In many cats, a urinary tract infection (UTI) isn't an infection at all. Rather, it's a painful collection of tiny stones or crystals that irritate the walls of the bladder, causing discomfort and pain. In male cats, these stones or crystals can block the urethra, causing a medical emergency and even death. If you have a male cat, knowing the symptoms of a UTI can save his life.
Passing Little or No Urine
Passing little or no urine is a medical emergency. When a cat is unable to urinate, toxins build up in the body and can cause acute kidney failure, a ruptured bladder or life-threatening heart rhythm disturbances. If your cat is unable to urinate, don't delay. The cat needs to be seen by a veterinarian right away.
Change in Litter Box Habits
Often, the first sign of a UTI is a change in litter box habits. Many cats with UTIs associate the box with pain and urinate someplace else, where they feel more comfortable. The most common places are sinks, bathtubs and soft surfaces, like beds, carpeting or a pile of clothes.
Be aware that inappropriate urination can also be a sign of hyperthyroidism, diabetes and kidney failure, especially in older cats. Cats who suddenly start urinating outside their litter boxes should be tested for these three chronic diseases, as well as a UTI.
Changes in Behavior
Cats with UTIs may lick their genital areas obsessively and cry out while licking. Frequent trips to the litter box and crying out in the box can be symptoms of a UTI, too. If your cat is making frequent trips to the box and passes just a couple of drops of urine on each visit, chances are the cat is starting a UTI.
Other changes in behavior that signal illness, including a UTI, are lethargy, lack of appetite and vomiting.
Changes in the Urine
Cats with UTIs often have blood in their urine. Another symptom is urine with an unusually strong ammonia smell.
Cats over the age of 10 are more prone than younger cats to bacterial infections in the urinary tract, and cats with diabetes, hyperthyroidism and kidney disease are especially at risk. If your diabetic cat suddenly loses regulation, the culprit could be a UTI.
Stress and diet are among the main causes of UTIs. An all-wet food diet will keep your cat well hydrated and will create diluted urine and an environment that's inhospitable to bacteria and the formation of stones and crystals.
In multi-cat households, having litter boxes and feeding areas in several places throughout the house is one way of reducing stress.