It may surprise some pet parents to learn that many health conditions that can disrupt our day to day lives can also affect our beloved four-legged friends. From anxiety disorders to hip dysplasia, our pets can suffer from just about any ailment that their owners may face. Unfortunately for cats and dogs (and their owners), urinary tract infections and diseases of the urinary tract not only exist, but can cause a significant amount of distress and pain. Even worse, our pets aren't able to tell us what is hurting them and how to help.
That's where readily available information becomes incredibly important. In this article, we will shed light on how your cat's behavior is often a direct indication that they are experiencing urinary and bladder problems. We will also cover what to look for, what to do next, and any preventative measures to consider.
Additionally, if your cat's UTI diagnosis comes back negative, stay tuned... There may be another reason your cat is having urinary problems. Not all symptoms associated with urinary tract infections in cats are actually diagnosed as such. Let's begin!
What is UTI: Urinary Tract Infections Explained
So what exactly is a urinary tract infection? Also known as a UTI, a urinary tract infection is defined as an infection of the urinary system, bladder, or urethra. The infection also has the potential to affect the kidneys, making an accurate diagnosis imperative in order to prevent damage to the vital organs. Furthermore, if a urinary tract infection goes without treatment it can cause significant cell damage from the invasion of microorganism bacterium. Keeping that in mind, the key word to keep in mind is infection. There are a number of other bladder diseases that are not considered UTIs. More on that in a moment.
Bladder Infection vs. UTI
Many people use the terms bladder infection and UTI interchangeably, however, they are not entirely the same. A bladder infection is a lower UTI infection. In other words, all bladder infections are UTI's, however, not all UTI's are all bladder infections. Furthermore, if you have an upper UTI, timely medical attention is imperative in order to prevent a kidney infection from developing.
Cat UTI Symptoms
Symptoms of UTI are comparable to those found in other urinary tract disorders. These symptoms include:
- Painful urination (cats may be vocal and cry out)
- Difficulty urinating
- Blood in the urine
- Urinating much more often than usual
- Urinating in inappropriate locations, i.e not in their litter box
- Blockage of urine flow (as well as a blockage in the urethra)
- Licking the genitals
- Urine odor that is stronger than normal
- A thick, hardened, contracted bladder wall which can be felt by the veterinarian during a physical exam
Again, if your cat is having any of the aforementioned symptoms it is imperative that you seek a proper diagnosis from your vet. Even if the UTI diagnosis comes back negative, it's likely that there is another matter that needs to be addressed.
Typically, a UTI happens when bacteria moves up the urethra and into the bladder. Healthy urine in the bladder is naturally supposed to be sterile. However, when the bacteria from the urethra enters the bladder, they can grow and multiply, resulting in a urinary tract infection.
In many cases, urinary tract problems do not necessarily mean a urinary tract infection in cats. Urinary tract disorders are fairly common in cats whereas urinary tract infections are relatively uncommon.
Diagnosing a Cat UTI
Your vet will diagnose either a positive or negative UTI through a urinalysis. The urinalysis is a detailed examination of the properties of the urine and will be necessary for determining if there is a bacterial infection present. The most common organism know to cause UTIs is Escherichia coli, however, it's not the only one responsible for the infection. It is important that the veterinarian identify the exact organisms involved in order to treat the infection appropriately.
Your veterinarian may also order for a complete blood count (CBC) in order to check the cat's blood levels and identify if their symptoms may be due to a different underlying disease or infection.
Cat Urinary Tract Infection Treatment
If you receive a positive UTI diagnosis, your veterinarian will prescribe antibiotics in order to treat the infection. Follow up appointments will be necessary in order to make sure that the infection has been eliminated and hasn't spread to any other organs or parts of the body.
Some people may believe that drinking a glass of cranberry juice will do the trick to relieve their own UTI so treating their cat's UTI must be simple as well. Please understand that this isn't the case. Cat urinary tract infections must be taken seriously and treated thoroughly in order to prevent serious conditions, including kidney disease, from developing.
How to Prevent UTI in Cats
Preventing UTIs in cats will ultimately depend on what initially caused the infection and what kind of infection you're dealing with. However, as a cat parent, ensuring that your kitty is receiving a well-balanced diet and staying aware of any changes in their behavior are two easy ways to catch a UTI and treat it before it gets worse. Many experts encourage specific nutritional formulations that are designed to support lower urinary tract health. Your veterinarian will let you know if there's anything specific you can do for your individual cat in order to prevent urinary tract infections from developing.
Cats Predisposed to UTIs
Additionally, it is important to understand whether your cat is at a higher risk for UTIs. Studies have found that older female cats and cats with diabetes mellitus are at a higher risk of developing UTIs. Additionally, cats that have bladder stones are prone to repeated UTIs. Scheduling regular vet visits and having appropriate urine tests performed will help ensure that your older kitty's body is functioning properly.
What is FLUTD
Feline lower urinary tract disease, or FLUTD, is among the most common reasons why a cat is taken to the vet. It is a term used to describe a group of disorders or diseases that affect a cat’s lower urinary tract, including the bladder and urethra. Feline lower urinary tract disease is also one of the most common reasons why cats are taken to the shelter as it causes inappropriate urination. However, many pet owners may not realize the extent of the disease or its severe consequences if left untreated.
What is Idiopathic: IFLUTD
The vast majority of feline lower urinary tract disease (an estimated 64%) is referred to as idiopathic. The term idiopathic refers to diseases that have an unknown origin. Idiopathic diseases may or may not have developed spontaneously, thus making them difficult to prevent.
Your vet may refer to your cat's conditions as IFLUTD, or idiopathic feline lower urinary tract disease. The term is used to represent disorders that are characterized in the following ways:
- Blood in the urine
- Difficult or painful urination
- Irregular, frequent amount of urine
- Urinating in improper locations (not making it to the litter box)
Idiopathic feline lower urinary tract disease includes diseases such as Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC), Feline Urologic Syndrome (FUS), and Interstitial Cystitis. The diseases develop due to inflammation of the bladder and/or the urethra. Again, because of the fact that they are considered idiopathic, the disease occurs without any physical cause.
Urinary Crystals or Stones
Before diagnosing your cat's lower urinary problems as idiopathic, your vet will first rule out urinary crystals or stones as well as rule out a urinary infection. Studies show that approximately 14% of all feline lower urinary tract diseases are caused by urinary crystals or stones.
Infection of the Urinary Tract
It may surprise cat owners to learn that only 2% of FLUTD is due to infection.
Here's an easy breakdown:
Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease
- 64% Idiopathic (no known cause)
- 14% Urinary Crystals or Stone
- 2% Infection
As you can see, a negative UTI diagnosis doesn't mean that there isn't a serious issue that needs to be addressed.
Additionally, feline lower urinary tract disease affects both female and male cats. The onset of the disease can occur at any age but is most commonly seen in cats between one and four years old.
Symptoms of FLUTD
The symptoms of feline lower urinary tract disease will vary slightly depending on whether the disease is idiopathic (without an identifiable physical cause) or whether it has developed from stones or an infection. However, all FLUTD possess the following symptoms.
Straining to Urinate
FLUTD will often initially develop as a strain to urinate. Your cat may appear as though they are desperately trying to urinate (usually at first in their litter box and then later anywhere they can) but to no avail. It is important to recognize this symptom. Although it may be easy to overlook, if not treated appropriately the constant straining to urinate can lead to the development of severe conditions including the formation of bladder stones or a urethral plug. This is especially important to know if you have a male cat. Male cats are at an increased risk of developing a urethral plug, a life-threatening ailment that eventually results in the cat losing the ability to urinate.
Another telltale sign of FLUTD is painful urination. As heartbreaking as it is, it's fairly common for cats with urinary tract disorders to scream out as they attempt to urinate. Pet parents must take this physical symptom seriously. Most dogs and cats are notorious for hiding pain. If your cat is vocalizing their pain, chances are, they are in a substantial amount of distress.
Feline lower urinary tract disease will also cause the cat to experience frequent urges to urinate. You may see your cat running to the litter box only to small a very small amount of urine (and sometimes no urine) each time.
Blood in Urine
Another telltale sign of a lower urinary tract disease is the presence of blood in the cat's urine. If your cat is experiencing any other symptoms of FLUTD, be sure to be on the lookout and check their litter box for clots of blood. Make note of as many details as possible and report them all to your vet. The more information your veterinarian has, the quicker they will be able to make an accurate diagnosis and the sooner your cat will be able to receive the necessary treatment.
Excessive Licking: Genital and Abdominal Regions
You may also find that your feline friend is excessively licking their genitals and abdominal areas. Again, it's likely that your cat is in a substantial amount of pain and/or discomfort. Licking is their way to relieve the pain and attempt to soothe any irritation. Unfortunately, excessively licking these areas can quite easily cause more problems to arise as more bacteria is now involved.
Urinating in Inappropriate Areas
It is important to take note of whether your cat is urinating in places other than their litter box, particularly on cooler surfaces such as tile. Sure, there are certainly behavioral issues that may explain why your cat is acting out. However, urinating in inappropriate areas is also a clear sign of lower urinary tract problems. Take note of these instances and their frequency and report your findings to your veterinarian.
As we previously mentioned, the vast majority of feline lower urinary tract disease has no known physical cause. However, experts have been able to correlate the onset of the disease with situational changes. Let us explain.
Just like people, cats can experience stressors that disrupt their day to day lives. These stresses may not be extremely apparent to owners and can be something as simple as having a guest over, the introduction of a new pet, or changes going on within the home.
Infection or Urinary Crystals/Stones
When there is a physical cause linked to disease of the urinary tract, it is most often either urinary crystal and/or stones or (in rare situations) a urinary tract infection. Your veterinarian will diagnose the exact cause first and then develop a proper treatment plan.
Additionally, cats with certain preexisting health conditions including endocrine diseases such as hyperthyroidism and diabetes mellitus have shown to be at an increased risk of developing lower urinary tract problems. Furthermore, certain cancers can also cause subsequent lower urinary tract disease.
Cats Prone to FLUTD
Studies have also found that while feline lower urinary tract disease can develop in both male and female cats, male cats are at an increased risk for urethral blockages due to their narrower urethras.
Additionally, veterinarians rarely diagnose feline lower urinary tract disease in cats younger than one-year-old. Urinary tract disease is typically diagnosed in cats between one and four years old.
Additional Causes of Urinary Tract Problems
Finally, the following are causes are often directly linked to urinary tract problems.
- Debris accumulation in the bladder
- Debris accumulation in the urethra resulting in a urethral plug
- Bladder inflammation
- Bladder infection
- Incontinence from excessive drinking
- Congenital abnormality
- Weak bladder
- Injury to the urinary tract
- A tumor in the urinary tract
- Spinal cord problems
What To Do Next: Diagnosing FLUTD
If you have noticed any of the aforementioned symptoms, make an appointment with your vet. Your veterinarian will diagnose FLUTD once illnesses such as a urinary tract infection (UTI) or kidney stones have been ruled out.
As we previously mentioned, your vet will need a urine sample in order to first rule out a urinary tract infection. Again, only 2% of FLUTD are actually UTIs. Next, the veterinarian will test for stones or crystals in the urinary tract.
Next, your veterinarian will perform a detailed physical examination. The exam will help determine what factors are contributing to the symptoms. Possibilities include:
- Physical trauma
- Nervous system disorders
- Anatomical abnormalities
It is also possible that something as simple as constipation is causing the symptoms. This is where the information you are able to provide helps greatly.
Additionally, your vet may also order for bladder X-rays. The X-rays will be able to identify any kidney or bladder stones. Finally, ultrasounds may be necessary in order to examine the tissue of the urinary bladder as well as the contents of the bladder.
Again, because the spectrum of varying urinary diseases differs so greatly, treatment will also vary based on the diagnosis.
- Antibiotics and medications
- Changes to your cat's diet
- Increase in water intake
- Urinary catheter and/or surgery to remove a urethral blockage (particularly necessary in male cats)
- Urinary acidifiers
- Fluid therapy
Treatment for Urinary Crystals or Stones
In most cases, the urinary crystals or stones will need to be expelled through the urethra in order to prevent further damage from occurring.
Additionally, in some cases, surgery to either remove bladder stones or tumors may also be necessary. Surgery may also be recommended to correct a congenital abnormality if it is determined that is the underlying issue.
Changes to Your Cat's Diet
We wanted to briefly get more in-depth regarding changes to your cat's diet that your veterinarian may recommend. There is prescription cat food available that aims to flush of the bladder and urethra by means of increasing the cat's urine volume. By flushing out the bladder and urethra, the amount of toxins and chemical irritants within the urinary tract reduces significantly. Therefore, the potential for urinary tract stones and the development of inflammation in the bladder and urinary tract can also significantly reduce. Your vet will prescribe the specially formulated food based on your cat's final diagnosis.
Untreated Urinary Tract Problems
We cannot stress enough the importance of resolving your cat's urinary tract problems. Untreated FLUTD has the potential to cause partial or complete obstruction of the urethra. The damage and obstruction of the urethra lead to the inability to urinate which can quickly cause kidney failure and/or rupture of the bladder. Both kidney failure and the rupture of the bladder can be fatal. Even in cases where the cat survives, there is a strong likelihood of irreversible damage that can significantly reduce the cat's quality of life. Treating FLUTD in a timely manner is imperative.
Preventing Future FLUTD
The prevention of feline lower urinary tract disease ultimately means the prevention of the disease recurring. It is nearly impossible to predict and prevent the first onset of the disease. If it is determined that environmental factors lead to the urinary problems, you will obviously be advised to make appropriate changes.
Cat UTI: The Bottom Line
At the end of the day, we know that you want the very best for your four-legged companion. With that being said, no one said that being a cat owner was going to be easy. When problems arise it is important to recognize what is wrong in order to act efficiently and appropriately. Urinary tract problems are no different. We completely understand how stressful it can be to have your once perfectly trained kitty suddenly urinate all throughout the house to no end. Please, try not panic and rather consider the strong possibility of a feline lower urinary tract disease. Furthermore, recognize that your beloved furry friend is likely in a substantial amount of pain.
Time is of the essence. If for any reason you believe that your cat may be suffering from lower urinary tract problems, call your vet and make an appointment. Treatment is available and relief is in sight, but only once properly diagnosed. Don't let the condition progress, hoping it will resolve on its own. Get your cat the help they need and ensure that their urinary health is intact. We sincerely hope your kitty feels better soon!