Cat owners tend to be very familiar with their pets' bathroom habits, thanks to litterbox duty. Cleaning the box isn't anyone's favorite chore, but it can be an excellent way to keep an eye on your pet's urinary tract health.
If your cat's bathroom habits change, it might be a sign that they have a urinary tract problem.
Cats of any age can have problems with their lower urinary tracts. Some cats are prone to urinary tract infections (UTIs) that go away after taking antibiotics. Other cats get blockages and bladder stones that need surgery to fix.
Learn more about cat UTIs and other urinary tract problems and how to treat them.
What Are the Symptoms of Urinary Tract Problems in Cats?
The lower urinary tract includes the bladder and urethra. Urine is formed and stored in the bladder until it flows out of your cat's body through the urethra.
When those body parts get infected or obstructed, your cat won't be able to urinate (pee) normally. You might notice some of the following symptoms when your cat has a UTI or other urinary tract problem:
- Frequent urination, but only passing a small amount of urine
- Peeing outside the litter box
- Blood in urine
- Straining to urinate
- Crying out in pain while urinating
- Increased licking of the urinary opening
If you notice these symptoms, you should call your vet right away. This could be a sign that your cat needs medical attention right away.
What Causes Lower Urinary Tract Problems in Cats?
When you take your cat to the vet, they may have questions about your cat's symptoms to try and narrow down the cause of the problem. There are several common reasons for urinary tract problems in cats, including the following.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI)
Cats get UTIs when there is a bacterial infection in their bladder or urethra. Your vet will need a urine sample to diagnose this condition.
Uroliths (Urinary Stones)
Urine naturally contains minerals that can clump up and form tiny crystals, and even large stones, in your cat's bladder. They can irritate the lining of the bladder or urethra and cause bloody urine and pain while urinating.
Your vet will need to do urine tests, X-rays, or an ultrasound to diagnose urinary stones.
In some cases, your cat's urethra can be completely blocked, either by stones or by a buildup of minerals and tissue called a "urethral plug."
A cat with an obstruction like this won't be able to pass urine at all. An obstruction of the urethra is a medical emergency, and you should call your vet right away.
Feline Idiopathic Cystitis
Occasionally, the inside of a cat's lower urinary tract will get irritated without an infection or stones being present. Sometimes it can be a symptom of stress or a reaction to a change in diet.
Other health conditions can affect cats' urinary tract health. Diabetes and thyroid issues are sometimes to blame. In rare cases, cats get tumors in their urinary tract. Your vet will need to do blood and urine tests to diagnose these conditions.
Can Both Male and Female Cats Have Urinary Tract Problems?
All cats can get urinary tract problems. But male cats are more likely to have urethral obstructions. They have longer, thinner urethras than female cats. The narrower passage can get blocked more easily because of its size and shape.
What Are The Treatments for Lower Urinary Tract Problems?
When you bring your cat to the vet, they will examine your pet for any injuries or physical problems that might be adding to the urinary problems.
The treatment will differ depending on the diagnosis.
Antibiotics Can Treat Cat UTIs
Your vet will prescribe the right medication for your pet. They can advise you on diet changes that might prevent future UTIs.
Clearing Obstructions in the Urethra
Obstruction often requires hospitalization and is life-threatening. Not all cats will survive a urinary obstruction, even when treated quickly. The vet will insert a tube into the urinary opening and flush the area with sterile fluid to clear the obstruction. Follow-up care may be required as well.
In other cases, a special diet can dissolve stones in your cat's bladder. Your vet may suggest special food to prevent more stones from forming in the future.
How Can I Treat My Cat's UTI at Home?
Urinary tract diseases are common in cats and can cause discomfort and distress. If left untreated, a UTI can lead to partial or complete blockage of the urethra. This can lead to kidney failure or rupture of the bladder, which could be deadly.
Depending on how severe the infection is, a cat UTI can be treated using at-home remedies and treatments.
While cranberries are known as a UTI treatment in humans, they can also be used to treat a cat's UTI. The acidity of cranberries can lower the pH of your cat’s urine, which can help treat a UTI and stop it from coming back. However, there will be no way to confirm that your cat specifically has an infection vs. another issue.
Many cranberry juices are high in sugar. Instead, you can find cranberry capsules (pills), supplements, or powder to add to your cat’s diet.
Before giving your cat cranberry, you should first test the pH levels in your cat’s urine. While the acidity of cranberries may help with some UTIs, in other cases, it could make the condition worse. Only provide cranberry supplements if your cat’s urine is too alkaline.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar can also lower the pH in your cat’s urine, getting rid of and preventing any harmful bacteria. Add half a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar to your cat’s food each day. To reduce the bitter taste, you can mix it in with chicken or beef broth. Just make sure the broth isn't high in sodium and that it doesn’t contain onions, as this is toxic to cats.
Like cranberries, apple cider vinegar is only effective if your cat’s urine is too alkaline. You can test your cat’s pH using at-home kits or diagnostic cat litter, as well as through a reliable test given by your veterinarian.
Glucosamine and Chondroitin
While these two supplements are often used for arthritis joint pain management, glucosamine and chondroitin can also reduce the symptoms of a feline UTI. Glucosamine can help replace a compound in the lining of the cat’s bladder wall. Chondroitin helps prevent this compound from breaking down.
Combining these two supplements can rebuild the bladder wall and prevent further damage from bacteria. This reduces inflammation and other UTI symptoms. For every 10 pounds of your cat’s weight, you can give the cat 100 milligrams of glucosamine and 50 milligrams of chondroitin.
Marshmallow root can kill bacteria, reduce inflammation, and strengthen the lining of the bladder to help fight off a UTI. It also acts as a diuretic – a drug that helps the kidneys flush out urine or other fluids – which increases the flow of urine and flushes out the bladder.
According to a study, marshmallow root contains mucilage (a sticky substance made by plants), which can soothe membranes and provide a barrier to support the lining of the bladder.
In addition to treating the pH level and strengthening the bladder wall, an important part of treating a cat UTI is to make sure that your cat stays well-hydrated. This will help flush out the bladder and avoid the buildup of harmful bacteria.
To make sure your cat is staying hydrated, you can introduce tasty fluids like bone broth. Make sure the broth has no sodium. Not only will this provide necessary hydration, but bone broth also contains nutrients and minerals that can help fight the infection. The amino acids (organic compounds that form protein in the body) found in bone broth, including glycine, and arginine, have been shown to reduce inflammation.
Why Does My Cat Keep Getting UTIs?
If your cat has diabetes, thyroid disease, or cancer, talk to your vet about treatment options.
Cat urinary tract issues are serious, and you should not ignore the symptoms. Call your vet if you think your cat has a UTI or other urinary tract problem.