A medical issue that is relatively common in cats is urinary blockage. A cat that suffers from urinary blockage is unable to (fully) pass urine and hence is unable to empty their bladder. Urinary blockage is usually seen in male cats due to the way their urinary tract is built, and is a medical emergency. Urinary crystals, stones or plugs are usually the cause for the blockage. The severity of the situation is often not recognized by owners, as they are unfamiliar with the condition and think their cat might have a “simple” bladder infection. If left untreated too long, a blockage will turn fatal quickly.
There are different causes for urinary blockage. A common cause is a physical obstruction, like a urinary stone or urethral plug. When the urinary tract is abnormally narrow, due to for example inflammation, cancer, or scar tissue, urinary blockages may also happen. Blockages can also occur due to urethral spasms.
The most common cause for a urinary obstruction according to studies, is urethral inflammation plugs. During the study, in 60% of the cases in cats that had an urinary blockage, this blockage was caused by an urethral inflammation plug. Stones accounted for 20% of the cases and 5% had other reasons which caused an abnormally narrow urinary tract. In the rest of the cases, no underlying reasons were found.
Symptoms can vary from mild to severe. In the early stadium, in some cases the symptoms will resolve by itself, but often recur quickly after. In the early stadium of the blockage, the cat may show these signs:
- Straining to urinate
- Blood in urine
- Increase in meowing in discomfort and meowing in pain when urinating
- Frequent urination
- Urinating outside the box
- Licking their behind
A cat with an obstruction that has progressed may show these symptoms:
- Inability to stand
- Hide in discomfort
- Loss of appetite
It’s important to keep in mind that cats are very good at hiding when they are in pain or discomfort. When your cat is showing any symptoms, these should be taken seriously, and your cat should be seen by a vet. Do not wait and see if symptoms go away on their own.
A cat that has a urinary obstruction needs emergency treatment. A catheter will be placed into the urethra to flush out the obstruction. The bladder will be flushed and drained through the catheter. Typically, the catheter will be left for several days until the urethral swelling goes down. After a few days the catheter is removed, and the cat will be kept for observation to make sure they can urinate. When going home, the veterinarian may subscribe pain medication, specialized food to decrease crystals forming in the urine, or other medications to make your cat comfortable. If the reason for the obstruction were bladder stones, these will need to be surgically removed.
A cat that has recurring urethral obstruction, will need further testing to determine the reason for the recurring obstructions and if these can be managed medically. If the cat has several recurrences that can’t be unblocked or managed medically, and the cat has no underlying health conditions, a perineal urethrostomy may be advised. This is a surgical widening of the urethra, so crystals, plugs and small stones will pass instead of causing an obstruction.
Veterinarians advise taking any cat that is straining on the litter box to the vet for a check-up. Cats that have had an obstruction once, are at higher risk of recurrence. Preventive measurements can be taken but are not a guarantee that an obstruction won’t happen again. If stones were the reason for the obstruction, specialized food may be prescribed to prevent crystals forming in the urine. Depending on the type of stones and crystals in your pet’s urine, this food will have a restricted amount of minerals including phosphorus, magnesium, and calcium.
An important preventive measurement cat owners can take to prevent urinary obstruction is to make sure their cats drink enough water. Drinking water and urinating will flush out your cat’s system. As cats can be picky when it comes to drinking, try to increase their water intake by offering them water from a drinking fountain. Some cats also love drinking from a running tap.
Feeding food that has high moisture levels will also decrease the risk of developing urinary blockage. Wet food has way higher moisture levels then dry kibbles have. Another great option is a raw diet, which naturally also contains more moisture than dry kibbles.
Connections also have been found between stress and the development of stones. Factors such as changes in daily routine, households with more cats, or any other changes that can cause stress, may increase the chances of stones and crystals developing, which in turn will increase the risk of urinary blockage. Keeping your cat’s stress levels low, will reduce the risk of urinary blockage.
Urinary obstruction in cats
Is a common health issue that can turn fatal quickly. By keeping track of the litter box habits of your cat you get to know more about their health. By recognizing and intervening at the first sign of trouble, further complications can be prevented. Through this article, we hope to have informed cat owners about urinary obstruction, how to recognize it, and what they can do to lower the chances of their cat developing it. Our cat sitters will also keep track of your pet’s elimination when in our care, and will report back daily if they have urinated and/or defecated and will be able to recognize any signs of concern. If you would like to know more about our cat sitting or cat relocation services. Feel free to contact us. We will be happy to help.