI symptoms include difficult or frequent urination, changes in litter box habits, blood in the urine, and behavioral changes. These symptoms could reflect various urinary issues, ranging from mild to severe.
In this article, we’ll discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment of cat UTI, and what you can do to prevent it.
Urinary tract infections in cats
Cat urinary tract infections (UTI) can occur anywhere between the kidneys and the urethra (the lower urinary tract). The bacteria from the outside world first reaches the urethra, and as it travels up, it can spread to the bladder and kidneys, causing infections.
Feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is a term that covers a range of disorders (mild and serious) that affect the bladder and the urethra. FLUTD can have many causes, including inflammation, infections, diet, and behavioral issues.
Causes of urinary tract problems
Urinary tract infections are rare in cats that don’t have a pre-existing medical condition, such as diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or kidney insufficiency.
But aside from infections, there are lots of different causes of lower urinary tract problems, such as obesity, urinary stones, idiopathic cystitis, and urethral blockage.
Urinary stones, or uroliths, are collections of minerals that can form in a cat’s urinary tract and irritate the bladder or urethra, in some cases even causing obstruction.
The two most common types of stones are:
- Struvite stones (made of magnesium, phosphorus, and ammonia)
- Calcium oxalate stones (made from oxalate)
Urinary stones are typically diagnosed via X-rays or ultrasound, and the treatment depends on the composition of stones.
If your cat has struvite stones, your vet may recommend a special diet that aims to dissolve this type of uroliths. If a diet isn’t working, your cat may need to undergo a surgical procedure to remove the stones.
The good news is that struvite stones are becoming less common in cats. Commercial cat diets nowadays tend to limit the magnesium content and promote the production of urine that is acidic, which reduces the chances of struvite stones forming.
Unlike struvite stones, calcium oxalate can’t be dissolved with the help of diets, so more invasive treatments are often necessary. Vets may be able to flush the stones out of a cat’s system by using sterile fluids.
How do you prevent struvite crystals in cats?
Increasing your cat’s water intake and choosing cat food that’s high in moisture can minimize the risk of struvite crystals forming.
Unfortunately, cats that have suffered from urinary stones are likely to have them again, so your vet may recommend some changes in their diet or medication to prevent the stones from forming again.
As we’ve mentioned earlier, bacterial urinary tract infections in otherwise healthy cats are relatively rare – only 1-3% of cases of LUTD are found to be caused by bacteria, although this number increases to 10% in older cats.
If urine tests reveal the presence of bacteria, it’s a good idea to check for underlying medical issues such as chronic kidney disease, diabetes, and hyperthyroidism. Cats with these conditions often have a more dilute urine, which helps bacteria thrive.
The cause of cat UTI problems in most cases remains unknown. Cats that have urinary problems without any specific underlying issue are classified as having feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC), which basically means a bladder inflammation of unknown cause.
Cats with FIC show the same symptoms of FLUTD, some of which include frequent urination and blood in the urine. But these symptoms often go away on their own within a couple of weeks.
Although FIC by definition has an unknown cause, stress may contribute to its development. Changes in a cat’s environment, such as moving somewhere else, bringing a new pet home, as well as diet and feeding schedule changes may trigger FIC.
It’s important to provide enough mental and physical stimulation and to keep their diet and feeding schedule consistent.
Research has shown that FIC could also be caused by some physical issues, namely defective bladder lining (the layer that protects bladder wall cells). If the lining is deficient, the underlying cells may get damaged, allowing inflammation to develop.
Urethral obstruction is the most dangerous and potentially life-threatening urinary tract issue. It can be caused by urinary stones or urethral plugs, which contain cells, minerals, and protein in the form of mucus.
Male cats are at a greater risk of urethral blockage than females, because of the anatomy of their urinary tract – males have longer and narrower urethra.
The symptoms of urethral obstruction are the same as with other UT disorders. A cat will likely try to urinate frequently, but little to no urine will be produced. As time passes, the cat’s discomfort will grow, and the pain can make them cry out.
Urethral obstruction is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment. When the urethra is blocked, urine can’t come through and kidneys lose their ability to remove toxins from the blood and keep electrolytes in balance.
If the blockage isn’t removed, your cat’s health condition will deteriorate quickly. There’s a short window span of 24-48 hours during which you must take action, otherwise the blockage may be lethal.
The treatment of urethral obstruction typically involves placing a catheter into the urethra to flush out the plug. Once the blockage is removed, follow-up treatments will depend on the cat’s condition.
Your cat may stay in the hospital for a few days or even a few weeks depending on the duration and severity of blockage.
Symptoms of urinary tract issues
Urinary tract problems are diverse, but they all have similar signs, so they can be difficult to diagnose. Here are the most common cat UTI symptoms.
Cats with UTI may have trouble urinating, producing little to no urine. While trying to urinate, they may also cry out in pain.
Cats that suffer from the inflammation or infection of the bladder and urethra may feel the increased need to urinate. The inflammation/infection causes irritation, making cats want to pee more often.
Blood in the urine
Bloody urine can also be a result of an inflammation or infection. Blood in the urine can be clearly visible, with noticeable red discoloration of the urine, or it can be detected by urine tests.
Urinating outside the litter box
Inappropriate urination is another common cat UTI symptom.
Cats may pee outside the litter box as a result of pain and irritation in the bladder or urethra. The discomfort may cause a sudden desire to urinate, so cats may not have time to go to the litter box.
Posturing in the litter box
Your cat may squat in the litter box for a longer period of time when experiencing some type of urinary discomfort. Squatting can often be mistaken for a sign of constipation.
Cat overgrooming can happen due to irritation and pain in the bladder or urethra. In an attempt to ease the discomfort, cats may start to lick their genital region frequently. The licking may become so excessive that it causes loss of hair and skin damage.
Your cat may display some unusual changes in behavior as a result of a urinary tract issue. They may forget proper litter box manners, and become easily irritated or aggressive.
Risk factors for urinary tract infections
Although cats of any age can suffer from urinary tract disorders, middle-aged, overweight cats that don’t get a lot of exercise, have an indoor litter box, and spend most of their time inside are at greater risk of having urinary problems.
Environmental factors and stress play a significant role in making a cat susceptible to urinary tract issues. Cats that live in multi-cat households or experience abrupt changes in their routine, such as moving to a new home are at a higher risk of getting UTI.
As we’ve already mentioned, male cats are more prone to urethral obstruction because of the anatomy of their urinary tract.
Cat UTI diagnosis and treatment
To check for a urinary tract infection, your vet will collect and analyze a sample of your cat’s urine. This is done by placing a sterile needle attached to a sterile syringe directly into the bladder and withdrawing a urine sample.
It’s extremely important that both the needle and the container are sterile, otherwise the sample may become contaminated with bacteria from elsewhere, resulting in inaccurate results.
Provided it is done properly with a relaxed cat, this procedure is simple and easy and it won’t cause any discomfort to your cat.
Another thing that should be taken into account is the storage of the urine sample and the amount of time that passes before the sample is delivered to the lab for analysis. For example, bacteria levels can double every 20-40 minutes in warm urine, so the results you get won’t reflect your cat’s actual condition.
Proper handling and processing of urine samples is essential when it comes to determining whether your cat actually has a bacterial infection, as they are relatively rare in felines.
According to professionals, cats are often prescribed antibiotics even when they don’t need them, due to mistaking bladder inflammation (caused by stress or insufficient water intake) for a bacterial infection. In addition to reducing stress and increasing water intake, giving pain medication may prove to be more effective in treating bladder inflammation than antibiotics.
Proper urine analysis (bacterial culture and sensitivity) will be able to determine if bacteria is present and which antibiotic is right for that particular strain.
Overusing antibiotics isn’t effective in treating the issue and can be potentially dangerous for your cat’s health.
In addition to urine sample analysis, your vet may also choose to perform X-rays or ultrasound of your cat’s bladder and urethra to check for potential thickening of the bladder, urinary stones, or tumors.
What ingredient in cat food causes urinary problems?
Cat foods that are high calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus may contribute to the formation of urinary stones.
Luckily, many commercial cat foods now have low amounts of these minerals to reduce the risk of struvite crystals forming.
Still, when it comes to minimizing the chances of urinary tract disorders, sufficient water intake is key.
Cats on high moisture diets are less likely to be affected by lower urinary tract disease than cats on low moisture diets.
Feeding wet cat food is your best tool at preventing urinary problems.
What is good for a cat’s urinary tract?
There are several ways you can keep your cat’s urinary health in top shape. Providing your cat with access to fresh water at all times is essential, but you should also make sure your kitty gets plenty of exercise and attention.
Increase your cat’s water intake
Highly concentrated urine promotes the formation of urinary stones and may cause bladder inflammation.
Drinking more water will help keep these issues at bay as it will make your cat’s urine more acidic. Also, your kitty will pee more often and flush out toxins along the way, while preserving kidney function.
Here are some ways to boost your cat’s hydration:
- Clean and fill your cat’s water bowls daily
- Add a cat water fountain to spice things up since cats are attracted to running water
- Serving wet canned food that’s rich in moisture
- Use mousse treats and food toppers for extra hydration
Environmental stress has been linked to bladder inflammation in cats. Changes in your cat’s environment and routine like the arrival of a new baby, a new pet, using different food or litter brands can make your cat feeling stressed.
Here are some anxiety-lowering tactics you can use:
- Provide your kitty with a safe retreat where they have their own space and privacy
- Use feline pheromones like Feliway to reduce anxiety levels
- Keep your cat’s litter box as clean as possible
Cats need creative environmental enrichment to thrive, so keep them engaged with toys and activities.
Here are some indoor cat enrichment ideas:
- Use a food puzzle to activate your cat’s hunting instinct
- Set up interactive toys like a cat-nip mouse that squeaks
- Play cat-friendly music and videos to keep them entertained
- Provide a cat perch they can climb on to give them a view of their surroundings
Schedule regular visits to the vet
Regular visits to the vet can help you discover potential urinary tract issues on time and make sure your cat gets the necessary treatment. Your vet will also be able to advise you on the best prevention methods and homecare to improve your cat’s urinary health.
Takeaways on maintaining your cats UTI health
UTI is a common ailment that affects our feline friends and it can have a variety of causes, from environmental changes to underlying medical issues.
Keeping your cat hydrated through food and water is the best prevention technique, as is sufficient mental and physical stimulation. If you suspect your cat has UTI, be sure to schedule a visit to your vet for thorough examination and treatment.
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