What Are Urinary Tract Infections in Cats?
Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are not common in cats. Only 1-3% of cats with signs of urinary tract disease will have a urinary tract infection.
Because they can resemble so many other conditions, UTIs need to be distinguished from other conditions, such as crystals in the urine. Fortunately, by running some simple tests, your veterinarian will be able to tell the difference.
In most cases, UTIs in cats are usually caused by bacteria. Bacterial urinary tract infections in cats are generally relatively easy to treat and respond well to medications. Chronic infections, or those that do not respond to regular medication, can require more testing to figure out why your cat is at higher risk for urinary tract infections.
Symptoms of Urinary Tract Infections in Cats
Most cats with urinary tract infections will make frequent trips to the litter box and seem restless. They may go into the box and strain to pee but produce either a small amount of urine or no urine at all. Occasionally, their urine may appear bloody.
Some cats will avoid the litter box because they have associated it with the discomfort caused by the UTI. Instead, they may urinate in other places in your home. Sinks, bathtubs, and clean laundry are popular spots. Your cat also may vomit and seem lethargic as the problem progresses—especially male cats.
In most cases, acute (sudden) and chronic urinary tract infections will cause very similar symptoms. However, some cats with the chronic form show no signs of disease.
Causes of Urinary Tract Infections in Cats
Both sudden and chronic urinary tract infections are caused by bacterial infections. The bacteria involved in UTIs usually come from either the gastrointestinal tract or lower down the urinary/reproductive tract. If your cat is older or has other medical conditions, they are more likely to develop bacterial urinary tract problems.
How Vets Diagnose UTIs in Cats
Vets diagnose urinary tract infections by collecting a urine sample and examining it for the presence of bacteria. These samples must be collected through a process called cystocentesis, where urine is drawn directly from the bladder with a fine needle. This is necessary to prevent contamination of the urine sample from cups, tables, or any other surface the urine may come into contact with.
After cystocentesis, your veterinarian will run a culture-and-sensitivity test. During this test, the bacteria are isolated and studied. This helps the vet determine the best antibiotics for your cat’s exact infection.
Occasionally, acute infections—especially first-time infections that show up suddenly—are treated with a broad-spectrum antibiotic without trying to determine which bacteria are involved.
Chronic infections, however, almost always require more testing to isolate the type of bacteria causing the problem and identify the best antibiotic.
Treatment for UTIs in Cats
If you see any signs of UTI in your cat, take them to the vet. For male cats, it can be fatal to wait even a few hours. For female cats, feed them canned food only and see the vet within 24 hours. You should not try to treat the UTI at home with things like cranberry products, which have not been proven to be effective for UTIs in cats.
Urinary tract infections in cats are usually treated with antibiotics. Often, vets also recommend feeding an all-canned diet for a period of time (or long-term) since dry foods often result in a more-concentrated urine, which can lead to urinary tract problems.
If your cat is particularly uncomfortable, your vet may prescribe anti-inflammatory pain medication—especially if treatment is delayed a few days while you wait for test results. Acute infections usually receive a relatively short course of antibiotics, while chronic UTIs may require longer antibiotic use.
Recovery and Management of UTIs in Cats
Most cats will fully recover within 7-10 days of developing a urinary tract infection, but they may need to remain on a canned diet for longer. Your vet may check a urine sample after treatment to determine if all the bacteria are gone.
Occasionally, cats will develop repeated urinary tract infections. Cats with recurring UTIs often require more testing to determine the underlying cause.
UTIs in Cats FAQs
How can I treat my cat’s UTI at home?
In most cases, vet treatment should be sought promptly if you suspect your cat has a urinary tract infections. In male cats, waiting even a few hours for treatment can prove fatal. In females, changing to an all-canned diet is a good start while you wait for your veterinary appointment, which should be scheduled within a few days of noticing symptoms.
Generally, after the veterinary appointment, you can take care of your cat at home with one or more prescribed medications and a canned-food diet.
Can I give my cat cranberry juice for a UTI?
Although there are products marketed for cats containing cranberry and labeled as treatments for urinary tract infections, research has not found them to be effective. In fact, changing the pH of your cat’s urine, which cranberry often does, may lead to unwanted complications, including crystals and stones. It is not recommended to use cranberry juice or cranberry products to treat UTIs in cats.
Can cats get UTIs from a dirty litter box?
Some cats will try to hold their urine rather than use a dirty box, much like how people may choose not to use a filthy porta-potty. Holding in urine has the potential to cause urinary tract diseases, including urinary tract infections.
Can a cat UTI go away by itself?
A healthy cat with a strong immune system may fight off a mild UTI that doesn’t have symptoms. If you see any symptoms, your cat likely requires treatment and should see the vet.
How long can a cat UTI go untreated?
If your cat is male and showing symptoms of a UTI, he should go to the vet immediately.
In female cats, if there are clinical signs, such as straining to urinate, urinating outside of the litter box, frequent smaller urinations, or blood in the urine, for longer than 1-2 days, she should go to the vet. UTIs can be quite uncomfortable and, if left untreated, may move into the kidneys (termed pyelonephritis) and cause infection throughout the body.