Urinary tract infections are conditions we see often at our clinic. They develop in both canines and felines. Many urinary tract infections are simple to treat, while others may point to underlying disease.

The urinary tract consists of the urethra (tube that carries urine outside the body), the bladder, the ureters (tubes connecting bladder to kidneys), and the kidneys. A urinary tract infection (UTI) can occur in any of these areas and the prostate in males and uterus in females; however, the most common area of infection is the bladder.  

In most cases of UTI, bacteria from the skin or anus (most commonly E. coli and staph[1,2]) enter the urethra, move up the tract, and colonize, causing infection. 

Canine and feline bodies work to prevent bacteria from entering and colonizing. The lower tract has several natural defenses against bacterial infections, which include physical properties of the urethra that inhibit introduction and migration of bacteria, antimicrobial mucosal layers, and properties in urine that make the urinary system hostile to bacteria. Even so, UTIs are common, especially in dogs and senior cats.

Urinary tract infections occur when the body’s defense mechanisms are disrupted and allow bacteria to enter and multiply. One or more factors can cause this, such as anatomical abnormalities (recessed vulva) or weakened immune systems. Certain diseases and health conditions can make dogs and cats more susceptible to an infection. 

Urinary tract infections can affect any breed, size, or age of dog, though some may be more susceptible than others due to physical traits. Females have shorter urethras than males, which makes it easier for bacteria to travel to the bladder. This is true for canines and felines. Urinary tract infections are uncommon in cats under the age of 10 years. Older cats are more at risk due to diminished defenses that come with age and other diseases including diabetes mellitus and kidney disease.  

Urinary tract infections may or may not present with clinical signs. If they do occur, symptoms can include trouble urinating (straining), whining during urination, dribbling urine, urinating frequently in small amounts or without success, urinating in the house outside the litter box, urine that smells strong and foul, blood in urine, or excessive genital licking. If a pet is unable to pass urine, this is an emergency and requires immediate veterinary assistance.    

Diagnosis involves reviewing patient history and symptoms and performing a urinalysis and urine culture. A urinalysis examines pH, protein, concentration, and presence of cells, bacteria, or crystals. This test can point to the possible presence of certain diseases including UTIs. A urine culture confirms the presence and type of bacteria in urine. 

There are three classifications for UTIs: subclinical bacteriuria (shows on tests but does not present with lower tract signs), sporadic cystitis (presents with signs), and recurrent (three or more within 12 months). Treatment for UTIs, based on the guidelines from the International Society for Companion Animal Infectious Disease (ISCAID), varies depending on classification of infection[3]. Standard treatment is antimicrobial therapy (usually a round of antibiotics) and monitoring for effectiveness and recurrence. Recurrent UTIs may be investigated for underlying diseases and conditions such as bladder stones, bladder tumors, or kidney infection.

There are a few ways to reduce risk of infection. Keep pets well groomed, trimming dogs’ hair around genitals if necessary. Wash bedding regularly. Always provide plenty of clean water. Staying hydrated keeps urine flowing, helping to keep bacteria out. Quality nutrition and exercise help keep pets healthy and increase chances of fighting infection and other ailments. Keeping pets healthy with regular checkups, vaccinations, parasite prevention, and maintaining a proper weight will all help cats and dogs fight disease, including UTIs.   

Urinary tract infections are ailments we see and treat often at Sandia Animal Clinic. We recommend keeping regular wellness exams to keep pets’ healthy and their immunity high to reduce risk of infection. If your cat or dog displays symptoms of urinary tract infection, contact us for an appointment. If your pet is unable to pass urine, this is an emergency and requires immediate veterinary assistance.   



  1. Litster A, Thompson MN, Moss S, Trott DJ. Feline bacterial urinary tract infections: An update on an evolving clinical problem. The Veterinary Journal. 2011;187(1):18-22. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2009.12.006
  2. Senior. Urinary tract infection. Veterinary Information Network https://www.vin.com/doc/?id=3859292
  3. Weese JS, Blondeau JM, Boothe DM, et al. International Society for Companion Animal Infectious Diseases (ISCAID) guidelines for the diagnosis and management of bacterial urinary tract infections in dogs and cats. The Veterinary Journal (London, England 1997). 2019;247:8-25. doi:10.1016/j.tvjl.2019.02.008
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