- Bladder inflammation and urinary tract infections (UTIs) are common but serious issues in cats and need veterinary care.
- Bacterial bladder infections are much less common than Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC).
- Preventing bladder inflammation in cats from UTI and FIC revolves around optimizing body weight, diet and stress levels.
Bladder inflammation and urinary tract infections (UTIs) are relatively common in cats. They cause discomfort and pain for your fuzzy friend and, if left untreated, can lead to more serious health problems.
It’s very important to know the signs and symptoms of bladder problems so you can seek veterinary care promptly. And if your cat has a history of bladder problems, you can take measures to prevent future trouble.
In this article, we will dive into what causes UTI in cats, preventive measures that can be taken, and how to recognize the symptoms. We will also cover diagnostic tests, veterinary treatments and home care to prevent the recurrence of the problem.
Overview & Risk Factors
Cats are normally resistant to urinary tract infections for several reasons. First, their urine is quite concentrated and creates an unfriendly environment for microorganisms. Second, they urinate several times a day, flushing out any sneaky microorganisms. Third, immune mechanisms in the bladder and kidneys help control the rare invader that happens to get in.
Problems in a cat’s urinary tract start when one or more of their protective mechanisms fail:
- Dilute Urine–kidney insufficiency, diabetes mellitus and steroid medication all lead to excessive water consumption and dilute urine that is friendlier to growing infectious organisms.
- Infrequent Urination–if a cat can’t get to their litter box due to stress, illness, etc. they don’t flush out their lower urinary tract enough.
- Immune Compromise–advanced age, debilitation and immunosuppressive drugs can decrease a cat’s ability to fight invaders.
Feline Idiopathic Cystitis
Many cat owners use the term “UTI” to describe any bladder problem. But there’s more to it than that…
The most common cause of bladder-related symptoms in cats is Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC). In fact, true UTIs cause only 1-3% of all lower urinary tract problems in cats.
FIC, also known as Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD), is a chronic condition caused by sterile inflammation of a cat’s bladder. It’s not caused by infectious bacteria even though the symptoms are nearly identical. The cause of FIC is unknown, but stress is believed to be a contributing factor.
Symptoms of FIC usually start with bloody urine, straining, and pain. Serious symptoms like vomiting, fatigue, and weakness can occur quickly if the urethra becomes blocked. Cats with untreated urinary blockage have a high risk of death.
Indoor cats, young to middle-aged cats, overweight or inactive cats, and nervous cats are more at risk of FIC. A male cat with FIC has a higher risk of a dangerous urethral blockage than a female cat.
Bladder stones are formed when mineral and organic compounds clump together in a cat’s bladder. As they bounce around, they irritate the bladder lining and cause cystitis symptoms.
There are two common types of stones in cats. Struvite stones are found more in middle-aged female cats and are often linked to bacterial infections. Oxalate stones are more prevalent in middle-aged male cats and their formation is influenced by diet. Bladder stones can occur at the same time as FIC or UTI.
Escherichia coli is the most common bacteria to cause a true UTI. Other bacteria that are found less frequently include Enterococcus, Staphylococcus, and Streptococcus. These bacteria cause an infection by moving from the outside of the body, up the urethra and into the bladder.
Elderly cats with dilute urine (from kidney disease or diabetes), immune compromise, steroid drug therapy and urinary catheterization have a higher risk of developing a bacterial infection.
Primary fungal infection is a rare cause of UTI in cats. The yeast Candida is the most common organism to blame. Cats with diabetes mellitus or anatomic abnormalities, such as those from previous surgery, are more likely to develop fungal cystitis.
The symptoms of FIC and UTI are nearly identical and can range from mild to life-threatening. You should take any of these symptoms seriously…
- Frequent urination
- Urinating outside the litter box
- Straining to pee
- Passing tiny quantities of urine
- Vocalizing while urinating
- Bloody or reddish urine
- Foul-smelling urine, sometimes a fishy odor
- Dribbling urine
- Pain when touched around the lower belly or back
- Excessive licking of genitals
- Penis protruding (boys only)
- Unable to pass any urine (obstruction=emergency)
- Vomiting ((UTI or urethral obstruction))
- Poor appetite (UTI or urethral obstruction)
- Fever (UTI or urethral obstruction)
- Weight loss (UTI)
It is very important to see a veterinarian if you notice any of these symptoms. If the symptoms are on the severe end of the range, seek emergency veterinary care immediately.
Diagnosis & Treatment
At this point, you’re probably asking yourself, “Does my cat have a UTI or FIC?”
There is no way to know which problem your cat has based only on their symptoms. Diagnosing the cause of bladder problems in cats can only be done with the help of a vet. Tests may include urinalysis, urine culture, x-rays, ultrasound imaging, and blood tests.
A urine culture can differentiate a bacterial bladder infection from sterile bladder inflammation (FIC). It’s important to know if your cat has a UTI or FIC because the treatment for each is different.
If a UTI is suspected, your vet may prescribe antibiotics. If your cat has FIC, treatment may include medication for pain and special prescription food.
If your cat has FIC or a chronic UTI, you can take some steps to prevent the problem from coming back.
Weight Management, Food and Water
Overweight cats have a higher risk for many diseases, including bladder problems. Slimming down a heavy kitty should be a priority! Your vet can recommend a diet plan based on your cat’s current weight and feeding preferences.
Many vets swear they see good results from switching cats with bladder symptoms from dry to wet food. Wet prescription cat food formulated for urinary health has helped millions of cats overcome their bladder problems. Ask your vet for a recommendation.
If your cat hates wet food, encourage them to drink more water. Try placing several water bowls around the house. Many cats prefer getting their water from a cat drinking fountain. Be sure to wash all the bowls and fountains every couple of days to keep them fresh.
Environmental enrichment is a fancy way of saying “Make your house into Cat Fun Land!” Seriously, researchers found simple changes to stimulate natural behaviors can benefit cats with FIC by lowering their stress levels. (1) The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine has a fantastic website called the Indoor Pet Initiative with more information.
Environmental enrichment doesn’t have to be complicated or cost a lot of money. A few quick ideas for you…
- Make a scratching station from leftover corrugated cardboard boxes. Check out this tutorial for a cool cat scratcher.
- DIY a wall perch for your cat that’s inexpensive and looks great…
- Install an affordable window perch to let your kitty enjoy looking outside
- Interactive toys that simulate prey such as feathers attached to a wand, little stuffed mice, etc. are a great addition to an indoor cat’s life.
- Food puzzles encourage a cat to exercise his mind to gain access to food or yummy treats. It’s like hunting in the wild!
Litter Box Optimization
The right litter box setup can make a big difference in a cat’s life.
Start by providing the right number of boxes – you need one for each feline plus one extra. Then, experiment with different types of boxes and litter – some cats love covered spaces, while others prefer an open box. Consider adding cat-attracting litter, but be aware that scents can be a big turn-off for some cats.
Place the boxes in convenient, quiet spots. Above all, keep all of them clean and fresh by scooping them daily and doing a dump/wash/refill weekly. When you give your cat the potty of their dreams, they’ll use it more often and may improve their bladder health.
Feliway® Calming Pheromones
Feliway is a synthetic version of the pheromones that cats naturally produce from glands in their face. These pheromones help cats mark their territory and make them feel calm.
Feliway is available without a prescription and comes as a spray or electric diffuser to use in your cat’s favorite areas.
Although more study is needed, some experts believe that glucosamine supplements can help restore the bladder lining and relieve pain in cats with bladder inflammation. Adequan® is an injectable form that some vets use for this purpose. Dasuquin® is a vet-trusted oral glucosamine product for cats.
Bladder inflammation is common in cats with most cases being caused by sterile FIC rather than a bacterial infection. No matter the cause, untreated bladder problems can be painful to cats and may lead to more serious trouble without early treatment.
Once your cat has received a diagnosis and treatment from a veterinarian, you can take some simple steps at home to keep the problem from recurring. Weight management, special diets and environmental enrichment are important steps in improving a cat’s bladder health.
Is Urinary Food Necessary and Can Healthy Cats Eat It?
Bladder Stones in Cats: Understanding the Causes, Symptoms & Treatment
Bacterial Cat Bladder Infections: Not As Common As You Think
- Buffington CA, Westropp JL, Chew DJ, et al. Clinical evaluation of multimodal environmental modification (MEMO) in the management of cats with idiopathic cystitis. J Feline Med Surg 2006;8:261-268.
- Chew DJ: Idiopathic (Interstitial) Cystitis: New Concepts in Pathophysiology, Diagnosis and Treatment (Parts I & II). WSAVA/FECAVA/BSAVA World Congress 2012.
- Defauw, P. A., Van de Maele, I., Duchateau, L., Polis, I. E., Saunders, J. H., & Daminet, S. (2011). Risk factors and clinical presentation of cats with feline idiopathic cystitis. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, 13(12), 967-975.
- Gunn-Moore, D. A., & Cameron, M. E. (2004). A pilot study using synthetic feline facial pheromone for the management of feline idiopathic cystitis. Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 6(3), 133-138.
- Gunn-Moore, D. A., & Shenoy, C. M. (2004). Oral glucosamine and the management of feline idiopathic cystitis. Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 6(4), 219-225.
- Sculptoreanu A, de Groat WC, Buffington CA, et al. Abnormal excitability in capsaicin-responsive DRG neurons from cats with feline interstitial cystitis. Exp Neurol 2005;193:437-443.