Urinary tract problems are unfortunately fairly common in pet cats and there are various reasons why they may occur. These problems are not only bothersome to owners but can occasionally be life-threatening to the cat. Knowing the symptoms of urinary tract problems in cats can help you potentially save your cat’s life.
Urinating Outside the Litter Box
This symptom of a urinary tract problem is one of the most obvious ones. Cat urine has a distinct odor, is wet, and can stain fabrics. Because of this, at least one of these indications of urine outside the litter box is usually easily seen by a cat owner. Cleaning it and getting rid of the smell is the bigger issue.
Cats may urinate right next to their litter box, spray on the wall, or pee on another item outside their litter box. This may occur regularly or only once in awhile but is an indication that something is wrong. This symptom can mean that your cat is upset with something in its environment, or that it has a health problem. If the cause is not environmental, such as stress from another pet or a dirty litter box, then an investigation into what health problem may be present should be had. Cystitis, bladder stones, urinary tract infections, kidney infections, and various painful conditions can all result in your cat urinating outside its litter box.
If you notice larger or more numerous urine clumps in your cat’s litter box, this is another indication that your cat could have a urinary tract problem. Increased volume of urine or frequency of urination can mean your cat has a urinary tract infection, kidney disease, diabetes, or other problem in need of veterinary care. Regular cleaning of the litter box allows you to monitor your cat’s urine output and will help you notice any changes. If an abnormal amount of litter is wet or you find you are having to scoop or change the litter more often, you’ll want to get your cat checked out by its veterinarian.
Crying or Straining When Urinating
A cat that is crying or straining when it is urinating is a painful cat. These symptoms can be because of cystitis, bladder stones, a urinary tract infection, or another urinary tract problem that needs to be addressed. A hunched back, small stream of urine, and loud yowling are often seen in a cat that experiences pain while urinating. These behaviors are not normal and should not be ignored.
Excessive Licking at Urinary Opening
Another sign of discomfort and a potential urinary tract problem is excessive licking at the urinary opening. Cats normally groom themselves through licking but if extra attention is paid to their urinary opening, especially while they are in the litter box, you should not ignore it. Inflammation and irritation from cystitis, bladder stones that are stuck in the urethra, urinary tract infections, and other issues could be causing this type of behavior.
Blood in Urine
Cat urine should be clear to gold in color. If you see blood or blood clots in the urine, litter, or on your cat’s fur near its urinary opening, this is an indication of a problem. The urine may also also be a dark orange or brown color if the red blood cells have ruptured in the urinary tract. Changes in cat urine color can indicate bladder stones, tumors, cystitis, or other urinary tract problems.
Unable to Urinate
The most concerning symptom of a urinary tract problem is when a cat is unable to urinate or is producing very little urine. If a cat cannot pee, they are often referred to as being blocked or obstructed and blocked cats require immediate veterinary attention. Thankfully, the survival rate of a blocked cat that receives immediate treatment is over 90% but if a cat stays blocked, it will not survive. This means that if you are not seeing clumps of urine in the litter box and your cat isn’t urinating elsewhere, it may be blocked and needs to see the veterinarian as soon as possible. You may also be able to feel a hard, large bladder in your cat’s abdomen and it may be lethargic, laying on its side, or even crying in pain if it is blocked.
If you suspect your cat has any kind of urinary tract problem, be sure to seek veterinary attention. Some problems are easily remedied with environmental changes and medications while others may require surgery.
Lee JA, Drobatz KJ. Characterization of the clinical characteristics, electrolytes, acid-base, and renal parameters in male cats with urethral obstruction. J Vet Emerg Crit Care 2003; 13(4):227-233.