Cat UTI: Signs, Symptoms, & Treatment Options

By Chelsea Hunt-Rivera / November 1, 2018
cat uti

Your four-legged feline means everything to you. You’d go to the ends of the earth to ensure their happiness and wellbeing. Trust us, we get it. At Simple Wag, we are all cat lovers. Therefore, we can completely understand how heart-wrenching (and frustrating) it can be when something is off with your furry companion.

In many cases, the day to day health conditions that affect people can also affect our cats. It may surprise pet parents to learn that everything from arthritis to anxiety can take its toll on our cat’s overall wellness. Sadly, our four-legged friends, both dogs and cats, can also suffer from urinary tract infections. Furthermore, cats can suffer from a condition known as feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD) which can cause them an exorbitant amount of pain and can cause cat owners a fair amount of distress as their home can quickly become a litter box for their sick kitty.

In this article, we’ll help pet owners learn how to differentiate between urinary tract infections and feline lower urinary tract disease. We’ll also cover all of the symptoms you should be aware of as well as the ways to help prevent the condition from recurring. Urinary issues are not something that should ever be overlooked. Let us explain why and how treatment for your feline is absolutely imperative.

cat uti

What is a UTI: Understanding the Infection

Just like people, (although relatively uncommon) it is possible for your cat to develop a urinary tract infection, also referred to as a UTI. Unfortunately for our cats, resolving a UTI isn’t as simple as chugging some cranberry juice.

A urinary tract infection is medically defined as an infection of the urinary system, bladder, or urethra. If the infection goes undiagnosed and, therefore, untreated, it can also affect the kidneys. In severe cases, untreated UTIs can also lead to cell damage resulting from the invasion of microorganism bacterium. For this reason (and several more which we will discuss), a timely diagnosis is critical for your feline’s health.

When it comes to urinary tract infections, the keyword to keep in mind is infection. Later in the article, we will discuss another reason for your cat’s symptoms which is a disease of the urinary tract. Urinary tract diseases are much more common than UTIs although many pet owners inadvertently misdiagnose their kitty’s symptoms.

Bladder Infections VS UTI: Knowing the Difference!

The terms ‘bladder infection’ and ‘UTI’ are often used interchangeably, despite the fact that they are different ailments. Let us explain.

A bladder infection is a lower UTI infection. Therefore, all bladder infections are UTI’s. However, not all UTIs are bladder infections. In some cases, the patient (cat or human) may be experiencing an upper urinary tract infection. In these cases, immediate treatment is crucial in preventing damage to the kidneys or a severe kidney infection from developing.

Cat UTI Symptoms: What to Look For

Although feline urinary tract infections are considered to be relatively uncommon, it is still important for cat parents to be able to recognize symptoms. UTI symptoms are very comparable to those of other urinary tract disorders.

UTI symptoms include the following:cat uti symptoms

  • Painful urination (often depicted by vocalization)
  • Straining to urinate
  • Blood in the urine
  • Urinating in places other than their litter box
  • Urinating much more often than usual
  • Blockage of urine flow
  • Blockage in the urethra
  • Excessive licking (primarily in the genital area)
  • Strong urine odor
  • A thick, hardened, contracted bladder wall (the vet will be able to feel this during a physical exam)

If you recognize that your feline is having any of these symptoms, it is imperative that you make sure to receive an accurate veterinary diagnosis. Again, a UTI diagnosis is relatively uncommon. However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t another issue that needs to be addressed.

Bladder Infection Symptoms

The symptoms of a feline bladder infection are nearly identical to those of a UTI. The major difference is that bladder infections involve the lower urinary tract of the cat. It is important for your veterinarian to differentiate between whether your kitty has a UTI or a bladder infection in order to make sure the condition is treated appropriately.

Cat UTI Causes

Many pet owners wonder what causes a UTI in cats. Of course, one of the leading ways to prevent ailments is understanding what causes them and thus eliminating the source. When it comes to UTIs, the infection typically develops due to bacteria moving up the urethra and into the bladder. When bacteria move into the bladder it can rapidly multiply and cause the urine to no longer to sterile. In turn, a urinary tract infection develops.

In the majority of cases, urinary issues in cats do not necessarily mean that the cat has a urinary tract infection. UTIs only account for 2% of feline lower urinary tract diseases (more on that in a moment). Therefore, it is very possible that your feline has a urinary problem that needs treatment, it’s just not a UTI.

Diagnosing Urinary Tract Infections in Cats

Your veterinarian will perform a urinalysis which will either come back positive or negative for a UTI. The urinalysis is important in determining whether there is a bacterial infection present. Most commonly, the bacteria responsible for causing most UTIs is Escherichia coli. However, it is not the only organism that vets look for. By accurately determining which bacteria is responsible, your veterinarian will be able to quickly treat your cat’s UTI.

Additionally, in order to rule out other infections or disease, your veterinarian may also request blood work called a complete blood count (CBC).

How to Treat UTI in Cats

Again, UTIs in cats are fairly uncommon. However, if the urinalysis proves that your kitty does, in fact, have a UTI, your vet will prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. Additionally, after the antibiotics have been finished, follow up vet appointments will be necessary. These appointments will involve additional tests to ensure that the infection hasn’t spread and that the UTI has been appropriately resolved.

We cannot stress enough the importance of taking your cat’s urinary illness seriously. Urinary tract infections can quickly worsen and spread if not treated in a timely manner.

Preventing UTI in Cats

Due to the fact that there are different bacteria and infections that can cause a UTI to develop, prevention will ultimately depend on preventing to root cause. One of the most effective ways to prevent a UTI is not necessary to “prevent” it, but rather make sure to catch it early on. Being hyperaware of your cat’s “normal” behavior will help pet parents be able to recognize when something isn’t right. Of course, treating a UTI early on proves to be a much easier situation than resolving a progressed infection.

Additionally, many specialists promote a specialized diet that is designed to support urinary health. We encourage cat owners to ask their vet if a specialized diet may suit their kitty’s individual needs.

older cats are more prone to cat utiCats at Risk of UTI

Additionally, Many cat owners find themselves wondering whether or not their cat may be at a higher risk of developing a urinary tract infection. Interestingly enough, studies have found that certain cats are in fact at a predisposition for having UTIs. More specifically, UTIs are more common in older female cats as well as cats with diabetes mellitus. Also, research has found that cats who experience bladder stones are more inclined to have repeated UTIs. The older your cat is, the more susceptible they are to not only UTIs, but a slew of health conditions. Scheduling regular vet visits is always an effective way to ensure that your cat’s health stays on track, despite their age.

What is FLUTD

FLUTD is an acronym for feline lower urinary tract disease. Interestingly enough, it is one of the leading reasons why pet parents take their cats to the vet.

FLUTD refers to a group of disorders that can affect your cat’s lower urinary tract, including their bladder and urethra. Many pet parents do not know the telltale signs of feline lower urinary tract disease and, therefore, many cases are left inadvertently untreated for long periods of time.

What is Idiopathic: IFLUTD

An estimated 64% of feline lower urinary tract disease is referred to as idiopathic. In other words, the disease has an unknown origin. In these cases (the majority of FLUTD diagnoses), prevention is extremely different and often impossible.

Veterinarians use the term IFLUTD (idiopathic feline lower urinary tract disease) to describe disorders that are distinguished in the following ways:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Straining to urinate
  • Painful urination
  • Irregular and frequent amounts of urine
  • Urinating outside of the litter box

IFLUTD includes diseases such as Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC), Feline Urologic Syndrome (FUS), and Interstitial Cystitis. Although the conditions develop without a specific identifiable cause, they do have one main thing in common: inflammation. Inflammation is a massive source of disease in people and our animals alike. When left untreated, inflammation can cause severe ailments, such as cancer, to develop. Yet again, because 64% of FLUTD is considered to be idiopathic, it occurs without any physical cause.

Urinary Crystals & Urinary Stones

However, prior to your veterinarian diagnosing your cat’s lower urinary condition as being idiopathic, they will first rule out urinary crystals and stones as well as rule out the possibility of a urinary tract infection. Roughly 14% of all feline lower urinary tract diseases are a result of urinary crystals or stones.

Urinary Tract Infection

Interestingly enough, only 2% of feline lower urinary tract diseases are due to infections of the urinary tract. While UTIs are quite common amongst people, they make up for the smallest portion of feline lower urinary tract diseases.

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease: The Breakdown

As a quick refresher, here’s the breakdown:

  • 64% Idiopathic (no known cause)
  • 14% Urinary Crystals or Stone
  • 2% Infection

Many pet parents may feel that their cat has a UTI, however, it simply isn’t the case. With that said, a negative UTI diagnosis doesn’t mean your cat’s problems are solved. Chances are, they have a different urinary issue that needs to be addressed.

Symptoms of Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)

It is important for pet parents to be able to recognize the symptoms of feline lower urinary tract disease in order to catch it early on and seek appropriate treatment. While the following symptoms are those of FLUTD, they may vary (only slightly) depending on whether the condition is idiopathic or if it has an identifiable cause.

Straining to Urinate

Initially, feline lower urinary tract disease will show in ways in which your cat has difficulty urinating. This symptom is easily overlooked, yet is important for a cat owner to notice.

Painful Urination

One of the most common symptoms of FLUTD is painful urination. Both dogs and cats are often notorious at hiding the fact that they are in pain. Therefore, if your kitty vocalizing their distress while attempting to relieve themselves, you can almost guarantee that there’s a urinary issue that needs to be addressed.

Frequent Trips to the Litter Box

Sadly, FLUTD will often cause your kitty to make frequent trips to their litter box without being able to urinate.

Presence of Blood in Urine

Another telling sign of FLUTD is the presence of blood in the cat’s urine. If you notice any of the aforementioned symptoms it is important to check your cat’s litter box for blood. Be sure to make note of any changes in your feline’s urine as it will make it easier for your vet to make an accurate diagnosis.

Excessive Licking

Another symptom of FLUTD is excessive licking, particularly in their genital and abdominal regions. Feline lower urinary tract disease often causes your cat a great deal of discomfort. Licking is a way to soothe their distress but is a clinical sign that pet parents should take note of.

Urinating Outside the Litter Box

Finally, urinating in an inappropriate place (i.e outside their litter box). Sadly, this is one of the top reasons why cats are taken to the shelter. People may not understand that the cat isn’t acting out, they are simply suffering from feline lower urinary tract disease.

FLUTD Causes

In the majority of cases, FLUTD does not have a physical cause. However, in some cases, experts have been able to pinpoint specific triggers.

Environmental Causes of FLUTD

Cats experience anxiety and stressors just like we do. In some cases, these stressors can lead to the development of conditions like FLUTD.

Infection or Urinary Stones/Crystals

In cases where there is a physical cause of FLUTD, urinary stones or urinary crystals are primarily the culprit. Again, in very rare cases (~2% of the time) a UTI is to blame.

Health Conditions

Furthermore, cats with preexisting health conditions such as endocrine diseases like hyperthyroidism and diabetes mellitus have shown to be at an increased risk of developing FLUTD.

Additional Causes of Urinary Tract Issues

Finally, the following are causes are often directly linked to urinary tract problems.

  • Debris accumulation in the bladder
  • Accumulation of debris in the urethra (therefore resulting in a urethral plug)
  • Bladder infection
  • Bladder inflammation
  • Congenital abnormality
  • Incontinence from excessive drinking
  • Weak bladder
  • Injury to the urinary tract
  • A tumor in the urinary tract
  • Spinal cord disorders

FLUTD Diagnosis: What Comes Next

The first step in diagnosing feline lower urinary tract disease is acknowledging the presence of any of the aforementioned symptoms. Understanding your cat’s “normal” day to day behavior is paramount in being able to recognize when something is off.

Once you make a vet appointment, your cat’s doctor will first rule out urinary tract infection (UTI) or kidney stones. Your veterinarian may perform x-rays in order to identify the presence of any kidney or bladder stones. Once these conditions are ruled out, your veterinarian will perform a series of thorough tests to diagnose what is causing your cat’s symptoms.

Possible culprits include:

  • Disorders of the nervous system
  • Physical trauma
  • Anatomical abnormalities

cat x-ray

It is imperative that you take note of as many details of possible. This will help your veterinarian diagnose your cat’s condition quicker and get them on the road to recovery. For instance, if your cat is also suffering from constipation, it is very possible that the two issues are tied.

Lastly, your vet may perform an ultrasound which will allow them to thoroughly examine the tissue of the urinary bladder and the bladder contents.

FLUTD Treatment

Treatment of feline lower urinary tract disease will vary greatly depending on the specific disease and the underlying cause of the associated symptoms. Common treatment options include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Medications
  • Dietary changes
  • Increase in water intake
  • Urinary catheter
  • Possible surgery if a urethral blockage is present
  • Urinary acidifiers
  • IV fluid therapy when necessary

Treating Urinary Stones and/or Crystals

In order to prevent additional damage to the cat’s organs and urinary tract, in most cases, urinary stones and/or urinary crystals must be expelled through the cat’s urethra. In other situations, surgical removal of bladder stones may be necessary. Surgery may also be required if tumors are present. If the underlying cause of the disease is a congenital abnormality, your veterinarian may also need to perform a specialized procedure in order to correct the issue.

Prescription Cat Food

Your veterinarian may recommend prescription cat food which is specially formulated to increase urine volume. In turn, the food will help to flush out the cat’s bladder and urethra. This will make a significant improvement in the number of toxins and chemical irritants within the urinary tract and therefore help to reduce associated inflammation within the bladder. We encourage our readers to talk to their veterinarian about whether or not prescription cat food may be able to help with your kitty’s condition.

What if Urinary Problems Go Untreated?

Resolving your feline’s lower urinary tract issues is imperative. If urinary conditions go untreated, your cat may face a slew of horrifically painful and sometimes irreversible health issues. Unresolved feline lower urinary tract diseases can lead to complete obstruction of the urethra. These issues can also result in the inability to urinate and quickly escalate to kidney failure as well as the rupture of the bladder (both of which can be fatal). In cases where the cat survives, their quality of life can be greatly affected. Again, we cannot stress enough the importance of making sure your cat’s urinary conditions are treated straight away.

How to Prevent FLUTD

Unfortunately, it is extremely difficult and often impossible to predict feline lower urinary tract disease. However, once your cat recovers from it, pet owners can take certain steps to prevent the disease from developing again based on what caused it to happen in the first place. For instance, if your cat’s disease was caused by environmental factors, you will want to make certain necessary changes as a preventative measure.

happy healthy cat

Cat UTI: A Final Thought

We understand that your kitty means everything to you. At Simple Wag, we are all cat lovers and know that you would do just about anything to ensure your feline’s happiness and wellbeing. We also know that being a cat owner isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. In fact, it can be downright frustrating, particularly when your entire house suddenly becomes your cat’s litter box. Try not to lose your cool. There is a high possibility that your cat is suffering from feline lower urinary tract disease and it is up to you to get them the help that they so desperately need.

If any of the aforementioned information resonates with you, we highly recommend calling your veterinarian. FLUTD can be quickly resolved, but it first takes acknowledging there’s an issue that needs to be addressed.

About the author

Chelsea Hunt-Rivera

Dedicated Pet Parent who loves to create amazing content for pet owners and is helping change pet wellness as the Head of Content for