Published by: Ingrid King. Last Updated on: June 22, 2023 by Crystal Uys
Written 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 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.
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Featured Image Credit: YULIYA Shustik, Shutterstock
About the author
Ingrid King is an award-winning author, former veterinary hospital manager, and veterinary journalist who is passionate about cats.