Urinary Blockage: A Serious Problem in Cats

orange and white male cat

Guest post by Lorie Huston, DVM

If your male cat is unable to urinate, he needs veterinary care immediately.

Feline urinary blockages are a true emergency and cats, particularly male cats, that are unable to urinate require emergency veterinary care in order to save their life.

What Is Feline Urinary Blockage?

More accurately termed feline urethral blockage, a urinary blockage occurs when the urethra of the cat (the tube that runs from the urinary bladder through the penis and to the outside of the body) becomes obstructed with stones, crystals or sludge. This blockage results in your cat being unable to urinate.

A Blocked Cat Represents an Emergency Situation

A urinary blockage will quickly become a life-threatening problem for your cat. Without immediate veterinary intervention to relieve the blockage, your cat will likely die from this disease.

Essentially, in a normal healthy cat that is urinating, waste products that are produced by the body are eliminated through the urine. When your cat is unable to urinate, he is also unable to rid his body of these waste products. In effect, a blocked cat ends up poisoning himself on his own waste.

Which Cats Are Likely to Become Blocked?

Cats that develop urinary blockages are almost always male. In the male cat, the urethra narrows as it passes through the penis. This is where most obstructions occur. Female cats are anatomically different than males and do not have this narrowing in the urethra. As a result, female cats rarely become obstructed.

Any male cat has the potential to become obstructed. I see more obstructions in neutered male cats than un-neutered males. This may be due to the fact that the vast majority of my male feline patients are neutered though. I also see more overweight cats experiencing urinary blockages. But I have seen un-neutered male cats in perfect body condition become obstructed as well.

Symptoms of Feline Urinary Blockage

Cats that are blocked will cry in pain and will make frequent attempts to urinate either in the litter box or outside of the litter box. Vomiting is common as toxicity develops. As your cat becomes more ill, he will stop eating and become lethargic. Eventually, your cat may even reach a comatose state. Urinary blockages are frequently fatal for cats and the course of events can happen relatively quickly. Cats that are blocked can go from being healthy in the morning to being in serious condition by later that same day.

Treatment for Urinary Blockage

Treatment involves relieving the obstruction, most often by passing a catheter through the urethra and into the bladder. The catheter may need to be left in place for a time after its placement to give the inflammation in the urethra time to resolve. During this time, your cat will actually be urinating through the catheter. Sedation is necessary in most instances in order to pass the catheter.

Supportive care in the form of intravenous fluids and other treatment as necessary to restore normal kidney function will be necessary also. Your veterinarian may want to monitor your cat’s blood values, particularly the blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine, to make certain that your cat’s kidneys are stabilizing. BUN and creatinine both provide measures of the amount of nitrogenous waste products present in the blood stream and are frequently used to check to check kidney function.

If stones are present in the urinary bladder, surgical removal may be recommended. Your veterinarian may recommend radiographs (x-rays) of your cat’s bladder to see if there are stones present. A urinalysis and culture/sensitivity of the urine will also likely be performed.

Your veterinarian may recommend placing your cat on a special diet once his recovery has begun. There are commercial diets that can help dissolve crystals and stones in the bladder and, depending on your cat’s individual situation, your veterinarian may recommend one of these diets. A canned diet may also be recommended to increase the amount of moisture consumed by your cat.

Encouraging your cat to drink water through the use of dripping faucets or water fountains is a good idea. Some people also add water to their cat’s food to increase water consumption.

Lorie Huston practiced veterinary medicine for over 20 years. Besides a successful career in a busy small animal hospital in Providence, RI, Lorie was also a successful freelance writer specializing in pet care and pet health topics. She was the president of the Cat Writers Association. Lorie Huston passed away in October of 2014 after becoming critically ill. 

Related reading:

How to prevent litter box problems

Chronic renal disease in cats

16 Comments on Urinary Blockage: A Serious Problem in Cats

  1. Angie
    April 18, 2017 at 7:01 am (6 months ago)

    Hallo I have a 14-year-old male cat who is prone to blockage. Last month he got 10-day pills and got another blockage soon after that, now he is again on 16-day pills. The veg said that I need to get some of his pee for the test. Well, that’s not easy. The vet suggested that I empty a liter box for the cat to pee, but he just won’t go into that empty box to pee…I wonder if blood test would work too…also, I feed thim grain free canned food (mixed with 2 tablespoons of water) and I also give him some boiled chicken breast as a snack. So if he really had a kidney problem, can I still feed the cat chicken breast? Isn’t too much protein bad for the kidney? Thanks in advance!
    Angie

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      April 18, 2017 at 8:01 am (6 months ago)

      I’m assuming the pills you mention are antibiotics, Angie? Your vet can get a urine sample from your cat via cystocentesis (by inserting a needle directly into his bladder, it’s a simple procedure that does not require sedation) if you can’t get one at home. The most important thing for cats with urinary issues is feeding a wet diet, and you’re already doing that. Boiled chicken breast should be fine as a treat. From what you’re describing, your cat does not have kidney disease, but even if he did, protein restriction is not indicated until the very latter stages of the disease. Here’s more information on what to feed a cat with kidney disease: http://consciouscat.net/2016/02/15/the-right-diet-for-cats-with-kidney-disease/

      Reply
      • Angie
        April 18, 2017 at 10:05 am (6 months ago)

        THANK YOU so much for your prompt reply, Ingrid. Yes, those pills are antibiotics. And he usually got 2 injections, plus pills. Yes, I have been feeding cats just canned food since years, that’s why I wonder he has urine blockages so often..ok, he had once 3 years ago, then twice last month..and it’s not a problem at all for him to take pills, but the taxi drive is a torture for him.

        I don’t know whether he has a kidney problem or not, but the vet had hinted that it could be kidney or bladder stone.
        Thank you so much for the link to kidney problem too, Ingrid.
        Angie

        Reply
  2. Jo
    May 17, 2016 at 9:51 pm (1 year ago)

    The vet put my cat on hills c/d for blockage and he has been okay ever since. The food has saved his life. We were rushing him to the vet about once every three weeks for about 6 mos. Very hard on the cat. He just kept getting blocked. He has been on the food for 3 years and no blockages sonce we started the food.

    Reply
  3. Maria
    March 29, 2012 at 8:09 pm (6 years ago)

    I know but theres alot of things that r going wrong with him and they dont know wat his temp is very high and he could go into organ failure now and his blood is at a toxic level. I hope he is going to be alrite has any one else had these problems?

    Reply
  4. Maria
    March 28, 2012 at 7:26 pm (6 years ago)

    I have a 4yr old male cat that is in the vet now and has been for four days they keep doing tests and xrays to determine wat the problem is, he has a catheria tube in him he hasnt eaten for four days and cant urinate by himself y r these vets taking so long to treat our cat?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      March 28, 2012 at 8:28 pm (6 years ago)

      I’m sorry your cat is dealing with this, Maria. Unfortunately, blocked cats often require several days of hospitalization. Once a catheter is placed, urine output is measured, and the cat may need to be on IV fluids to re-establish proper urine production and kidney function. Once the catheter is removed, your vet will probably still want to observe your cat to make sure he can urinate comfortably on his own again. Best wishes to your cat for a quick and complete recovery!

      Reply
    • Debbie
      May 5, 2015 at 8:02 pm (2 years ago)

      Maria, so sorry to hear your kitty having this problem n stuck in the hospital too. Hopefully with the catheter tube they can get some of the toxic out of his system n his temp will go down. Then he may start to feel a bit better n back to eating n back home. I just took my female cat for similar issue n waiting on lab results. I hope your kitty gets to feeling better real soon. Hugs

      Reply
  5. Rachel
    September 13, 2011 at 9:19 am (6 years ago)

    Hello Ingrid,

    My 9 year old female cat has been diagnosed with Bladder Stones. The vet has prescribed Hills S/D diet to try and dissolve them to avoid a costly surgery. I am seriously concerned about the ingredients. The first listed ingredient is Pork by-product which can’t be good for her and she won’t eat the food by itself. She will eat it if mixed with some other food. Since she won’t eat it alone they want to try her on the Royal Canin SO but it has fish oil in the ingredients and she is allergic to fish. Do I stick with the Hills or would giving her a supplement in wet food to try and change the PH of her urine work at all. I’m so worried about her as she must be in a lot of pain and just want to do what is best, I just don’t know what that is.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      September 13, 2011 at 11:12 am (6 years ago)

      I’m sorry about your kitty, Rachel. I don’t blame you for being concerned about the ingredients in the s/d diet. It’s typically what traditional vets will reach for as a first line of treatment for bladder stones. There are supplements that change the urinary ph that could probably be used with a regular, better quality, grain-free canned diet. You’d have to run this by your vet to see which direction her ph needs to go – alkaline or acidic – to determine which supplement would be the right one for her. It depends on the kinds of crystals they found in her urine.

      Your best bet may be to work with a holistic vet. He or she may be able to formulate a home-prepared diet for your kitty that will achieve the same thing the s/d diet is designed to do, but will have better ingredients.

      All my best to your little girl – I know it’s so upsetting when they go through something like this.

      Reply
  6. Eileen
    July 5, 2011 at 5:18 pm (6 years ago)

    I have an 11 y/o female tiger, she has been throwing up a white mucus like foam, and having diarrhea for about 2 wekks or more ! she still has an appetite but does appear to have lost a bit of weight .

    Any suggestions??

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 5, 2011 at 5:25 pm (6 years ago)

      Eileen, two weeks of diarrhea is a long time. I think you need to get her to a vet as soon as you can if you haven’t already done so.

      Reply
  7. Liz | Natural Cat Care Blog
    July 5, 2011 at 5:09 pm (6 years ago)

    Thanks for sharing this important info, Lorie & Ingrid. As Dawn says, it’s scary and anything we can do to be aware and respond correctly helps.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 5, 2011 at 5:24 pm (6 years ago)

      It’s probably one of the scariest feline health emergencies, Liz.

      Reply
  8. Dawn
    July 5, 2011 at 8:08 am (6 years ago)

    I had a male cat who was prone to blockages. The vet taught me how to feel for the blockage and I would have to rush him to the vet right away. We even changed his food, but he still got them from time to time. It was very scary, and luckily it never happened when the vet wasn’t open. I guess the “Gods” were looking down on us.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 5, 2011 at 2:51 pm (6 years ago)

      I’m glad your cat turned out to be okay, Dawn.

      Reply

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