UTI in Cats: Signs, Symptoms & Steps You Can Take
Cats tend to hide their pain & discomfort until the very last minute - so it's difficult to tell when they're sick. Especially if they're experiencing a stealthy condition like a UTI. So here are some common signs & symptoms to help you take action early on.
You might’ve noticed how your cat might mask their discomfort and illness until the very last minute – which is usually by the time they’ve gotten a lot worse. We’ve covered a couple of ways how changes in your cat’s behavior can indicate that they’re sick. So as a responsible cat parent, here’s one stealthy health condition you should keep an eye out for: urinary tract infections (UTIs).
In this post, we cover the signs of UTIs in cats, why they happen, the symptoms they come with, and what steps you can take to stay on top of it. If you’re able to recognize these signs, you might be able to prevent one before it gets too late. Let’s get started.
Table of contents
- What are UTIs in cats? Risk factors explained
- What might cause a UTI in cats?
- Signs & symptoms of UTI in cats
- Diagnosing UTI in cats: What to expect at your vet visit
- Treating & managing your cat’s urinary problems
- How to prevent your cat from developing UTIs
- How Tractive helps your cat get the care they need – just in time
What are UTIs in cats? Risk factors explained
While uncommon, cats (like humans) are also vulnerable to UTIs – which is when bacteria infiltrates any part of their urinary system. This includes their bladder, urethra, or kidneys.1 In fact, feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) is a common medical condition cats might experience.
Cats of all ages and breeds are vulnerable to UTIs, though a 2020 study found that2:
- Castrated male cats in general were at a higher risk of developing urinary tract problems.
- Older cats might be more vulnerable to UTIs, especially due to their higher risk of chronic kidney disease.
- Overweight cats might be at higher risk of developing urinary difficulties as well, likely due to being more sedentary and drinking less water.
- Non-spayed female cats are less likely to develop urinary problems like FLUTD.
- Older female cats are more vulnerable to diabetes mellitus (or when their blood sugar is too high.) This can also increase their vulnerability to contracting a UTI.
In general, low activity and reduced hydration can increase these risk factors. So we’d always recommend encouraging your cat to be a bit more active, explore the outdoors, and get plenty of water (especially in the summer months.)
What might cause a UTI in cats?
UTIs in cats can arise from various factors, including3:
When bacteria enters your cat’s digestive system, it might enter their urinary tract and cause infection.4 Your cat might also be vulnerable to UTIs if their immune system is generally weakened.
These form as a result of minerals and other substances combining together in your cat’s bladder. Vets are not entirely clear why they develop, but they might increase your cat’s risk of developing a UTI. In fact, cats with bladder stones might develop recurring UTIs.5
Abnormalities in your cat’s urinary tract
These include urethral strictures, can make it difficult for your cat to fully relieve themselves. This increases the likelihood of bacteria infecting their urinary organs.6 At times, injuries to your cat’s spinal cord might also increase the risk of developing FLUTD.
Like in humans, stress can weaken your cat’s immune system and affect their urinary habits. Often, too much indoor time can cause your cat to feel bored, anxious, or stressed.
So they might meow or cry excessively to get your attention, nibble at your houseplants, or even scratch your furniture. Redirecting their energy – especially with some outdoor time – can help reduce their stress.
Other medical conditions
Like we’ve covered earlier, UTI in cats can often result from other, underlying health conditions. For example, older cats who are vulnerable to diabetes mellitus might be more likely to develop them.
Similary, cats with hyperthyroidism (or an overactive thyroid gland) might experience similar symptoms. Keep an eye out for if your cat seems more active or restless than before.7
Your cat’s drinking habits
Your cat might, for example, not drink enough water – or too much. Both these behaviors might indicate an underlying medical condition, in certain cases. If your cat suddenly seems to be drinking too much water, it might be a sign they’re struggling with a UTI.
Signs & symptoms of UTI in cats
Your cat might be a trooper and soldier through their discomfort – but UTIs might show up in a number of subtle ways. Here are some of the most common signs they might be struggling with urinary problems and what symptoms these include:
Changes in urinating behavior
- Your cat might make frequent visits to the litter box – more than usual.8
- In other cases, they might strain or even cry out while urinating.
- With some UTIs, your cat might be unable to urinate due to urinary stones, which can be deadly.9 Make sure to keep an eye out if you see your cat going in and out of their litter box, but don’t seem to be producing much urine.
- Your cat might also experience incontinence, or being unable to control urine when it comes out.
- If your cat is peeing in places outside of their litter box and elsewhere around your house, it might be a sign they’re experiencing bladder discomfort.
Changes in your cat’s urine
Your cat’s urine might include blood (giving it a red or brown hue) or a dark, cloudy texture. The smell might also be worse than before, often difficult to hide under their litter box. If you’re noticing any of these signs, get in touch with your local vet immediately.
Changes in your cat’s behavior
Like we’ve covered, it can be difficult to tell when your cat is sick – because they tend to mask their pain and discomfort. So keep an eye out for subtle behavioral changes, like if your cat seems more lethargic or withdrawn than usual. It might indicate that they’re struggling to deal with their illness themselves.
Cats struggling with illness might also seem more agitated and irritable. Even your normally friendly cat might hiss at you in defence and even claw and scratch to maintain their boundaries. It’s important to keep in mind that your cat isn’t trying to be aggressive or harm you. Rather, give them some time to cool off and then keep an eye out for their behavior.
Changes in your cat’s appetite and appearance might also indicate that something is wrong. For example, your cat might groom themselves excessively – licking their genital areas to relieve some discomfort.
Other physical symptoms
In some cases, you might observe your cat with a swollen, tender abdomen.11 In other cases, they might even develop a fever and/or vomiting. If you’ve noticed any of these signs, along with changes in your cat’s urinating behaviors, get in touch with your local vet immediately.
It can be heart-wrenching seeing your cat in pain – and even more so when they try to hide it from you. So keep an eye out for these symptoms, as they may vary in their severity. In many cases, their UTI might overlap with other health issues, including chronic kidney disease. So make sure you get in touch with your local vet to get an accurate diagnosis.
Diagnosing UTI in cats: What to expect at your vet visit
If you’ve noticed your cat showing one or more the above mentioned symptoms, drop a call to your local vet for a proper diagnosis. They may ask you detailed questions about your cat’s:
- Activity level
- Medical history
- Whether they’re experiencing any stress
- How much water your cat has been drinking
- How frequently and how much they urinate
- How their urine looks
- Any other behavioral changes
Besides these, your vet might run a few tests to get a proper diagnosis.12 These include:
- A urinalysis, which is where your vet might take a urine sample from your cat to check for the presence of blood, bacteria, sugar, proteins, ketones, or crystals that indicate the presence of bladder stones.
- An inspection of your cat’s urine culture, to check whether infection-causing bacteria are present. This will help your vet determine the right course of treatment.
- Imaging through an X-ray or ultrasound to check for any urinary abnormalities, which might increase the likelihood of a UTI.
A typical UTI inspection at your vet might take 3-5 days for the results to emerge. So in the meantime, your vet might prescribe you some treatment options to manage your cat’s symptoms.
Treating & managing your cat’s urinary problems
Here are some common treatment plans to manage UTIs in cats:
Antibiotics help slow down the rate at which bacteria spreads and eliminate it gradually.13 Make sure to keep up with the full course of antibiotic therapy, even if your cat’s symptoms improve.
With these, you can help provide your cat some relief from discomfort, whether during urinating or general abdominal pain.
Flushing procedures with a sterile solution can help your cat pass small stones.14 Female cats are often able to pass these on their own or with a little help voiding them with your vet. Male cats, on the other hand, might be at higher risk of urinary blockage, even with small stones.15
This is where you increase your cat’s fluid intake and ensure they’re drinking enough water. Fluid therapy can help flush out the infection-causing bacteria in their urinary system and prevent recurring infections.
Your vet might suggest changes to your cat’s diet, especially if your cat’s urine includes crystals.16 These indicate the presence of stones.17 For example, feeding your cat canned food can help your cat both eat healthy as well as increase their level of hydration. Some stones might even dissolve by themselves within 2-4 weeks if you’re consistent with your cat’s new diet.
In serious cases, like if your cat’s UTI has spread to its kidneys or if your male cat is facing a urinary blockage, your cat might need to be hospitalized.18 So it makes sense to stay informed and take steps to prevent your cat from developing a UTI in the first place.
How to prevent your cat from developing UTIs
You can help prevent UTIs in your cat with some small, practical steps – many connected to their daily habits. Here are a few you can get started with:
Stay informed (and hydrated)
Provide plenty of clean, fresh water sources throughout your house – and also near where they sleep and spend their time. Your cat might not be drinking enough water due to medical conditions like kidney disease or even cancer. On the other hand, your cat might drink water excessively due to medical conditions like diabetes mellitus or a UTI.
Be mindful of your cat’s behaviors
One of the most common signs of a UTI is if your cat begins to urinate outside of their litter box, or visit their litter box multiple times a day without urinating much. Make sure to be extra vigilant if you have a male cat.
Consider wet cat food brands
Opt for vet-approved cat food brands like the Purina Pro Plan Urinary Tract Cat Food Wet Pate.19 These are small, sneaky ways you can get your cat to stay hydrated (and healthily-fed) throughout the day.
Help your cat de-stress
Cats may be sociable, but they do need their alone-time to recharge. We’d also recommend you keep their litter box in a quiet, accessible area where they have a little privacy.
Stay on top of your vet visits
Even a routine checkup can help you identify the signs and symptoms of a UTI early on – so you can take action right away.
Encourage your cat to be more active
A little time outside can do wonders for your cat’s physical and mental health. This applies even if you think they’re not the outdoorsy sort! All cats like to have a territory to patrol and defend – even if it’s just your backyard.
So allow your little hunter to explore and play around your garden or balcony and slowly venture outdoors. They’ll benefit from the exercise and enjoy the sensory stimulation from being around nature. Outdoor time can also help your cat stay active and keep their instincts sharp. So they’ll be less vulnerable to health conditions related to their age and weight – like diabetes mellitus – which can increase the risk of UTIs.
Monitor your cat’s behavior & activity levels
Changes in your cat’s behavior might indicate that something is wrong – but they’re often so subtle, it’s easy to miss out on them. But if you’re tracking their activity and sleep patterns, you can catch on to changes and trends early on.
With Tractive’s Wellness Monitoring features, you can track your cat’s daily activity – and take action if you notice a massive dip. You also get a clear picture of how your cat is sleeping, including how long they’ve slept and how often they were disturbed. (Maybe with multiple, painful litter box visits.)
With this data at hand, you’ll find it easier to have a more productive conversation with your vet. And with a little vigilance, you might even end up saving your cat’s life.
How Tractive helps your cat get the care they need – just in time
One of our Netherlands-based pet parents shared how just a glance at her cat’s Wellness profile helped her notice a change in their behaviors. Which turned out to be a serious health problem down the line. Here’s how Tractive is such an indispensable tool for our pet’s health and wellbeing.
With the Tractive GPS, I found out one night that she’d only made one little trip to the park, slept all night – and didn’t really do much during the day. On the second night, she didn’t leave the garden at all. Which struck me as odd, since she’s an outdoor cat and on the move quite often.
So I decided to check her up to see if she was sick – or had something else going on. When I picked her up, the pus oozed over my hand from the abscess bursting!
Without Tractive, I wouldn’t have noticed it at all – I would still see her walk around to drink and feed and think everything is okay. I might only have noticed when I didn’t see her stroll over for a whole day. At which point, she’d probably have been dangerously sick.
We went to the vet a few hours later – she had a serious fever, a big abscess, and was pretty sick already. So we got it in time. A whole week of antibiotics – and now she’s herself again.
Tractive is also very handy for when you need to give your pets their medication. Two evenings ago, my cat was out and about – and all I had to do was check where she was and call her over to give her the antibiotics.
Managing UTIs is no fun, even for us humans – so as responsible cat parents, we want to do all we can to keep them healthy and happy. By understanding the signs, symptoms, and behaviors that signal a UTI, you can get your cat a timely diagnosis and treatment and ensure they’re cared for in the best possible way. Plus, with Tractive’s activity and sleep monitoring, you can stay on top of changes in your cat’s behaviors – and catch on to an illness before it gets worse.
Here’s a short recap on how to treat UTIs in cats, with Dr. Bob Pane, veterinarian at the South Kendall Animal Hospital in Miami.