A urinary tract infection in a cat is very unpleasant for both the animal and its owner, but the good news is that it can be treated, eradicated and its return prevented with care. It is also relatively rare, with only around one in ten cats ever having the problem and whilst for some it is a tendency which will recur from time to time, for most animals it is a one off experience.
Symptoms of UTI in Cats
These are all too easy to spot; the stress of the illness will cause the cat to spray urine around the house and this will be unusually foul smelling. If the cat is usually a litter-box user, it will probably stop using it. This is because passing urine is painful and it learns to associate the pain with the location, so will urinate elsewhere in the house. If you are lucky this may be in the bath or sink; if unlucky, on the bed! If you find any urine around the house, it will be a small amount only and may be bloodstained.
In an attempt to alleviate the local pain, the cat will probably clean the affected area more than usual and will probably yelp with pain as it does so as it will be very sore. Some cats will not show these symptoms until the infection is quite deep seated. The infection may stem from the formation of crystals in the urethra and bladder, in which case a change of diet would almost certainly prevent recurrence.
Medical treatment of a urinary tract infection in a cat
There are not really any home remedies for a cat with a full blown urinary tract infection; a visit to the vet to get antibiotics is the only answer. These will be wide spectrum in the first instance and probably quite powerful to really knock the infective bacteria out, but if it does not respond to this treatment, the vet will probably send a urine sample to the lab, to isolate the causative organism and so be able to provide a more specific antibiotic. The course must be completed to be properly effective.
Unfortunately, antibiotics do have side effects, for example killing the normal ‘good’ flora in the gut and so the cat must be monitored for changes in bowel habit. Administration of probiotics for a while after the course of medication will help the cat get back to health quickly. There are homeopathic remedies if your cat suffers from a lower urinary tract infection, but these should also be prescribed by a homeopathic practitioner. The vet may well also prescribe painkillers because even if your cat does not appear to be suffering unduly, it will be in a lot of pain.
Dietary Treatment for UTI
The most important thing to address in a cat’s diet while it is recovering from a urinary tract infection is to provide lots of fresh water and encourage the cat to drink by keeping it available and enticing (no fluff or dust on the surface and preferably not straight from the tap. Wet food rather than dry is probably a good idea and will anyway be more acceptable to the cat, who will naturally be seeking food which will put less pressure on its system. If the infection has found to be caused by crystals or bladder stones then a change of diet can be beneficial.
Change of Diet
Special foods are available to change the pH of the urine and dissolve the stones and so the food should be given for a minimum of six weeks after the infection is discovered to make sure that they are all gone. If this is the cause of the infection, the cat should really be kept on a preventative diet to prevent the problem returning; these special foods are easily obtained from a vet or a good pet store, though they are not so likely to be on the shelves of a supermarket.
Prevention of Recurrence
There is no need to feed a cat special ‘urinary tract health’ foods unless it has shown a tendency to urinary tract infections. These foods are usually more expensive and are not always as palatable for the cat, so you may be going to expense and bother unnecessarily, especially since the incidence of urinary tract infection in cats is relatively unusual. Keeping an eye on the cat’s health in general is always good advice, but any reluctance to use the litter box or crying out when passing urine should be investigated quickly by the vet.
Although these infections are not normally serious they can become so in an elderly animal or one which is unwell for any other reason. Also, it is possible that soreness around the exit of the urethra could become inflamed with ulcers or breaking down of tissues if the cat over-cleans itself. This is obviously something to be avoided as it may require surgery to clean out any ulcers and will certainly make a cat more prone to infection.
UTI as a Sign of Other Diseases
A cat may develop a urinary tract infection as a result of the stress of some other underlying condition which may be as serious as a tumour of the bladder or kidney. Incipient kidney failure will also tend to cause UTI as the urine will be concentrated and will cause local irritation. A cat will still purr and groom even if feeling ill and may even suffer an injury and show no signs. A UTI may be the first sign of such an injury. In the same way, a viral infection which does not otherwise present with any symptoms may cause the cat to suffer a urinary tract infection which may be the first sign. As always, vigilance from the owner will prevent a cat becoming low and ill