My cat Nashville (aka Bug) is a 4-year-old neutered male who recently has been diagnosed with a bladder infection. According to our vet, we caught it really early as he wasn’t even in any pain or distress (we noticed he was in the litter box to urinate a little more often).
They had us get a urine sample at home and take it in to them. They ran a urinalysis and then gave us a week’s worth of Clavamox and had us bring in a second sample the following week. At that point he still hadn’t cleared up, so we did another week of Clavamox and another home sample. After still not being clear, they took the urine sample with a needle and sent it off to a better lab for more thorough tests. We should get the results in a day or two.
A friend who also has a male cat with a history of UTIs seems to think getting the sample at home is more inaccurate, since the urine will start to crystallize as soon as it hits the air. (We do have to drive 15-20 minutes to our vet, and the vet was aware of that.) Is that really the case? If so, what is the purpose of getting a sample at home other than it probably being cheaper and easier?
First off, kudos to you for getting on top of Bug’s problem the instant you noticed something was wrong. Male cats that display any litter box irregularities should always see a vet immediately, because the irregularities can be a harbinger of urinary obstruction, which is urgently life-threatening.
Collecting urine at home has a couple of advantages and a few disadvantages. Let’s start with the advantages: You don’t have to take your cat to the vet (and most cats aren’t fans of going to the vet), and your cat doesn’t have to have a needle inserted through his abdomen and into his bladder. It’s also usually less expensive.
But then there are the disadvantages. The most important is sample contamination. The only true way to diagnose a bladder infection is with a urine culture, which usually isn’t possible or accurate unless the sample is collected by bladder tap. Also, crystals can form in urine that has been collected at home, leading to confusion in analysis (note as well that crystals can form in urine that has been collected by bladder tap if the sample isn’t analyzed immediately).
If you are worried about a bladder infection (especially one that hasn’t responded completely to antibiotics), bladder tap with culture is the best tactic. There are some instances where home collection is reasonable (for instance, if measurement of urine pH is the greatest concern), but in general, bladder tap is the superior method.
Many people worry about pain or complications during bladder taps. Be aware that most animals do not appear to feel significant pain during bladder taps. Complications such as hemorrhage and bladder rupture have been reported, but they are exceedingly rare (in the last 11 and a half years, no patient of mine has suffered a significant complication from a bladder tap). That said, owners should always discuss the risks and benefits of bladder taps (and all procedures) with their vet prior to sample collection.
Finally, I want to point out that bladder infections are rare in 4-year-old cats. It is more likely that Bug is suffering from FLUTD (click the link to read more). This syndrome is much more common in younger cats, and it can lead to urinary obstruction. For that reason, it is a very good thing that Bug’s bladder tap sample is being analyzed to establish the nature of the problem.