Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: October 31, 2022 by Crystal Uys

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

About the author

30 Comments on Urinary Blockage: A Serious Problem in Cats

  1. My cat seems better after the catheter but it cost around 9000 for the whole procedure. Urinary health cd is all he eats now but they also said he must stay inside. I feel awful keeping him in though since he’s really been a free roam cat all his life. I want to let him out any suggestions??? Please

    • Hi Carlos,

      Your veterinarians are the best people to speak to about your precious cat. His mental health will affect his physical health and vice versa. Let them know your concerns and they will advise you accordingly. If they do recommend that he needs to stay indoors we can recommend this website to make sure all his needs are met:

  2. My cat Blue was only 6 when he had this problem. He was in and out of the vets for over 2 weeks with this problem. In the end the kindest thing to do was let him go. This was in June last year and I still can’t get over it. The vets didn’t find a definite cause as he also had a UTI they said. The vets said anything such as diet, weight, stress etc could of caused it. I can’t help feel guilty though as I loved that cat with all my heart but for some reason I feel as if I caused him to get the blockage. As the vet said that stress was one of the reasons some cats get it I kept feeling that the times I told him off and stuff like that would of affected/caused it. I really do miss him more than ever. I just don’t understand why him, He was only 6 years old.

  3. My cat was at the vet for four days due to blockage. They took his catheter out last night at midnight and this morning they called and told me he has not peed by himself overnight meaning he was blocked again. I had to put him to sleep this morning because I couldn’t afford the procedure again. Is it normal to be blocked again hours after the catheter was removed?

      • Thank you, I just feel like if I kept trying he would still be here. I’m just so sad. They offered a surgical procedure that would widen the urethra for$1500 but it was just too much. I wonder why they don’t offer that the first time it happens especially when it’s likely to reoccur

        • I’m assuming you’re talking about the PU (perineal urethrostomy) surgery. Since this is a very tough surgery for cats to go through and recover form, it is generally not offered as the first choice of treatment for a blocked cat.

  4. Hello, our 7 year old male orange tabby has been dealing with this for three years. He’s on hills’ c/d or s/d and takes fluoxetine and gabapentin daily. We haven’t had any scares since starting this treatment, thankfully. However, he’s very overweight. We add water to his dry food twice a day. We encourage play, but he often lays down and watches instead. What would you recommend ?

    • I would take him off the dry food and feed canned instead. These tips will help him lose weight:

  5. Our 5 year Cat was not acting like himself yesterday afternoon but was still getting up and walking around, so I thought maybe he just had a little bug. He had been sick once a couple of years ago and after a vet visit he ended fine, so I figured this was one of those times. This morning when I got up he looked a little sicker but like before he would walk and then lie down. I had to take my daughter to hospital because she was sick and later that day when I got home I went to check on him and he looked really really bad. I took him to the vet and they told me that he was sick because he could not pee. I have three cats total and I had no idea he wasn’t using the litter box. So they tell me exactly what they need to do, by the time I got home which was 30 minutes later they called and said that after they sedated him his heart stopped. I was devastated because I had no idea that it was deadly. At first
    I blamed the office because they said it happened after they sedated him but all three cats go there every 4 months and get sedated and shaved. I feel so guilty because I didn’t take him sooner. I started reading up on it and he never had severe symptoms that I could see until I got home from the hospital . He hid it very well, Tigger has always been a very laid back Cat. I have two more male cats and now that I know this happens to male cats I will look for any little sign and rush them right away. I don’t know if my guilt will ever go away. I am truly heartbroken.

    • I’m so sorry, Kim. It’s always hard to lose a cat, but it’s devastating when it happens like this. My heart goes out to you.

    • Kim;I am so very sorry that this happened to you! Please don’t blame yourself, because this type of problem comes on super fast. Our 3 year old “Chunkie” was absolutely fine last night when we went to bed, and by 9:00 a.m. this morning he was being rushed into surgery at our vet’s office. His bladder was completely blocked, and the vet said that he was literally so close to death it would have happened within 3 hours, maybe less…. God bless you my dear, I hope you find it in your heart to not blame yourself… <3

  6. We took our cat to the vet with bladder blockage, he had been vomiting and was meowing in pain. The vet tried to relieve the blockage with a catheter under anaesthetic, but was unable to. What would prevent the removal of the blockage with a catheter? We had to put our cat to sleep which we found very distressing as everything I am reading suggests this problem is very curable in cats.

    • I’m sorry about your cat, Lynley. It’s unusual that a blockage can’t be removed under anesthesia. I know it’s not going to bring your cat back, but you could ask to have your records reviewed by another vet to get a better understanding of what may have happened.

  7. 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!

    • 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:

      • 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.

  8. 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.

  9. 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?

  10. 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?

    • 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!

    • 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

  11. 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.

    • 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.

  12. 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??

    • 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *