Your cat has a urinary tract infection or inflammatory cystitis! Now what?
This pet information prescription will help you know what to do, how to make your cat more comfortable, and how to prevent this from happening in the future.
The litter box straining that cats are usually doing – especially if they're male cats – is straining to PEE. It's usually not constipation. And this is DEFINITELY an emergency! If your cat is straining or vocalizing while trying to "go," or making frequent unsuccessful trips to their box, they need to go to the vet IMMEDIATELY! If it's a urinary obstruction, immediate vet care is your cat's only shot at survival.
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A urinary tract infection (UTI) is usually a bacterial infection in the urinary tract and can be quite uncomfortable for cats. Most commonly, bacteria travel up the urethra and into the sterile bladder. The bacteria then grow and cause infection. Cats historically also have cystitis, or bladder inflammation, that accompanies a UTI. But they can also have inflammatory cystitis where no UTI is present.
Signs of urinary tract infection or inflammatory cystitis can include bloody or cloudy urine, urinating small amounts frequently, urination outside the litter box, straining to urinate, or crying.
UTIs are caused by bacteria that grows in the bladder. Based on the way your cat’s urethra is shaped, on genetics, and on the pH level of the bladder, some urinary tract environments are more prone to growing bacteria.
Older, female cats tend to get more UTIs than males due to their anatomy. Cats with diabetes and those with bladder stones are at higher risk for getting UTIs.
Cystitis can occur as a result of stress for your cat, which can include a new home, guests, new animals in your home, moving furniture, or even a change of litter box or litter type.
If your cat has a UTI, you should follow recommendations on prescription medications. Most cats will be put on a broad-spectrum antibiotic to clear the bacterial infection. Sometimes pain or anti-inflammatory medications will be added to help with discomfort. Your veterinarian may also recommend a prescription diet to change the pH level in the bladder to prevent recurring infections and bladder stone formation.
If your cat is diagnosed with inflammatory cystitis, your veterinarian will prescribe pain or anti-inflammatory medications and may or may not prescribe antibiotics. They will also recommend ways to help your cat cope with stress. There are treats (like VetriScience® Composure treats) and diets designed to help calm your cat (for example, Royal Canin® Calm Cat Food – this diet also helps prevent crystal formation), as well as calming pheromones like Feliway®, that come in plug-in diffusers or sprays.
The best thing you can do is to administer medications and/or prescription diet as directed and monitor your cat’s urinating habits.
Make sure your cat always has access to water — multiple bowls of clean, cool water or even a circulating pet water fountain may encourage your cat to drink more. It is also imperative to have multiple, clean litter boxes in secluded areas throughout your home.
Use the recommended calming aids that your veterinarian recommends. Avoid any changes to your cat's environment, and be mindful of possible stressors for your cat during this time.
You should notice a decrease in your cat’s discomfort, straining, and inappropriate urination outside the litter box. The urine should also start to look more clear and yellow in color. A recheck exam and urinalysis (testing of the urine) is recommended to make sure your cat has cleared their infection.
If, at any point, if your cat is straining to urinate and not producing urine or the urine appears bloody, this can be an emergency. Unfortunately, male cats are more likely to get urinary obstructions where the urethra is completely blocked, preventing urination. This can be life-threatening, and your cat should be taken to the vet immediately. Read more about urinary obstruction if you suspect your cat is suffering.
If your pet has not shown any improvements on the medications after 1 week, you should schedule a recheck with your veterinarian. At this time, your vet will likely recommend x-rays, ultrasound, or bloodwork to check for diseases that may be causing your cat's urinary issues (like kidney disease, diabetes, or bladder stones).
Some cats can have recurring UTIs. To prevent a recurrence, make sure you finish all medications prescribed by your veterinarian. If your pet was prescribed a certain diet, make sure they eat this food and this food only. This often means no additional snacks or treats. Lastly, make sure your cat always has access to fresh, clean water (a water fountain is the best option).
If your cat is overweight, speak with your veterinarian about a weight loss and exercise regime.
Evaluate your cat’s environment to determine potential stressors. One thing that may help to decrease stress is to add extra litter boxes throughout your home. Extra-large storage containers with an opening cut into one side work great and spray new litter boxes with Feliway (a calming pheromone). If you have multiple pets, be sure that your cat that is having urinary issues can eat and drink in peace and use the litter box without being bothered. Be sure that your cat has a place to rest comfortably and can easily get to that location. If your cat is the type that needs ‘alone time,’ be sure to provide them that option. Speak with your veterinarian to see if your cat needs any additional medications to help control their anxiety. Lastly, consulting with a veterinary behaviorist may be needed.
For bladder inflammation (cystitis), your veterinarian may recommend starting your cat on Cosequin® supplement chews (or sprinkle capsules as a food topper) – it will take about 2 to 4 weeks for the benefits to start. This supplement contains polysulfated glycosaminoglycans, which can help protect and strengthen the bladder wall.
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