Urinary Tract Problems in Cats

Sick Cat

Have you noticed that your cat is straining to urinate or urinating outside of the litter box? Does your cat seem to be lethargic or in pain? Cats are known for masking their pain, so subtle signs need to be taken seriously and not passed over as a possible behavioral issue.

These symptoms could mean that your cat is experiencing a urinary tract problem--and as with most urinary problems, the earlier your cat receives diagnosis and treatment, the more successful the treatment is likely to be.

Urinary issues can rapidly become life-threatening, so don’t hesitate to take your kitty on a trip to the vet! 

What are the symptoms of urinary tract problems in cats?

  • Bloody or cloudy urine
  • Odor of ammonia in urine
  • Loss of bladder control
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Strains (or cries in pain) while urinating
  • Unable to urinate/only passes a small amount of urine
  • Avoids the litter box and goes in other places instead
  • Frequently licks the urinary opening
  • Increased water consumption
  • Loss of appetite or vomiting
  • Hard or swollen abdomen
  • Lethargy
  • Hiding
  • Lack of grooming 

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)

Urinary tract problems are common in cats and the causes and symptoms tend to overlap with one another. The broadest and most common diagnosis of urinary tract issues is FLUTD, which is a complex of diseases or illnesses like bladder infections, stones, and cystitis (bladder inflammation).

Determining the root cause of FLUTD is the first step in the treatment process. If no root cause can be determined, the cat may have cystitis. Stress can be a contributor to FLUTD, particularly in cases of cystitis.

Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary tract infections (UTIs) in cats are caused by microorganisms that enter the urinary opening and travel through the urethra to the bladder, causing infection. The causes, symptoms, and treatments are often the same as FLUTD.  

Urinary Crystals (Crystalluria)

Crystalluria is a medical condition where crystals are expelled in your cat’s urine. The crystals may or may not lead to further problems, like kidney stones or blockage, and you may or may not be able to see them in your cat’s urine. If you suspect a urinary problem in your cat, it’s always a good idea to take a close look at the urine for potential indicators such as blood or crystals.

If left untreated, FLUTD, UTI’s, and crystals can rapidly become life-threatening, leading to blockages, extreme pain, and organ shut down in just a couple of days. 


Urinary problems can lead to blockages, where the urethra becomes plugged with crystals, stones, or a mass of cells and mucous, preventing the cat from urinating. Urethral obstruction is an especially painful and potentially fatal situation for your cat. If you see your cat visiting the litter box frequently and/or straining to urinate inside or outside of the litter box, seek veterinary assistance immediately.

If you suspect a blockage, handle your cat carefully since applying pressure to the abdomen will cause a great amount of pain to the overfilled and stretched bladder.

Here are the steps of progression from urinary problems to blockage and possibly death (when left untreated):

  • Urinary Tract Symptoms:  Cat exhibits one or more urinary symptoms.
  • Blockage:  Urethra becomes blocked, causing pain, agitation, and distress in your cat as the bladder stretches.
  • Kidney Failure:  Kidneys have to stop producing urine, causing waste to build up. Symptoms include nausea, lethargy, hiding, pain, and the cat will likely die within 24 hours.
  • Organ Shut-down and Death:  Organ failure, toxicity, dehydration, or the bladder rupturing will all cause death. 

Other Issues

Kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and other illnesses can cause your cat to urinate more often than normal and may contribute to urinary tract problems.

Arthritis and other physical conditions can make it difficult to climb into and out of the litter box, especially if your cat's litter box has high sides, is up high up on a table, or is on the second or third floor. 

Prevention Tips

You can help prevent your cat from experiencing many of these issues by feeding it a healthy, wet food diet and providing fresh water on a daily basis. Cats aren’t used to drinking water by itself because their ancestors got a majority of their water intake from prey (mice are 80% water!). Feeding cats primarily dry food contributes to several health issues over time, including urinary tract problems, as does feeding the cat mostly low-quality food.

Some cats have disease or illnesses (like diabetes) that contribute to frequent urinary problems. Your vet should explain how to best manage your cat’s illness, including any associated urinary problems. If the contributing medical condition can’t be managed well enough, many urinary tract infections can be prevented with long-term, low-dose antibiotics.

Additional prevention steps will be shared with you by your veterinarian based on the cause of your cat’s urinary problem. Congratulations! Now that you’ve learned about urinary tract issues, you are much more likely to save your cat’s life and prevent unnecessary suffering if something like this were to occur!