Urinary tract infections in cats can be painful and lead to bladder infection or kidney issues. Know the signs so you can treat your cat’s UTI quickly.

By Brendan Howard
August 24, 2020
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“It hurts when I pee” is no joke for humans or cats. When your cat experiences difficulty or pain while urinating, it’s a pain for both of you. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) make normal parts of every day hard for your cat and hard for you. Frequent and long trips to the litter box, more meows than normal on potty breaks, and possible house soiling as your cat starts to shy away from a litter box associated with frustration and pain signal a real problem. 

Left untreated, cat UTIs can also lead to bladder or kidney infections. Here’s how you can work with your veterinarian on treatment and prevention to tackle what’s behind your cat’s trouble urinating. 

Causes of Urinary Tract Issues in Cats

Your cat’s trouble urinating, can have a number of possible causes, some of which can be painful. They can block the flow of urine or inflame parts of the urinary tract. If you’ve been on the hunt for information online, you may have heard about feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), which is a catch-all term for a variety of possible culprits, including: 

  • Urinary stones, which develop in the bladder and urethra (humans develop similar painful stones)
  • A urinary tract infection (UTI) caused by bacteria that have worked their way into the urethra 
  • An obstruction in the urethra, possibly caused by an injury, a tumor, or an abnormality your cat has had since birth
  • Feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) is a complicated term for an inflammation of the cat’s bladder that’s cause is unknown. This is a common diagnosis in cats less than 10 years old. A veterinarian may diagnose the condition after ruling out other conditions. 

Some cats may be predisposed to problems of the lower urinary tract, especially cats older than 10 years and those with kidney disease or diabetes. A veterinarian can help you figure out whether the UTI is a kidney infection or bladder infection. Proper testing and diagnosis is crucial, because it literally goes both ways with FLUTD. Kidney or bladder stones may cause problems for your cat as they make their way to the urethra, but bacteria from a UTI, if left untreated, can travel up the urethra to the bladder, possibly causing inflammation in the kidneys.

Warning Signs of Urinary Tract Infections 

Because you live with your favorite feline, you are the perfect person to notice changes in behavior. You know your cat’s normal litter box behavior better than anyone. Possible signs of a UTI include:

  • More frequent visits to the litter box and/or more frequent attempts to urinate during a visit
  • Straining to urinate
  • Crying out, whining, or loud meows (if urinating is painful)
  • Changes in using the litter box (anything from peeing off the side to avoiding the litter box entirely)
  • Blood in urine
  • More frequent licking of the genitals
  • Especially strong urine odor

Treating Urinary Tract Problems

If you see warning signs of a urinary tract infection in your cat, it’s important to see a veterinarian. If a UTI is the prime suspect, your vet may recommend a common antibiotic even before receiving results from your cat’s urine test.

With a vet’s diagnosis in hand, you still play a crucial part in helping treat your cat at home. If your vet has prescribed an antibiotic, you’ll need to make sure to give all the medicine for as long as recommended. 

“If your cat is diagnosed with a bacterial condition, it is imperative that you give the medication exactly as instructed,” says Kathryn Primm, DVM at Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee. “Otherwise, you risk only killing the part of the bacteria that are most susceptible to the drug and leaving the others to reproduce.” 

How long your cat is on antibiotics for a UTI is best determined by your vet. If you’re having trouble giving your cat the medicine, let the vet know. Pills or liquids are options, but an unfinished round of antibiotics may give the bacteria a chance to return, and stronger bacteria can also lead to new drug-resistant strains that harm humans and pets.

If the antibiotics for your cat’s UTI are not working, your vet may prescribe a different antibiotic or recommend further testing to see if there’s another cause for the problem. UTI treatment costs vary depending on the testing and medicine necessary to get your cat healthy and feeling better. 

Primm understands how frustrating that can be. “Trust me, we all want to be able to just treat feline urinary problems with an antibiotic and be done, but this isn’t the case,” she says. “Urinary issues can be complex, and each cat is different. A trusting relationship with your veterinarian is your very best tool to manage urinary disease in cats.”

How to Prevent Cat Urinary Tract Infections 

There is always a chance, and sometimes a good chance, that your cat’s UTI or other lower urinary tract problem will recur. Some recommendations to help prevent recurrences of UTIs and other issues are relatively inexpensive. Your veterinarian may suggest some menu of options like these:

Adjust your cat's diet. Feed small meals on a frequent basis (no binging!) and keep your cat to a healthy weight. With your vet’s recommendation, consider a change to a specialized diet for urinary conditions or a switch to canned food. Here are tips from the American Association of Feline Practitioners covering best practices for healthy feeding.

Manage the water. Keep bowls clean and fresh at all times. More water keeps the flow going!

Improve your litter box hygiene. Offer enough litter boxes (one for each cat plus one more, if you can). “Don’t hide them away where they’re hard to get for your cat,” Primm says. Scoop the boxes twice daily (or get an automated litter box to do it) and replace all the litter at least weekly. Note your own cat’s preference. Primm says some cats like covered boxes, some don’t, and different litter appeals to different litter box users. The American Association of Feline Practitioners has helpful tips on how to manage and prevent cat house soiling, covering everything from litter box size to the location of the box within the home

Calm your cat. Avoid major changes in household routine, and watch for ways to reduce your cat’s stress. Learn more about your cats’ senses and ways veterinarians think cats get stress—which can manifest itself in the form of illness.

If urination problems occur again, don’t give up, Primm says. “In the past, it seemed like we had many cases of FLUTD that never resolved,” she says. “I think the veterinary industry is making headway in understanding and treating this issue, and that makes me happy.”

Talk to your vet about the best preventive care and UTI treatments for your cat.