Bacterial bladder infections, often referred to as UTIs (a type of cystitis) tend to develop due to an underlying condition. Common causes could be diabetes, kidney disease or stress. UTIs affect both males and females in the bladder or urethra.
A UTI in cats can be painful and uncomfortable so it’s important to always keep an eye out for changes in your cat’s urinary habits. Find out what to watch for and how to treat bladder infections in cats as we examine the typical causes and diagnoses.
Common Symptoms of Bladder Infections and other types of Cystitis in Cats
Cats, like dogs with UTIs tend to make more frequent toilet trips. You might then notice any of the following:
- Blood in your cat’s urine
- Your cat straining to urinate or crying out in pain while urinating
- An increase in the licking of the urinary opening
Some may eventually avoid using the litter box altogether because they’ve begun to associate it with the pain caused by the UTI. They may then choose to urinate in other places around the home. Popular hotspots include bathtubs, sinks, and on clean laundry.
Cats, particularly males, may also vomit and appear more lethargic as the problem worsens. Cats will display similar symptoms whether or not the UTI is acute or chronic. Some cats with chronic UTIs, however, may show no signs of disease.
Typical Causes of Bladder Infections in Cats
Your vet will need a urine sample to make a diagnosis of a bladder infection in cats. Here are some common causes:
Uroliths (Urinary Stones)
Urine naturally has minerals within it that can clump together to form tiny crystals or large stones in a cat’s bladder. These clumps can cause irritation to the lining of the bladder or urethra.
This can lead to blood in the urine along with pain while your cat urinates. Your vet will need to carry out urine tests and take x-rays, or an ultrasound to make the diagnosis of urinary stones.
Depending on the type of stone, your vet may prescribe a special, stone-dissolving diet. Occasionally, surgery may also be necessary.
Feline Idiopathic Cystitis
The inside of a cat’s lower urinary tract can occasionally become irritated without an infection or the presence of any stones. The irritation could be the result of stress or a reaction to a change in diet.
Diabetes, Kidney and Thyroid Problems
There are further health conditions that can affect the health of a cat’s urinary tract. Issues related to diabetes and the thyroid could be the cause. Kidney disease and diabetes are more common in cats aged over 10 years. As a result, these cats are at greater risk of infection.
Although rare, cats can develop tumors in their urinary tract. Your vet would have to carry out urine and blood tests to diagnose these kinds of conditions.
How Vets Diagnose Bladder Infections in Cats
Vets will make a diagnosis of a UTI in a cat by collecting a urine sample and checking it for bacteria. This all happens through a process known as cystocentesis. Urine gets drawn directly from the bladder with a fine needle to avoid any contamination.
Should there be bacteria present in the urine, your vet may then run a culture and sensitivity test to isolate and identify the bacteria. This helps them decide on the most appropriate antibiotics for your cat’s type of infection.
Sometimes, acute conditions, particularly first-time infections or those that show up suddenly, may get treated with first-line antibiotics without first trying to discover which bacteria are the cause. There is nearly always a need for testing when the infection is chronic.
A dangerous secondary complication of a UTI (or other cystitis) is a urethral obstruction (or “blocked” cat) Sometimes, a male cat’s urethra can get totally blocked, either by stones or by a build-up of tissue and minerals known as a “urethral plug.”
A cat with this kind of obstruction will be unable to pass any urine at all. This is absolutely life-threatening, and you should consider an obstruction of the urethra to be a medical emergency. Contact your vet straight away. The signs of a UTI, and the signs of an actual obstruction can be quite similar. So – if you have a male cat that is acting abnormal with his urination, you must make sure he is actually producing urine when he tries to urinate.
Treatment for UTIs
UTIs nearly always get treated with antibiotics. For repeat offenders, vets often also recommend switching to an all-canned-food diet in order to increase the water-intake of the cat. The more water a cat takes in, the more dilute the urine is. And the more dilute the urine is, the faster the bladder is flushed out, which reduces the chance of UTIs and other types of cystitis.
If your cat is very uncomfortable, your vet may offer anti-inflammatory pain treatment. This can happen if there’s a delay while awaiting any test results. The treatment for acute infections tends to involve a relatively short course of antibiotics. Chronic UTIs may need longer antibiotic courses.
You may see products marketed for cats containing cranberry and labeled as treatments for UTIs. Research has not found them to be effective. Altering the pH of your cat’s urine, which cranberries can do, may cause unnecessary complications. These include crystals and stones. Vets do not recommend using cranberry juice or cranberry products to treat UTIs in cats.
How to Prevent Bladder Infections in Your Cat
Healthy cats with strong immune systems may be able to fend off a mild UTI. If you see any symptoms, it’s likely your cat will need treatment and you should take them to see the vet.
Most cats will fully recover within a week or so. They may though need to stay on a canned diet for longer. Your vet may take a further urine sample after treatment so that they can give a complete all-clear.
Some cats do have repeated UTIs. This may mean more testing to work out the underlying cause.
You can help keep your cat healthier by encouraging them to drink water regularly. Overweight cats are at a higher risk of cystitis so you should keep your cat at a healthy weight and ensure they get enough exercise. Stress can lead to inflammation of the bladder lining and infections. Ensure your cat’s life is as carefree as possible.
Talk to a Qualified Vet
If your pet displays distress that could be the result of a bladder infection in cats, you should seek the advice of a vet. They will then be able to conduct a series of tests, make a diagnosis and provide you with the most appropriate treatment for your cat or dog.
If you have any concerns about UTIs, talk to one of our experienced vets as soon as possible.