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Cat Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs): Symptoms and Treatment

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When my friend’s cat Tyler started making frequent trips to the litter box, it didn’t seem like a big deal at first. But then his cat began peeing outside the box and all around the house. He was also occasionally crying out when he went. Obviously, something was wrong, so off to the veterinarian they went.

UTI or FLUTD?

Tyler’s symptoms could be caused by a UTI or an FLUTD. Seems like letter soup, right? So let’s explain:

A UTI is a urinary tract infection

These are actually not as common as you might think in cats. It’s more often seen in senior cats who are 10-years-old and up.


FLUTD stand for Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease

It’s really a catch-all term for a collection of symptoms that can result from a number of urinary tract issues. It’s more prevalent in cats than UTIs, especially when it comes to younger felines.


FLUTD is also called feline idiopathic cystitis. While this name certainly doesn’t roll off the tongue, it makes sense when you break it down. Cystitis refers to inflammation of the bladder and idiopathic basically means there is no known cause.



It turns out Tyler had a UTI, which is not surprising since he is 14-years-old. Luckily for him, he got the care he needed and recovered in about a week.

Causes

The veterinarian suspected that Tyler’s UTI was the result of a bacterial infection, which is the most common reason for this condition. UTIs can also be brought on by a fungus or parasitic infection, but these are rare cases. On the other hand, FLUTD can have a number of causes, including:

  • Stones, crystals, or other debris in the bladder or urethra
  • Inflammation of the bladder
  • Injury to the bladder or urinary tract
  • Tumor in the urethra—although this is less common

It’s also thought that stress can play a role in developing a urinary tract issue. Cats are typically creatures of habit and can get stressed out if their routines are interrupted, for instance, by a new baby in the family, the addition of another pet, or a move to a different house.



Cat UTI Symptoms

Cats are notorious for masking their symptoms or hiding around the house when they’re ill, so you might not notice the signs of a urinary tract issue, particularly in the early stages. Symptoms can include:

  • More frequent trips to the litter box—this can happen because the cat can’t completely empty their bladder and feels a constant urge to go.
  • Peeing outside the litter box in places like the tub, the laundry room floor, or on a bathmat—this is obviously no fun for anyone!
  • Painful urination—your cat might strain, wince, or even cry out like poor Tyler when they’re trying to pee.
  • Blood in the urine, which can be minuscule and might be missed when you scoop out the litter box.
  • Excessive grooming around the genital area.
  • Behavioral changes, such as increased irritability or lethargy.

Urinary tract issues can be very painful for your kitty. It’s important you seek treatment as soon as possible if you notice these signs. A blockage can also become a life-threatening emergency if left untreated.

tabby cat resting on a cat tower

Diagnosis

In addition to a full physical exam, there are several other diagnostic tools your veterinarian might use to help determine whether your cat has a UTI or FLUTD:

  • Urinalysis to detect crystals, bacteria, or blood in the urine.
  • Blood tests to rule out other conditions, such as kidney disease or diabetes.
  • X-rays, which can be useful in identifying kidney stones or other blockages.
  • An ultrasound might also be used if the veterinarian suspects a bladder issue.

The fees for the veterinary exam and diagnostic tests can all be covered by an ASPCA Pet Health Insurance plan. Did you know that not all providers cover exam fees? That’s surprising because they are almost always part of the bill.

orange tabby cat curled up on a couch

Treatment

Recommended treatments for a urinary tract problem will vary depending on the cat’s situation. For instance, in Tyler’s case, antibiotics were prescribed to knock out the infection. If your cat needs to go on antibiotics, be sure to follow the instructions and finish the entire prescription even if your cat seems better. The infection could recur if you stop the medication early.

In most instances of a urinary tract issue, you’ll need to increase your cat’s water intake. Here are three suggestions to help you do this:

  1. Make sure your cat has a bowl of fresh, clean water that’s easy for them to access.
  2. Offer your cat diluted, warm chicken broth—not too hot or your cat’s mouth could get burned.
  3. Shift their diet to include more wet food, which contains more moisture than dry kibble. Alternatively, you can try soaking the dry kibble in water for about 15 minutes to moisten it. As with any change in diet, it is best to ask your veterinarian for advice on how to best approach it.

In addition, it can help to scoop out the litter box more often so you can keep a better tab on how much and how often your cat is going to the bathroom. Most cats prefer a squeaky-clean litter box, so it can also help your ailing cat feel more comfortable when they go.


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