Bacterial urinary tract infections can result from normal GI tract and skin flora that ascends the urinary tract and overcomes its natural defenses that typically prevent colonization. While bacterial UTIs are among the most common diseases that affect dogs, they are less common in young cats. However, they affect many older cats as they become more susceptible to infection due to aging or concomitant disease (diabetes, hyperthyroidism, or renal failure).

In this article, we’ll look at the signs and symptoms of UTIs in cats, whether they can be prevented, how they can be treated, and other useful information for cat parents.

Causes

Many retrospective studies have found that one of the most common bacterial uropathogens in both dogs and cats is Escherichia coli. Escherichia coli is an epiphyte, which means that it naturally grows in different organs, and it can even be found on the skin of our pets. It is found in both feces and urine, and whenever the cat’s immune system isn’t on par, the urinary tract might be affected by an Escherichia coli infection.

Some of the other common pathogens that are likely to cause UTIs are Staphylococcus, Streptococcus, Proteus, Pseudomonas, and Klebsiella species.

Ideally, an infection can be treated correctly only if the pet owner collects some urine and brings it to the vet (as soon as possible) for it to be analyzed in the lab. This means that the pathogen will be detected or that at least an antibiogram will be performed. With the right antimicrobial therapy, the cat can both recover faster, and recurrences can be prevented effectively.

Signs of Cat UTI

Clinical signs

Most cats are going to try to groom their genital area excessively, and this can be the first sign that a pet parent might notice. Some of the others include the following:

  • Frequent attempts to urinate

  • Urinating in unusual places (even next to the litter box)

  • Vomiting

  • Lethargy

  • Discolored urine

  • Pain (many cats will cry out when they use the litter box)

  • Abnormal-smelling urine

Cats that aren’t changed their cat litter frequently are more predisposed to getting a UTI simply because they come in direct contact with their urine and feces.

Detection

The most significant challenge that vets face when a cat experiencing urinary problems is brought in is trying to make the difference between a UTI, a Feline Urethral Obstruction, and a case of general FLUTD. Most cases will call for a urine sample, a urine culture, as well as a physical examination.

In most situations where the cat suffers from a urinary tract infection, there is a painful and rather small bladder present. By contrast, in cases of obstruction, the bladder is distended and large.

A urine sample can reveal several important details. One of them is the urine concentration, but other things such as the presence of red blood cells, white blood cells, as well as crystals, can be seen under the microscope, as well. Sometimes, the vet can even see actual bacteria under the microscope. A urine culture is by far the most helpful test when it comes to setting a correct diagnosis.

Treatment

If a urine culture was performed, it could be quite easy for the vet to do antimicrobial susceptibility testing. Some of the most common antibiotics used in the treatment of UTIs are amoxicillin, ampicillin, cephalexin, chloramphenicol, enrofloxacin, gentamicin, tetracyclines, as well as trimethoprim-sulfonamides.

The selected antimicrobial should also be easy for pet parents to administer and have as few side effects as possible. Depending on how complicated the infection is, the duration of the treatment can last anything from 7 to 14 days. Chronic and complicated cases of UTI and prostatitis could require antimicrobial treatment for as many as 4 to 6 weeks.

It is paramount for the pet parent to understand that they shouldn’t stop the administration of the treatment for fear of the germ developing antibiotic resistance. It’s also recommended that after the first week of treatment, a urine sample is collected again to see whether the UTI has resolved or not.

Generally, most cats that have had a urinary tract infection are likely to have another in the future. If possible, monitor your cat’s urinary tract health as best as possible.

Cat UTI Prevention

Prevention

Taking several steps to prevent UTIs in your cat is crucial. You can start by constantly keeping the litter box clean so that bacteria have almost no chance of spreading in the environment. The cat’s diet can be a contributing factor, as well. If your cat is slightly overweight or a diabetic, he or she might be at a greater risk of getting urinary tract disease.

The urinary tract health of some cats can be affected by stress, as well. If you know that you’re going to be adding a new feline member to your family anytime soon, it would be a good idea to try to make the transition as smooth as possible.

Make sure you provide plenty of clean water to your feline buddy every day. It’s widely known that cats don’t drink a lot of water, and if it’s not clean or fresh, they are probably not going to drink any. Evaluate your cat’s diet and get some recommendations from the vet, especially if you have a diabetic or an overweight pet.

If you have more than one feline companion, it is highly recommended that you use several litter boxes, not just one. In the end, prevention is the best cure, so pay attention to any changes in your cat’s daily routine and urinary habits. Sometimes, catching a urinary tract problem in its early stage can prevent it from becoming complicated and it can also alleviate some of the pain.


Cristina Vulpe is a former veterinarian turned content marketer. She manages a website about cats, My Feline Buddy, where she gives advice about cat health, managing cat behavior, and many other cat-related things. She has a PhD in veterinary oncology and is passionate about animal welfare, nutrition, parasitology, as well as infectious diseases.