If their bladders aren’t happy, cats will find a way of letting their people know.
They may strain in the litter box or urinate small amounts with greater frequency. Often, they’ll drink more than usual. You may notice blood in the urine. Or they’ll eschew the litter box and leave damp pools of urine in the middle of your bed, the laundry basket or just about anywhere in the house. In which case, consider yourself notified that there’s a problem.
These could be signs of a urinary tract infection (UTI) in cats … or of many other common urinary tract conditions that can be caused by physical or behavioral factors. A trip to your veterinary clinic is the next step, where the doctor will examine your cat and possibly recommend diagnostic testing.
What is a UTI?
The urinary tract consists of the kidneys, the ureters (the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder), the bladder and the urethra, or the tube that channels urine from the bladder to outside the body.
Urinary tract infections, which are typically caused by bacteria, can affect any part of the urinary tract. However, a UTI usually refers to a bacterial infection of the bladder.
While you might assume UTIs are common in cats, in fact the opposite is true, at least for cats under 10 years of age. A more likely explanation for the urinary signs is idiopathic cystitis, or an inflammation of the bladder that’s often associated with stress. Urinary tract stones or a urethral blockage (a medical emergency, typically in male cats) are also among the possible causes.
That picture changes for cats over 10 years of age, when UTIs become more common. Cats with chronic kidney disease, diabetes or overactive thyroid glands are at greater risk for UTIs.
At any age, cats may urinate inappropriately because they don’t like something about the litter box itself. They may dislike the scent or texture of the litter or the placement of the box, or the box simply may not be cleaned often enough for their liking.
The key: a urine sample
To help determine why your cat is having urinary problems, your veterinarian will most likely start with a urine sample from your cat. For urinary tract infections, the best sample is obtained via a cystocentesis, or by placing a needle directly into the urinary bladder, a simple procedure that’s not as painful as it sounds.
Other sampling procedures, such as collecting urine off a tabletop or from a litter box filled with plastic beads, usually result in a sample that’s contaminated with bacteria from the urethra, the genital area and the table/litter box surface.
Pinpointing the cause
The doctor or a technician will perform a urinalysis, which includes examining the urine sediment under a microscope, looking for signs of a UTI, such as bacteria and/or white blood cells. A urine culture and sensitivity test may also be recommended, which help identify the bacteria involved and the most effective antibiotic for treating the infection.
Your veterinarian may also recommend an abdominal radiograph (X-ray) to check for urinary tract stones, which can be associated with UTIs.
Helping your cat feel good again
If your cat has clinical signs of lower urinary tract disease and the urinalysis and culture show evidence of a UTI, your veterinarian will recommend treatment with an antibiotic. It’s important to give you cat the entire course of antibiotics, even if he or she seems to feel better soon after the medications are started.
In cats that have recurrent UTIs, additional diagnostics may be needed. With successful treatment, the only messages your cat will send your way are satisfied purrs.
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