Urinary problems are common in cats of all ages. Learn some of the symptoms of feline urinary tract infections so you can more easily recognize when your cat is sick.
How to Recognize a Urinary Tract Problem
The symptoms for almost every condition that affects the feline urinary tract are similar. This can make it impossible to find out what is wrong with your cat without specific testing.
Although urinary problems are very common in cats, a true urinary tract infection is not the most frequent cause of illness. Many cats suffer from a condition called feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC) or the older name, feline urologic syndrome (FUS). According to the American Association of Feline Practitioners, the symptoms of a urinary tract infection can be identical to those of feline idiopathic cystitis and include:
- Blood in the urine
- Straining to urinate
- Frequent urination
- Excessive licking of the urinary opening
- Urinating outside the litter box
Many cats with a urinary tract infection will be in pain. It can be difficult to identify whether a cat is in pain or not because they may not act how you would expect. Chicago Animal Hospital outlines several signs of pain in cats which can include:
- Vocalizing (this can include growling, hissing, moaning, or even purring more than usual)
- Lack of vocalization (in a cat that would normally make noise)
- Licking at a painful area
- Decreased appetite
- Lack of grooming
- Hiding or not moving around
- Less play than usual
Most cats that are suffering from a urinary tract infection will not have symptoms of generalized illness (fever, loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting) because the infection is limited to a small part of the body.
Cats Who Are More at Risk
Most cats that develop urinary tract symptoms do not have a true urinary tract infection. Feline idiopathic cystitis is a more common condition. However, certain groups of cats are more likely to have a urinary tract infection. These include:
- Cats over 10 years of age
- Female cats
- Cats with other medical problems (diabetes, kidney disease, obesity)
- Cats who have had urinary tract surgery
What Else Could Be Causing the Symptoms?
Since urinary problems are so common in cats, it is tough to know what else could be causing the symptoms. Some other common conditions that can be easily mistaken for a urinary tract infection include:
- Feline idiopathic cystitis
- Urinary tract obstruction
- Bladder stones
- Bladder tumors
- Kidney disease
A Note About Urinary Tract Obstructions
For some unfortunate cats with urinary tract disease, a plug of mucous, crystals, or other debris can form and lodge in the urethra. This blocks the exit from the bladder and completely obstructs the flow of urine. Urinary tract obstructions occur almost exclusively in male cats due to their anatomy. This is an emergency and you should call your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your cat has a urinary tract obstruction. Some additional symptoms of a urinary tract obstruction include:
- Urinating only a few drops at a time
- Jumping in and out of the litter box with no urine spots found
- Lethargy or weakness
- Pain (more than with only an infection)
Diagnosing a Urinary Tract Infection in Felines
For any suspected illness, your veterinarian will initially perform a physical exam. This can determine if your cat has a urinary tract obstruction, dehydration, fever, pain, or swollen kidneys. If your vet suspects a urinary tract infection, she will likely recommend a urinalysis or a urine culture.
Obtaining a Urine Sample
The urine sample for these tests can be obtained in one of several ways. Many cats with a urinary tract infection will urinate frequently, and may even empty their bladders while on the exam table, in their pet carrier, or on the floor. Your vet can collect this urine, but it is not necessarily the cleanest sample.
A few cats will urinate when your vet feels the bladder. If your cat does this, it may be possible to catch the urine in a sterile container. For most cats, the vet will recommend a procedure called a cystocentesis in which a needle is inserted through the skin and into the bladder.
Confirming the Diagnosis
A urinalysis will measure several parameters in the urine. While the results do not completely confirm a urinary tract infection, findings such as an increased number of white blood cells in the urine or bacteria seen in the urine will support the diagnosis.
According to the Mercola pet website, a urine culture is a more definitive test for a urinary tract infection. The sample is typically sent to a laboratory where it is placed into a plate of culture media. The plate is incubated and checked for bacterial growth. Once bacterial colonies grow, they are identified and then tested to see which antibiotics they are susceptible to. This process usually takes several days, so your veterinarian may start treatment before the results are back.
Ruling out Other Conditions
Your veterinarian may also recommend testing to rule out other conditions, particularly if your cat has other medical problems or a history of frequent or recurrent urinary tract infections.
When You Cannot Get a Urine Sample
For some cats that have been urinating frequently, it will be impossible to obtain a urine sample for testing. Although this is not ideal, your veterinarian may start treatment for a presumptive urinary tract infection. You may still need to have your cat's urine tested at a later time.
Treating a Urinary Tract Infection
As outlined by Dr. Jennifer L. Garcia in an article for Veterinary Medicine, for an uncomplicated urinary tract infection, your veterinarian will probably prescribe an antibiotic for at least seven days. Even though your cat may seem to be back to normal in a few days, make sure that you finish all the medication.
Treatment for the Pain
If your cat is in pain, you may also need to administer a medication to help her feel better. Your veterinarian may talk to you about several options, including buprenorphine (Buprenex or Simbadol), robenacoxib (Onsior), gabapentin (Neurontin), or a corticosteroid medication. Don't give your cat any human pain killers - these can be very toxic or even deadly to cats.
Treating Idiopathic Feline Cycstitis
For cats with idiopathic feline cystitis, numerous other treatments could be offered, including increasing water consumption, environmental enrichment, anti-spasmodic drugs, or a prescription diet. If your cat only has a urinary tract infection, these options may not be necessary.
A Happy Outcome for Your Cat
With a little attention to your cat's behavior, you can identify the symptoms of a urinary tract infection in your cat. Treatment is usually successful and your cat will be feeling like her normal self in no time.