Felines are known to urinate frequently and when a cat’s urinary habits change, it may be a cause of concern for the owner. Owners should consider this first as an indication of a physical problem and seek the advice of a veterinarian. A vet can determine if bacterial infection is present by checking for leucocytes and other materials in the urine and recommend a treatment.
Leucocytes are white blood cells that chiefly function as they move through the body by protecting against microorganisms that cause disease. Determining which of the five types of leucocytes (basophils, eosinophils, neutrophils, lymphocytes, or monocytes) plus the total number seen in the cat’s urine will allow a veterinarian to diagnose the type and extent of the disease present.
The urinary tract of cats is normally considered sterile, so when leucocytes are found in a sterile sample, the inference is that there is some disease process going on and bacteria are present. A veterinarian will usually acquire a sterile urine sample by performing a procedure called a cystocentesis, withdrawing urine from the bladder using a sterile needle and syringe. An abundance of white blood cells seen under microscopic examination may signal some type of inflammation of the lower urinary tract, bladder or kidneys.
Leucocytes in urine are indicative of several feline diseases. Feline urinary tract disease (FLUTD) may be bacterial in nature and is seen in both male and female cats, usually middle-aged and older. The cat may be urinating more often and in inappropriate places. They may be seen to strain and urination can be painful, with the animal frequently licking at the urethral area after urination. The urine can be cloudy and/or bloody and have an abnormal odor. Bladder infection (cystitis) can also be caused by bacteria and predominantly occurs in male cats, both neutered and intact. Often cystitis will be accompanied by an accumulation of bladder stones, called uroliths, that are dangerous to the cat’s overall health. The symptoms are similar to those of a urinary tract infection, but if a bladder stone should either partially or fully block the urethra, uremic poisoning and the subsequent metabolic changes can be potentially fatal.
Once a cat has been diagnosed with either a urinary tract or bladder infection, a veterinarian may recommend placement of a urinary catheter to relieve pressure on the urethra and the bladder. This will probably require a short period of hospitalization. The vet will probably also prescribe an antibiotic, basing his choice of medication on the type and extent of infection. The antibiotic will need to be administered long enough to eliminate the bacteria. Most veterinarians will recommend a series of follow-up tests to determine the progress of treatment. If bladder stones are detected, the vet may also recommend a dietary change to a food containing less protein such as Hill’s Feline K/D or U/D.
The only sure way to determine if there are leucocytes in cat urine is through microscopic analysis. Urinary test strips will usually test a false positive with feline urine. The total number of leucocytes found in urine can be affected by many factors including method of urine collection, method of preservation, and volume of the sample.
Any kind of urinary or bladder infection in a cat is a serious illness and needs immediate veterinary attention. Untreated infections are particularly painful and can lead to kidney disease or failure. A cat with a blocked or swollen urethra may develop an inflamed urinary bladder that can burst and lead to uremic shock and death. Even after treatment, relapses are common and treatment will need to resume.