True urinary tract infections in cats are very rare. Instead, in cats, we see a range of conditions which can cause cystitis, referred to as feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD).
FLUTD is any disorder affecting the bladder or urethra of cats. It is common, affecting approximately 1-3% of cats each year. Both male and female cats can be affected. Male cats are more prone to obstructions by crystals or plugs, due to their long narrow urethra.
How are Cat Urinary Tract Infections caused?
There are many risk factors identified for cats with FLUTD, a combination likely plays a role in the development of the disease. These are:
- Urolithiasis (formation of crystals and urinary stones in the bladder or urethra)
- Urethral plugs (a combination of protein, cells, crystals)
- Idiopathic cystitis — stress and dietary changes can increase the risk. Many cats will have repeated episodes, but we cannot predict which cats will have relapses. Causes of stress can include multi-cat households, abrupt changes in routine, new pets and territorial disputes.
- Disease such as diabetes and hyperthyroidism can lead to urinary tract infections in older cats
Less common causes include injury to the urinary tract, abnormal anatomy and tumours.
Symptoms of a Cat UTI
Symptoms of a cat urinary infection can include;
- Frequent urination
- Blood in the urine
- Painful urination (sometimes crying out while passing urine)
- Urinating in the house or strange places
- Excessive licking of the genital area
How is a Cat Urinary Tract Infection Diagnosed?
A combination of tests may be required to diagnose a cat UTI, as it can be difficult to diagnose which factors are involved. Your cat will be examined in a free consultation at Animal Trust where the veterinary surgeon will assess the size of your cat’s bladder and kidneys. They will also examine if there is any discomfort in these areas for your pet and check for a fever.
Following the physical examination, urinalysis is used to assess the acidity of the urine and check for the presence of crystals, bleeding, sugar, infection and inflammation. A urine culture test may also be carried our if bacteria are detected in the urine sample.
More diagnostic tests including X-rays and ultrasound scans can be useful to help detect urinary stones in the cat, tumours and to assess the thickness of the bladder wall. Performing blood tests will help to check the cat’s kidney function and to decide infection or any other underlying causes of disease.
Treatment for a urinary infection in cats
Treatment for a urinary infection in cats is dependent on the cause of the infection. If the cause is believed to be a combination of factors, a combination of treatments may be used. Many of these will be longer-term management options to prevent a recurrence, rather than a short term fix.
- Pain relief. Anti-inflammatories and a morphine related pain killer are often used for cats suffering from cystitis. If bacteria are detected, antibiotics will be prescribed and the entire course must be completed.
- Obstruction. If an obstruction of the urinary tract is detected in the cat, initial emergency treatment will be aimed at relieving this under anaesthetic and hospitalisation for intravenous fluids. This involves placing a urinary catheter up the urethra to allow the bladder to be drained and flushed. If a catheter is unable to be passed, surgery to shorten the urethra may have to be carried out. If your cat has had an episode of obstruction, we may prescribe muscle relaxants to prevent spasm of the urethra and reduce the risk of further obstructions.
- Feed supplements. These will help to preserve and support the protective layer of the bladder. This layer prevents the nerves in the bladder wall being exposed to urine, which can be painful. Supplements used to support cats include; Cystophan and Cystaid.
- Prescription diets. When the cause is found to be related to crystals/urinary stones, we will advise for your cat to be fed a special urinary diet. This has to be fed as the only food to have its beneficial effects. It works by making the urine more acidic, which dissolves the stones. The diet also encourages thirst to increase your cat’s water consumption and dilute the urine. The urinary food will be required long term as crystals can reoccur.
How to prevent a cat urinary problem
Preventing urinary infection in cats is aimed at addressing behavioural issues and helping to reduce stress for the cat. As an owner, there are various ways you can help your cat at home and they include;
- Providing fresh water regularly. Fresh, clean drinking water is essential for your cat and a water fountain is ideal as they like running water. The next best thing is a large dog bowl so there is a large surface area for your cat to drink from. Feeding wet food will also help to increase your cat’s water consumption.
- Clean litter trays. Providing an adequate number of clean litter trays (one more than the number of cats) with the litter the cats prefer, in quiet, safe areas of the house.
- Changes in routine/providing enrichment. Minimising changes to cats daily routine and providing them with plenty of toys and games will help to keep them occupied and distracted.
- Reduce stress. Pheromone diffusers such as Feliway and essential oils diffusers such as Pet Remedy can help to relax stressed cats. Where stress may be caused by children, other pets or other cats in their territory, ensure your cat has somewhere he/she can avoid conflict. If necessary place curtains or blinds to prevent other cats staring into your house. Provide scratching posts and allow time for your cat to play.