Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are one of the more common issues seen in cats, especially as they age. A variety of factors are known to influence this condition, including kidney disease, diabetes, obesity, sex (females are generally more prone to getting UTIs), and bladder stones.
An UTI is a bacterial infection in the bladder or urine. Sometimes, UTIs can involve the kidneys, as well.
UTIs in people can be painful, and can cause an increased frequency or urgency in urination, blood in the urine, and a change in the urine’s odor. Many of these are seen in cats with UTIs, as well.
With some knowledge of how to look for possible causes of UTIs, it may be possible to help prevent a UTI in your cat. Here are some tips about how to look for causes and signs that your cat might have a UTI, as well as how to prevent them.
The 5 Signs of Possible Urinary Tract Infections in Cats
1. Color Changes in the Litter
A definitive diagnosis of a UTI is done by your vet—using a urine culture, in most cases. You may be able to collect a urine sample from a special litter at home, for this purpose, but because contamination is common for samples collected this way, it is not recommended. Whereas, many vets will collect a sterile sample in the clinic, through a process called cystocentesis.
For at-home monitoring, however, certain litter types can show color changes that might be early indicators of your cat having a UTI. These can be good options if your cat has other issues that a UTI may make worse (e.g., chronic kidney disease), or if your cat is prone to UTIs to begin with. Even ordinary cat litter can show color changes if your cat has blood in their urine.
2. Overweight Cats Appear to Be at Greater Risk
Is your cat overweight? If so, being overweight appears to increase the risk of cats developing a urinary tract infection. Anecdotally, this seems to stem from the fact that overweight cats may have more trouble grooming the perineal region (under their tail, and around their butt), which can allow dirt, dried poop, litter, and other bacterial-laden items to accumulate—which can cause an infection in the urinary tract.
When monitoring your cat at home, watch for constant attempts to groom back there— even if they can’t reach it—as this can indicate the pain and discomfort associated with a UTI.
The good news is you can help to prevent UTIs from home, especially if your cat is on the larger size. And it’s simple! Using unscented, pet-safe baby wipes, try to clean the area daily with some gentle washing and wiping. If your cat if long-haired, consider keeping the hair in that area trimmed a bit shorter, to make it less likely for debris to stick to the haircoat in that region.
3. Female Cats Appear to Be at Greater Risk
If your cat is female, watch for things like excessive licking of their perineum, or vocalizing while urinating, which might be signs she has a UTI. Unfortunately, female cats have a shorter urethra, which is the tube that empties the bladder. This means that bacteria has a shorter distance to travel to infect the bladder, which makes urinary tract infections more common in female cats, than in males.
Unfortunately, not much can be done here as prevention, other than keeping a closer eye on your female cat’s urine and litter box habits.
4. Sticky Urine
Because diabetic cats often have spikes in their blood sugar, this sugar often ends up being filtered out by the kidneys. As a result, a diabetic cat’s urine contains higher amounts of sugar, and can feel sticky. Sugar provides an ideal growth platform for many types of bacteria, therefore placing diabetic cats at higher risk of developing urinary tract infections.
You can help to prevent this, however, by ensuring that your diabetic cat receives their insulin as prescribed—both the dose, and the timing. This ensures that your cat’s blood sugar is better controlled, and is, therefore, less available to spill into the urine and allow bacteria to breed.
5. Shiny Urine
Crystals can form in urine and cause it to look shiny, especially as it dries. If you notice your cat’s urine looking shiny, your cat might have urinary crystals, which can be an underlying cause of a UTI. Similarly, so can bladder stones. If you think this might be the case, the next step is to ask your vet to do imaging of your cat’s urinary tract through either x-rays, an ultrasound, or both—as some crystals and stones will not show up on one image, but will on the other.
What Else Should You Know About UTIs in Cats?
Fortunately, urinary tract infections aren’t contagious to other cats in the household! However, as a preventative measure, there is never any harm in having good litter box husbandry.
This means scooping the litter at least once a day to keep it fresh (think about if you didn’t flush your toilet after each time it was used!), and aiming to fully wash down the litter box once a month. If the litter box is over a year old, consider getting a new one as another way to keep things clean and fresh.
Are Home Supplements a Good Treatment Option for UTIs in Cats?
In recent years, a lot of attention in human medicine has focused on nutritional supplements to help prevent various medical issues. For urinary tract infections, two have received particularly close attention: polysulfated glycoaminoglycans (PSGAGs), and cranberry supplements.
PSGAGs are found in the wall or lining of the bladder, and believed to play a protective role in creating a barrier that makes it difficult for bacteria to adhere to the bladder surface. In humans, sometimes these are actually placed directly into the bladder, via a catheter, to help with UTIs, though this is not commonly done in veterinary medicine. Instead, some vets will recommend oral or injectable forms of PSAGs, as a possible preventative measure.
Similarly, cranberry is believed to have some possible protective benefits in preventing UTIs in humans, though the research is a bit mixed on how effective it actually is. There are a few supplements made specifically with cranberry extracts designed to help prevent UTIs in cats, however, which may be worth considering and asking your vet about for your cat.
While urinary tract infections in cats are infrequently life threatening, and generally very treatable, it is worth knowing what signs to look for, what can cause them, and what preventative measures exist. Urinary tract infections aren’t normal, so definitely contact your vet if you have concerns that your cat may be experiencing one.
If your cat has repeated UTIs, it is time to look for other causes, such as urinary stones or crystals that may be contributing to repeat infections—or rather, making the initial infection difficult to treat.
Armed with some knowledge, and a good relationship with your cat’s vet, tackling UTIs head on can be quite doable!
Featured Image Credit: Tiplyashina Evgeniya, Shutterstock
- The 5 Signs of Possible Urinary Tract Infections in Cats
- What Else Should You Know About UTIs in Cats?
- Are Home Supplements a Good Treatment Option for UTIs in Cats?