A urinary tract infection or UTI is a bacterial, viral, fungal, or algal infection that can develop anywhere along the upper or lower urinary tract. Many people have experienced a UTI at least once in their life, but did you know they can affect cats also?
Although it’s possible for a cat to develop an idiopathic UTI (this means the cause of the infection can’t be determined), urinary tract infections are typically secondary to another illness or some other medical problem. For this reason, it’s important to take your cat to the vet if you believe it may have a UTI.
Some of the conditions that may be underlying a UTI include feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) which attacks your cat’s immune system, leaving it more prone to infection; diabetes mellitus, which produces high blood glucose levels that allow bacteria to thrive; and bacterial resistance caused by antibiotics.
If left untreated, UTIs can be quite serious and even potentially fatal. They are particularly dangerous to male cats, whose narrower urethras mean urinary blockages are much more likely.
The good news is that there are precautions you can take to help reduce your cat’s risk of developing a UTI. Keeping your cat exclusively indoors will help substantially lower its risk of developing a UTI. So will ensuring it has regular vet visits, which can help screen for UTI and any underlying illnesses even before symptoms have a chance to emerge.
Feeding your cat a diet of canned wet food can also help lower its risk because cats take in most of their hydration through the food they eat. If your cat has a preference for dry kibble, you can help ensure proper hydration by moistening the food with water before serving it.
But the biggest and easiest way of reducing your cat’s risk of UTI is undoubtedly ensuring that your cat can access clean, fresh water at all times. Proper hydration will help flush bacterial organisms from the body, lowering the risk of infection.
How Can I Tell if My Cat Has a UTI?
If you’ve ever had a urinary tract infection yourself, you know how painful they can be. Unfortunately, because cats instinctively hide signs of pain and illness, it may not be evident that your cat is sick until the infection has progressed. However, if you know what to look for it’s easier to make an identification so you can get your cat the help it needs.
Here are some signs that your cat may be experiencing a UTI:
– Inability to pass urine or passing only a small amount of urine. Keep an eye on the litter box, and if you notice your cat hasn’t urinated recently or only in trace amounts, consider paying a visit to the vet.
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– Bloody or discolored urine. If your cat is urinating blood, you should see a veterinarian right away. Sometimes trace amounts of blood will give your cat’s urine a pinkish tinge, so you should be attentive to any unusual change in color.
– Inappropriate urination. Sometimes when a cat has a UTI, it will start avoiding the litter box because. This is because the cat associates the box with the pain of urination. If your cat suddenly begins eliminating in inappropriate places, such as outside the box or on carpet or furniture, a UTI may be to blame.
– Yowling when using the litter box. The strain and discomfort of trying to pass urine with a UTI may make your cat cry out while using the litter box. If this happens, a prompt vet visit is in order.
– Licking the abdominal region or urinary opening. All cats lick themselves from time to time, but if you notice your cat excessively licking its abdomen or genital area, this may be a sign that it’s trying to soothe the pain of a UTI.
– Increased water consumption. If you notice the level of the water bowl dwindling quickly, especially if other symptoms have been observed, it is probable that your cat is experiencing a UTI.
– Incontinence. A cat with a UTI may lose the ability to control its bladder, resulting in spontaneous urination.
– Increased urination. If your cat is visiting the litter box more than usual, you should pay attention for other possible signs of UTI.
– Increased time spent in litter box. Cats usually don’t take very long to urinate or defecate. If you notice your cat seems to be lingering in the box for excessive amounts of time, it may be because it is having difficulty passing urine.
Other possible symptoms of UTI include a strong odor of ammonia in your cat’s urine, lethargy, and vomiting. However, these are common signs of more general illness in cats, so they alone shouldn’t be taken as proof positive of a UTI. Instead if you notice any of these signs, you should keep your eyes open for other indicators that your cat has a urinary tract infection.
What Should I Do if My Cat Has a UTI?
If you believe your cat is showing signs of a urinary tract infection, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. Particularly if your cat is male, it’s vital to rule out the possibility of bladder stones, which can block the urethra leading to fatal complications.
Some vets may take urine samples to identify the exact source of the infection, especially if your cat has a known medical condition. However, it’s also not uncommon for vets to prescribe a remedy and the “wait and see” approach to treating UTI. In this case, you’ll probably be sent home with medication and instructions to monitor your cat over the next few days.
Depending on the vet’s findings, treatment may involve one or more of the following:
– Broad spectrum antibiotics. One of the most popular is Clavamox, which is typically administered orally. If your vet prescribes antibiotics, you will probably have to give your cat the recommended dosage one or more times per day.
– Pain management. In addition to antibiotics, your vet may prescribe an oral painkiller to help mitigate the discomfort of the UTI and make it easier for your cat to relieve itself.
– Dietary changes. Some cats simply can’t subsist on a diet of dry food without substantial risk of developing recurrent UTIs. Your vet may prescribe a new diet of wet food to help prevent future infection or recommend that you upgrade your cat to higher quality or prescription food.
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– Increased hydration. If your cat is insufficiently hydrated, particularly if it eats a dry food diet, your vet may recommend that you up your cat’s water intake to help flush infectious organisms out of the urinary tract. If your cat doesn’t like to drink water, you can tempt its appetite with the juice from canned tuna or clams, ice cubes made from chicken or beef broth, or meaty baby food diluted with water.
– Urinary acidification. This is when medication is administered to help increase the acidity of your cat’s urine, making it inhospitable to any bacteria thriving there. Methigel, an OTC urine acidifier, can be bought in many pet stores and administered every six hours.
– Catheterization. If your cat is unable to pass any urine, a catheter may be necessary to help correct the problem. This is a painful procedure that must be performed under anesthesia, but it will be hugely beneficial to your sick cat.
– Surgery. In very severe cases, your cat may require surgery to remove bladder stones or urethral blockages. As with catheterization, your cat will need to be put under general anesthesia and probably be kept at the vet’s office overnight.
Some pet owners choose to augment veterinarian-recommended treatments with supplements like glucosamine and chondroitin, homeopathic remedies like cranberry juice or tablets, or flower essences like Bach Rescue Remedy. Although some pet owners swear by these treatments, they should not be given in place of proper veterinary care or administered by consulting your vet first.
If caught promptly, UTIs are usually highly treatable and will cause no lasting ill effects to the cat. Left untreated, however, a UTI can do severe, irreversible damage to the kidneys, ureters, and other organs, and even lead to sepsis, which can be fatal.
UTIs can be painful and potentially life-threatening to cats. However, if they are caught and treated promptly with veterinarian-recommended methods, you have every reason to expect the best outcome for your cat.
As with most illnesses, prevention is the first line of defense. Ensure your cat eats a diet of nutritious wet food and has continual access to clean drinking water. If it’s within your means to do so, do not allow your cat to roam freely outside.
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Most importantly, make sure that your cat has regular veterinary visits. This will help identify a possible UTI early, as well as any underlying condition that may be causing the infection.
Product data was last updated on 2023-02-03.
"In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this."
-- Terry Pratchett