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Bladder & Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs)

bladder infections & urinary tract infections in dogs and cats

Bladder infections are painful. Period. They can also be dangerous when left untreated. 

But before we get into that, first thing’s first: bladder infections and urinary tract infections (UTIs) are not one in the same, although the terms are often incorrectly used to describe similar symptoms. 

What is a bladder infection?

A bladder infection is a urinary tract infection (UTI) that only affects the bladder.

What is a urinary tract infection?

UTIs can affect any part of the urinary tract: urethra, ureters, bladder, and even the kidneys. 

So now that we know the difference between bladder infections and urinary tract infections, let’s explore the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment and prevention options.

Bladder Infection & UTI Symptoms

Bladder infections are often preceded by long periods of time in which your pet may not urinate, or shows signs of distress while trying to evacuate his bladder.

Contact your vet immediately if you see any of the following bladder infection symptoms:

  • Blood in the urine 
  • Needing to “go outside” more frequently
  • Frequent need to urinate while passing only a small amount of urine 
  • Urinating outside the litter box or away from the pee pad
  • Straining to urinate 
  • Crying or whimpering while urinating 
  • Interruption in potty training/accidents in the house
  • Excessive licking near the urinary opening
  • Thickened, firm, contracted bladder wall (your vet will check for this)
  • Fever (your vet will also check this)
  • Shivering or shaking may be a sign your pet is in pain
  • Strong odor from the urine
  • Lethargy
  • Increased water consumption
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting

If you see your pet exhibiting any of these symptoms, he may need immediate medical attention. 

What Causes Bladder Infections & UTIs?

Urine is supposed to be sterile. Sometimes, though, when bacteria travels up the urethra (causing a UTI), it can set up shop in the bladder, which causes a bladder infection. 

Some pets also develop bladder stones or crystals in addition to their UTI and bladder infection. That can open up a whole host of additional health issues, not the least of which is the potential for kidney problems

Urinary tract infections are more common in older dogs and cats, typically over 7 years of age. UTIs are also more common in females because they have shorter urethras than males, making it easier for unwanted bacteria to invade the urethra and travel to the bladder. 

Bladder Infections in Dogs

While dogs of all breeds, sizes and genders can develop UTIs, some are genetically predisposed, such as:

  • Shih Tzus
  • Yorkshire Terriers
  • Bichon Frises 

Dogs with diabetes mellitus (sugar diabetes) or bladder stones are also more likely to develop recurrent UTIs. 

Bladder infections and UTIs may also be caused by:

  • Stress
  • Trauma
  • Inability to hold their urine from excessive water intake or weak bladder
  • Spinal cord abnormalities
  • Prostate disease
  • Congenital abnormality
  • Cancer

Cats and Urinary Crystals

Many cats are naturally prone to developing crystals in their urine. Often, it’s due to dehydration. That’s because your cat’s ancestors were desert animals used to going long periods of time without water. If your cat isn’t a big drinker, that could be the reason. 

The difference is that your cat’s wild ancestors would stay hydrated and well-nourished by consuming prey. 

Today’s domesticated cat, however, is often fed dry kibble made with very little moisture. And if he’s the type that doesn’t drink a lot of water, he can develop crystals in his over-concentrated urine.

At PureForm, we encourage pet parents to feed a raw diet whenever possible. 

RELATED: Raw Feeding Video Series: Parts 1, 2 & 3

Bacteria Causing Bladder Infections & UTIs

Most often, bacteria is spread from feces or other debris.

While E. coli (from feces) is the most common bacteria found in both dogs and cats with urinary tract infections, it’s not the only bacterial culprit.

The only way to be sure which bacteria is causing your pet’s UTI is to take a sample and grow it in a lab. Once your vet knows what he’s fighting, he can properly treat it. 

Diagnosing UTIs & Bladder Infections

When you suspect your pet has a bladder infection, your vet will perform a urinalysis, which can reveal a lot of information about the urine. Your vet will review the following levels:

  • Blood
  • Protein
  • Urine-specific gravity, which measures how well your pet is concentrating his urine
  • pH levels, which can indicate infection or other problems
  • Ketones, which are sometimes present in pets with diabetes
  • Glucose - a high level of sugar in the urine may be another sign of diabetes
  • Bilirubin, pigmentation that contributes to the color of bruising (yellow) and feces (brown)

After these levels are measured, the urine sample is spun down inside a centrifuge to separate cells and debris for further examination under a microscope. Your vet will review the amount of red and white blood cells, while also looking for bacteria and crystals.

What he finds will determine next steps.

Bladder Infection & UTI Treatment

Bladder infections (in both cats and dogs) are most frequently treated with antibiotics and a pain medication. Sometimes a change in diet is also recommended, among other things, such as:

  • Intravenous or subcutaneous fluid therapy
  • Increase in water intake
  • Urinary acidifiers or alkalinizers
  • Surgery to remove bladder stones or tumor
  • Surgery to correct congenital abnormality

UTI & Bladder Infection Prevention

Depending on what caused the infection, there may (or may not) be things you can do to avoid recurrence.

Personal Story: 

male cat with UTI, bladder infection, crystals

We had a male cat who frequently developed UTIs and crystals as he got older. As part of Odin’s maintenance plan, we fed him our own special blend of “soup.” We switched him from kibble to wet food (for the higher moisture content), and added warm water to increase his daily water intake. 

He loved it! 

During the warmer months, we added a little tuna juice to his own personal ice cube tray, so he could enjoy a refreshing, hydrating treat on a hot summer day. 

If your pet has an immune deficiency that is preventing him from fighting off bad bacteria, your vet may recommend a daily supplement

Supplements trusted by fellow pet parents ...

Look for supplements that include:

  • Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that boosts immune function and inhibits bacterial growth in the urine by making it more acidic
  • N-Acetyl glucosamine is a compound derived from sealife that reduces inflammation and repairs smooth muscle linings, such as bladder, urethra, stomach and intestines
  • Methionine is another acidifying agent for the urine. It also helps to reduce anxiety and builds, repairs and maintains muscles
  • Cranberry extract contains phytochemicals that may help prevent bacteria from sticking to the urinary tract wall. It also acidifies urine to inhibit the growth of unwanted bacteria

In more severe cases, medication may be required to help improve your pet’s urinary pH balance. According to the Merck Vet Manual, the ideal urine pH level should be 7.0–7.5 in dogs and 6.3–6.6 in cats.

Talk to your vet about medicinal options to balance your pet's urine pH. Together you can decide on a treatment and prevention plan that best suits your furry family.