The urinary tract is is a system in the body involved in the creation, storage and elimination of urine. It includes two kidneys (which filter and clean the blood, forming urine in the process of removing excess water and waste products), two ureters (which transport urine from the kidneys to the bladder), the bladder (which stores the urine until voiding) and the urethra which transports urine from the bladder to outside. A urinary tract infection (UTI) occurs when the usually sterile urinary tract is colonised by bacteria (or less frequently viruses).
You may notice the terms urinary tract infection and FLUTD (which stands for feline lower urinary tract disease) used interchangeably. Urinary tract infection is just that, an infection of the urinary tract, FLUTD (formerly known as FUS) is a collection of diseases of the urinary tract, including urinary tract infections.
Urinary tract infections are seen more often in middle-aged to senior cats. The most common types of bacteria to cause urinary tract infections are E. Coli, Staphylococcus spp, Streptococcus spp and Proteus spp.
What are the causes of urinary tract infections in cats?
The urinary system has a number of natural barriers in place in order to prevent infection. When these barriers are broken, infection occurs.
Bacteria descending from the perineum/anal region are the greatest cause of urinary tract infections in cats. Females are at a higher risk due to their shorter urethra.
Cats who hold on to urine for too long are at greater risk. Common reasons for this may include reluctance to urinate outside due to poor weather (snow or rain), dirty litter trays, changing types of cat litter, litter tray in an unfavourable location.
Diabetic cats are more prone to developing urinary tract infections. Glucose and protein in the urine, along with a lowered immune response can produce a favourable environment for bacterial growth.
Male cats who have had a perineal urethroscopy.
Any cat who has been catheterised as this can introduce bacteria into the urinary tract.
What are the symptoms of a urinary tract infection?
Being alert to possible symptoms can mean quick treatment for your cat and greatly reduce distress and litter tray problems. Common symptoms of urinary tract infections include:
Frequently visiting the litter tray but only producing small amounts of urine.
Licking the genitals.
Urinating outside the litter box.
Blood in urine (hematuria).
Meowing/crying more than usual, especially when using the litter tray.
Discomfort when petted.
If you notice any of the above symptoms, veterinary attention should be sought immediately.
How are urinary tract infections diagnosed?
Your veterinarian will perform a complete medical examination and palpitate the bladder to check if it is full. He will wish to perform some diagnostic tests including:
Urinalysis - Which may reveal the presence of bacteria, red blood cells, white blood cells and urinary crystals. A sample of urine will be collected by cystocentesis, which involves inserting a fine needle through the abdominal wall and into the bladder. This prevents the sample becoming contaminated with bacteria.
X-ray or ultrasound to evaluate the urinary tract.
Bacterial culture - To determine what type of bacteria are present which can help your veterinarian choose the appropriate type of antibiotic.
Treatment and prevention of urinary tract infections:
Antibiotics will be prescribed to treat bacterial infection.
Switching your cat from a dry diet to a wet diet (canned or raw), which has a higher water content. This, in turn, increases the amount of water consumed, resulting in less concentrated urine.
If your cat has bladder stones, switching him to a prescription diet which can help to dissolve the stones will be recommended. Large stones may need to be surgically removed.
Encourage frequent urination by offering plenty of clean, fresh drinking water.
Make sure litter trays are cleaned out frequently, cats can be very fussy and a dirty litter tray is a common cause of litter tray refusal.
Being alert to changes in behaviour is extremely important, the quicker you act with urinary tract infections, the better for your cat.