Bladder Infections In Cats- A Dilemma9 min read

 In Cats, Medical



Bladder infections in cats are one of the most common reasons why people take cats to a veterinarian.  They cause a lot of discomfort. It was one of the many reasons I heard from owners wishing that cats could urinate in a toilet.   It is impossible to get the odor out of a leather sofa, bed sheets or other fabrics once a cat soils it.  I mean IMPOSSIBLE.  It is even worse when an intact male cat has the problem due to the musky odor of an unaltered male cat.

Bladder infections in cats are totally different from dogsInfections in dogs are very similar to women. They are called ascending infections. The bacterial infection starts in the vaginal area due to a rise of vaginal pH. The environment there becomes alkaline which favors bacterial growth. Bacteria multiply and ascend up the urethra until reaching the bladder where the infection sets up shop..  Bacterial urinary tract infections are much more prevalent in female dogs.  In males the urethra is much longer than that of the female making it harder for bacteria to reach the bladder.  In cats that is not as important.  What is important is the diameter of the urethraThe urethra is the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside during urination. It is lined with smooth muscle and can contract and relax. There are muscular sphincters at each end that allow the animal to control when it has to urinate..  Male cats have a much narrower urethra than the female cat.  This causes huge problems in male cats when confronted with a urinary tract infection.  Males can obstruct while female cats never do.  Both sexes can produce gritty urinary tract stones (like grains of sand) but in females the grit passes easily in the females urine.  None the less, both sexes develop bladder infections for the same reasons.




The majority of bladder infections in cats are caused by an excessive amount of ash in the diet.  Bacteria rarely play any part in bladder infections in cats.  Ash contains many minor minerals and elements.  The most important one in this case  is magnesium.  The majority of bladder stones in dogs and cats are composed of magnesium and phosphates.  The theory is if you eliminate or severely reduce the amount of magnesium in the diet urinary tract stones will not form.  This theory is correct and has been proven over and over.  Diets restricted in magnesium result in less or negligible bladder infections in cats!   Back when I started practice in the early 1980’s I would see at least 7 obstructed male cats every week.  Many commercial cat diets today have restricted magnesium content.  The result is that veterinarians today are not treating as many bladder infections in cats or obstructions in males compared to 30 years ago.
Male cats can obstruct due to excessive straining to urinate.  Stones may not be the problem but excessive straining is. This behavior causes spasms of the urethra which dramatically decreases the diameter of the urethra.  The urethra creates its own obstruction!  Other bladder infections in cats are caused by a small pouch (diverticulum) that forms in the urinary bladder.  Microbes and magnesium/phosphate crystals can hide in these areas and are never flushed when the animal goes to the litter box to urinate.  The result is an urinary infection that never completely goes away.  The last cause of bladder infections in cats is called idiopathic cystitis.  This is a fancy word that means “I don’t have a clue to what’s causing it”.




Regardless of the cause of cystitis cats will show similar symptoms.  The two most common signs are cats that urinate outside of the litter box and cats that stand in the litter box for hours in a squat position trying to urinate. The latter sign warrants an immediate visit to an animal hospital.  The cat may be straining to urinate, and if it is a male, it may be straining to urinate because it is obstructed!  TIP-  Many cat owners think that a cat that is straining has diarrhea or is constipated when it actually cannot urinate.  For your peace of mind and your cat’s health visit a veterinarian.

Cats may also be able to urinate a bit but frequent the litter box every 15 minutes or so.  Blood may also be mixed with the urine.  This is hard to detect in cats but if the cat urinated on a bed sheet or other surface look for a tinge of red.  You might get lucky and actually see some blood tinged urine around the genital organs of either sex.  Lift up the tail and take a look!  Urine is an irritant and the animal hurts.  To relieve some of that discomfort you will see the cat excessively grooming/licking itself in the perineal (rear) area.

The difficult part is recognizing the cat with the problem in a multi-cat household.  That drives cat owners crazy.  If you find blood around the genitals you have found the cat.  Otherwise put each cat in a bathroom or other small room with a litter box and watch what happens.  Sooner or later you will find the cat with the problem.

Once you realize you have a problem you are going to need to take the cat and a urine sample to the veterinary office.  The easiest way to collect a urine sample from the affected cat is by using special cat litter named Kit4Cat®.  It is a hydrophobic material that collects urine on the surface of the litter.  This allows for easy removal with a clean eye dropper.  Don’t you wish you could give a sample cup to a cat and tell it to get you a fresh sample?  If you can’t get a sample veterinarians can get one easily via cystocentesisA needle attached to a syringe barrel is introduced into the lower abdomen and ultrasound is used to guide the needle into the bladder for urine collection. It usually took me no more then 10 seconds to do an average cat. It is a safe, painless procedure..




The goal of treating bladder infections in cats is getting to the root of the problem.  A big problem with cats is that they are fastidious and picky about drinking water.  Water intake is important because it can help to form a dilute urine that flushes crystals and debris outside the body during urination (micturition).  This problem can be partially alleviated, along with the ash problem, by feeding your cat feline Royal Canin® S.O. or Hill’s® feline Prescription diet c/d.  Both are extremely effective.  If your kitten has never had a bladder infection and it has reached adulthood (1 year of age) you can put it on either of those two diets or simple Hill’s® feline maintenance.  The more restricted diets mentioned earlier also have more dietary sodium in them to stimulate thirst.  TIP- If you have gotten a new kitten get it used to drinking a small bowl of water with a dropperful of cranberry juice in it.  This will prevent bladder infections by producing an acidic urine.  Acidity keep crystals in a soluble form for easy elimination.

Cats that have urethral obstructions are treated medically.  The cat is anesthetized and the causing agent of the obstruction is eliminated.  If there are large volumes of bladder stones present they are surgically removed.  A urinary catheter and other medical treatments ensure that the animal is urinating.  Some cats are in early renal failure when presented.  That is reversed during the cat’s hospitalization.

Sometimes all the rule outs have been performed and the cat still has urinary problems.  This is the idiopathic variety mentioned earlier.  It is suspected that some of the cells lining the bladder have been damaged.  Most cats respond well to oral glucosamine/chondroitin supplementation.  This dietary supplement is used for cartilage replacement in osteoarthritic dogs and cats but in bladder infections in cats it helps maintain bladder cell health.  The best product is feline Cosequin®.

Treating bladder infections in cats does not happen overnight.  No matter what you do you have to confine the cat to prevent soiling of furniture and clothing. Cats do not mind being in small spaces.  I boarded countless numbers of cats in my Ohio practice and they were as snug as a bug in a litter box….er rug….  With a comfortable place to sleep, food, water, a litter box plus human attention what more could a cat want?  Once the cat is using the box again let the animal out for a trial period.  The problem up north is that there is a lot of carpet in homes.  Any cat will smell dried urine and think that area is perfectly fine to urinate in.  Many people have had to replace carpet throughout their homes.  If you have tile floors, like many southern states, you are in luck as they are ultra easy to clean and disinfect.

Contact Us

We love hearing from our readers. Please fill out the form below and someone will answer you ASAP! Thanks!