Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) in Cats
My cat suddenly began going to the litter box very frequently. When I followed her to the litter box, I saw her squat to urinate multiple times. We use clumping litter, and the clumps were tiny. She also urinated on the light-colored carpet and I could see a red tint. It looked like blood, so I took her to her veterinarian. A sample of urine revealed a bladder infection. How did this happen?
While urinary tract disorders are fairly common in cats, urinary tract infections (UTIs) are fairly uncommon. The scenario described above is often what leads to investigation and diagnosis by the veterinarian. Cats with UTIs generally attempt to urinate very frequently whenever they go to the litter box, they may strain to urinate, they may cry out or whine when urinating if it is painful, and there may be blood visible in their urine. A break in litter box training is also a red flag that something is wrong in the bladder. Finally, frequent licking of the genitals may signal that a UTI is present.
Generally, a UTI occurs when bacteria travel up the urethra and into the bladder. Urine in the bladder is supposed to be sterile, but once bacteria find their way to the bladder, the bacteria can grow and reproduce, causing the UTI. Some cats will develop bladder stones, with or without a UTI, and this opens the door for additional health issues.
Why are microscopes used in the identification of a UTI?
The microscope can reveal so much important information about the urine when a UTI is suspected. Once parameters like urine-specific gravity (concentration), pH (acid-base balance), ketones, glucose (sugar in the urine), bilirubin (a breakdown product of blood), blood, and protein are measured, the urine specimen is placed into a centrifuge and spun. This allows cells and other debris to accumulate at the bottom of the tube. That debris can then be evaluated under magnification, and this examination can reveal the presence of red blood cells, white blood cells, bacteria, and crystals.
What is seen under the microscope can lead to the next steps of assessing the cat’s urinary tract disease. For instance, if there are crystals in the urine, or if there is no evidence of bacteria, your veterinarian may recommend X-rays of the abdomen in order to look for bladder stones. For further information, see handout "Urinalysis".
My veterinarian sent a sample of urine to a laboratory for what she called a “culture and sensitivity” test. What is this and why did she send the urine away?
All urinary tract infections are NOT created equal. Even though the most common organism to cause UTIs in cats is Escherichia coli, there are several other organisms that may be involved. The only way to identify what the specific bacteria is to grow it in a laboratory and test the bacteria against various tiny samples of commonly used antibiotics. Only then can we be certain that we have made the best choice for treatment.
Often, a veterinarian will prescribe an antibiotic that is among the most commonly used for treating UTIs in order to try to provide immediate relief to the cat. Once the culture and sensitivity results are received, an appropriate antibiotic will be prescribed. After the course of antibiotics is given, it is important to recheck the urine to confirm that the infection is resolved. If not, then it will be important to investigate additional issues that may contribute to a persistent UTI.
Are some cats predisposed to UTIs?
Older female cats and cats with diabetes mellitus ('sugar diabetes') develop UTIs more commonly than the general population. Cats who have bladder stones are prone to recurrent UTIs, pointing out the importance of getting a complete diagnosis whenever there is evidence of disease in the urinary tract. Bladder stones must be removed or dissolved in order to restore bladder health (see handout "Bladder Stones in Cats" for further information).
I noticed a change in my cat’s urination habits, and I saw blood in her urine, but are there other ways to tell that a cat has a UTI?
There are several important signs that something could be wrong with a cat’s urinary tract, including the possibility of a UTI. These signs include:
- Frequently passing small amounts of urine
- Straining to urinate
- Blood in the urine
- Crying out or whining while urinating
- Urinating inappropriately (e.g., throughout the house)
- Licking the genitals
- Stronger than normal urine odor
What can I do to prevent a UTI from occurring in the future?
Your veterinarian will let you know if there is anything that can be done to prevent your cat’s UTI from recurring. There is evidence that specific nutritional formulations can support lower urinary tract health. It is best to discuss UTI prevention and bladder health with your veterinarian in order to implement strategies that have been demonstrated to be effective.
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