Cat Urinary Tract Problems and Infections

Cat owners tend to be very familiar with their pets' bathroom habits, thanks to litterbox duty. Cleaning the box isn't anyone's favorite chore but it can be an excellent way to keep an eye on your pet's urinary tract health.

If your cat's bathroom habits change, it might be a sign that they have a urinary tract problem.

Cats of any age can have problems with their lower urinary tracts. Some cats are prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs) that go away after taking antibiotics. Other cats get blockages and bladder stones that need surgery to fix.

Learn more about cat UTIs and other urinary tract problems and how to treat them.

What Are The Symptoms of Urinary Tract Problems in Cats?

The lower urinary tract includes the bladder and urethra. Urine is formed and stored in the bladder until it flows out of your cat's body through the urethra.

When those body parts get infected or obstructed, your cat won't be able to urinate normally. You might notice some of the following symptoms when your cat has a UTI or other urinary tract problem:

  • Frequent urination, but only passing a small amount of urine 
  • Urinating outside the litter box 
  • Blood in the urine 
  • Straining to urinate 
  • Crying out in pain while urinating 
  • Increased licking of urinary opening

If you notice these symptoms, you should call your vet right away to discuss them. This could be a sign that your cat needs immediate medical attention.

What Causes Lower Urinary Tract Problems in Cats?

When you take your cat to the vet, they may have questions about your cat's symptoms to try and narrow down the cause of the problem. There are several common reasons for urinary tract problems in cats, including the following.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)

Cats get UTIs when there is a bacterial infection in their bladder or urethra. Your vet will need a urine sample to diagnose this condition.

Uroliths (Urinary Stones)

Urine naturally contains minerals that can clump up and form tiny crystals, and even large stones, in your cat's bladder. They can irritate the lining of the bladder or urethra and cause bloody urine and pain while urinating. 

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Your vet will need to do urine tests, x-rays, or an ultrasound to diagnose urinary stones.

Urethral Obstruction

In some cases, your cat's urethra can be completely blocked, either by stones or by a build-up of minerals and tissue called a "urethral plug." 

A cat with an obstruction like this won't be able to pass urine at all. An obstruction of the urethra is a medical emergency and you should call your vet right away.

Feline Idiopathic Cystitis

Occasionally, the inside of a cat's lower urinary tract will get irritated without an infection or stones being present. Sometimes it can be a symptom of stress or a reaction to a change in diet.

Other Causes

Other health conditions can affect cats' urinary tract health. Diabetes and thyroid issues are sometimes to blame. In rare cases, cats get tumors in their urinary tract. Your vet will need to do blood and urine tests to diagnose these conditions.

Can Both Male and Female Cats Have Urinary Tract Problems?

All cats can develop urinary tract problems. However, male cats are more likely to have urethral obstructions. They have longer, thinner urethras than female cats. The narrower passage can get blocked more easily because of its size and shape.

What Are The Treatments for Lower Urinary Tract Problems?

When you bring your cat to the vet, they will examine your pet for any injuries or physical problems that might be contributing to the urinary problems.

The treatment will differ depending on the diagnosis.

Antibiotics Can Treat Cat UTIs 

Your vet will prescribe the right medication for your pet. They can advise you on diet changes that might prevent future UTIs.

Clearing Obstructions in the Urethra

The vet will insert a tube into the urinary opening and flush the area with sterile fluid to clear the obstruction. Follow-up care may be required as well.

Special Diet

In other cases, a special diet can dissolve stones in your cat's bladder. Your vet may suggest special food to prevent more stones from forming in the future.

Treatments for Other Health Problems

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If your cat has diabetes, thyroid disease, or cancer, talk to your vet about treatment options.

Cat urinary tract issues are serious and you should not ignore the symptoms. Call your vet if you think your cat has a UTI or other urinary tract problem. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on February 13, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

American Veterinary Medical Association: "Feline lower urinary tract disease."

Cornell Feline Health Center: "Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease."

Merck Manuals: "Bacterial Urinary Tract Infections," "Urinary Stones (Uroliths, Calculi) in Cats."

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