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Preventing Urinary Blockage in Cats

Bubba the Cat | Atlantic Veterinary Hospital, SeattleBy Bubba the Cat
Public Relations Officer

We’ve had a run of “blocked” cats recently, so I wanted to tell you more about it so you can save my kitty colleagues—and your wallet—a great deal of pain.

Urinary blockages occur almost exclusively male cats when a plug of material gets stuck in their urethra, the tube leading from the urinary bladder to the outside.

In a male cat like me, this tube has a very tiny diameter and it’s easy for urinary crystals, stones, or mucus plugs to create a traffic jam. When a cat is “blocked,” it cannot void urine and the bladder quickly overfills, causing tremendous pain and toxins to build up in the blood. This is a life-threatening emergency if not managed quickly, and can rapidly cause acute kidney failure and a painful death.

Preventing Urinary Blockage in Cats | AtlanticVetSeattle.comI am the poster child for urinary blockage – I’m a male, neutered cat, I live indoors, I’m middle-aged, I’m a bit chunky about the middle, and I prefer dry food. Cats with highly concentrated urine, a condition extremely common when we eat exclusively or primarily dry food, is always a factor in causing a urinary blockage.

To help prevent this in yours truly, I’m served wet food twice a day to help keep me hydrated and the dry food I eat is designed to help prevent crystals from forming.

Big hint here:

Grocery store brands of dry food are much more likely to be implicated in urinary blockage, so please don’t buy that stuff. In the long run, you’re not saving money and could be putting your cat’s life at risk.

Signs of potential urinary blockage

  • Repeated trips to the litter box and straining (sometimes people think their cat is constipated when it’s actually a urinary blockage)
  • Producing only drops of urine or no urine, instead of a normal amount
  • Crying, agitation, and sometimes vomiting associated with trying to urinate
  • Lethargy and depression as the pain and toxins becomes too much to bear

What to do if you suspect your cat has urinary blockage

If you think your cat may be experiencing a urinary blockage, take him to the vet immediately. Do not wait; this is a life-threatening situation.

The doctor will need to relieve the obstruction quickly. She will likely want to perform some tests to see if there are any significant complications, such as kidney failure and elevated potassium, which require additional treatment. Sometimes, X-rays or an ultrasound are helpful too.

To relieve the obstruction, the vet usually needs to sedate or anesthetize the cat, then carefully pass a urinary catheter into the penis, through the urethra, and into the bladder. The catheter allows the bladder to be emptied and for the vet to flush the bladder with saline to try to rinse some of the crystals out. These procedures must be done very carefully to avoid further damage to the urethra.

A softer, longer urinary catheter, called a “Slippery Sam,” is then placed to keep the pathway open and help prevent an immediate re-blockage. This second catheter will usually need to remain in place for a few days to allow the kitty’s bladder to return to its normal, un-stretched size, and to assist the kitty in passing more crystals and excess toxins in his urine.

IV fluids are usually needed to help the kitty flush toxins from his system and make more dilute urine. Antibiotics and medications to help relax the urethra and control pain and inflammation are usually prescribed.

Long-term care

Long-term care is aimed at preventing another urinary obstruction from happening, as they often will if not managed properly. There are special diets, both canned and dry, to help create more dilute urine and prevent the formation of urinary crystals and bladder stones.

If repeat blockages do occur, despite appropriate management, some kitties require surgery to produce a new, wider opening for urination (but this puts the kitty at risk for bacterial urinary infections, so hopefully can be avoided).

Preventive care

To help prevent this situation from occurring the first place, please consider feeding your cat a diet that promotes hydration, such as wet food and/or a high-quality dry food with water added.

Watch your kitty’s waistline and help him maintain his athletic build (good for him on so many levels).

And, if you ever notice a change in your cat’s urinary habits, especially a male cat, please take him to the vet immediately.

Tell them Bubba sent you.

10 Responses to “Preventing Urinary Blockage in Cats”

  1. Reply Kami Brown

    I wish I had known about feline urinary blockage sooner. Last week I lost my beautiful boy, inspite of repeated catheterizations and PU surgery.
    I am broken hearted and blaming myself.
    He appeared to be healthy until he started straining to urinate. We are now trying to cope with his loss as well as recover financially.
    My boy’s name was Merl, but we also, lovingly referred to him as Bubba.
    Thank you for the information.
    Sincerely,
    Kami Brown

  2. Reply beverley roberts

    I have just taken my dear kitty Marley in to the vet and had him euthanised. That is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I spent many years and thousands of dollars hoping that this attack of cystitis would be the last and that he would grow out of it. Looking at the $3,000.00 I had just spent plus all the many thousands during the previous four years, I still had hope that the operation for $3,000.00 would be the answer, but the local vet assured me it is not the best for him either as there can be many complications and further treatments for common infections. I finally was able to see that we had come to the end of the road. It was hard to see him laying on the vet table and trusting me to take care of this. He was so intelligent. The vet was so kind and explained what she would be doing so there were no surprises. I held him close and whispered loving messages to him as the vet inserted the needle in his hind leg. Then he quickly dropped his head and I knew he was gone. It seemed surreal to think that it was happening but although me and the other two kitties at home are slowly adjusting, I know I did the best for him and pray that there is a wonderful place him to explore.

    • Reply Beverly Fries

      I am so sorry to hear about your loss. My 4-year-old cat Dash and I are going through this now. He stayed at the vet’s office for about a week with catheters and IVs. We went back twice a week for a month for steroid shots, (now once a month). We went to the emergency vet last week because he was exhibiting symptoms; crying, straining, lethargy. My vet said he had a UTI, not a blockage this time. Anyway, Dash is on ampicillin and I hope this stops this vicious cycle. However, he is still straining and crying. I don’t see a bright outlook for him based on everything I have read. I hate to see him in pain like this. The surgery is out of my pocketbook range, and as I understand, it may or may not cure this. Again, Beverley, I am so sorry for your loss.

  3. Reply Mrs. Fishel

    My prayers are w/you. I have two cats. I pray that we do not experience anything such as what you have gone through. So sorry for the loss of your beloved pet. I am writing this w/big tears streaming down my face!

  4. Reply Wendy

    I just don’t understand why if dry food is so bad for blockage then why do vets and pet stores always feed our babies it and tell us to feed it to them when we adopt them and never tell us to add water to it or anything ! I think if you work at a pet store you should know what’s good and what’s bad and then tell us customers who don’t know that what we are feeding our babies is going to kill them ! I didn’t feed my cat food from grocery stores it was expensive healthy food and he still got blocked and had to be put down 2 weeks ago at the age of 21 months ., not fun at all …Really need a cure that’s guaranteed to work for years. He got sick so fast started on Tuesday July 21st and by Thursday July 23rd we had to euthanize him ! So many feelings right now and wondering why it happens to some cats and not others ? It’s devastating .

    • Reply Kerri Bean

      I’m so sorry for your all’s losses. I just had to put my sweet Bailey down this morning. He has been in the hospital since Wednesday and Friday he was fine but they wanted to do more test on him Apparently he was worst off then we had thought. Prepared to go get him today we got a call saying he didn’t have much time left. We went and said our goodbyes and kissed him. We are so heart broken. He will be missed so much. I hope one day we will meet again ❤️

  5. Reply Sherri A Thomas

    These stories are terrifying me. My baby Jasper is currently in ER vet’s hands, undergoing unblocking and I am out of my mind worrying. During Covid obviously patients are seen alone without their parents, and that is making the unknown worse I think. Jasper is 1 1/2, a rescue, otherwise healthy, seemingly not stressed, has two litter boxes, no other cat companions, and a elder dog he loves. In the absence of those non issues I’m left with the above mentioned, “Why did they tell me dry food was okay?!” Jasper loves water and is a great drinker, way better than my previous elder cat who I lost years ago. I wish they would call, update me, or at least let me know what happens after monitoring. Does he come home with a different catheter for a few days of home monitoring and then go back to have it taken out? If they are not doing that, then why aren’t they if that’s best practice. Ugh. To everyone above who’ve gone through this and lost their babies, I am so sorry and my heart is with you!!!

  6. Reply Gina R

    I’m so sorry for all of the stories I just read here, my heart breaks with you. My kitty a few years ago stayed in the hospital for a week with a urinary blockage and came home with no other treatments required and is doing well. This past weekend my other kitty had a urinary blockage and an extremely large and stretched out bladder with lots of pain. He was not urinating on his own after they removed the catheter and would require squeezing his bladder to help him pee multiple times a day and an unknown and painful future. He was such a loving cat, almost like a dog loving his belly rubbed. He was put down yesterday and I will struggle with my decision, Our pets know we loved them and we try to make the best decisions for them even though we are left with the guilt and heartache of the unknown. Author, please be more specific about high quality brands to feed our kitties because every brand claims to be the best and high priced doesn’t necessarily mean high quality.

  7. Reply Beverly Fries

    I am so sorry to hear about your loss. My 4-year-old cat Dash and I are going through this now. He stayed at the vet’s office for about a week with catheters and IVs. We went back twice a week for a month for steroid shots, (now once a month). We went to the emergency vet last week because he was exhibiting symptoms; crying, straining, lethargy. My vet said he had a UTI, not a blockage this time. Anyway, Dash is on ampicillin and I hope this stops this vicious cycle. However, he is still straining and crying. I don’t see a bright outlook for him based on everything I have read. I hate to see him in pain like this. The surgery is out of my pocketbook range, and as I understand, it may or may not cure this. Again, Beverley, I am so sorry for your loss.

  8. Reply Nece

    I’m so sorry for everyone’s losses on here. I’m definitely feeling better in this moment as I read everyone’s comments & responses. Early this morning my girls and I had to say goodbye to our handsome loving Patch..Right now I’m definitely upset that all the clinics I contacted never mentioned our baby could have had a blockage or UTI. We assumed he was constipated simply because of the signs. It never dawned on me that those were also signs that he was having issue urinating. I didn’t want to run to the vet if we could help treat him at home especially before he wasn’t already completely blocked. So I just don’t understand why no vet or vet nurse couldn’t mention the other possibilities. Yesterday he started screaming out in pain and a scream I had never heard him make before. I immediately knew something was definitely wrong. So I called around to some local 24 hour vet hospitals and found one that could take us . After his evaluation we knew his fate of coming back home with us was extremely grime. Of course the hospitals charges was definitely unreachable for our family during a National Pandemic. We’re all just getting back to work just this summer. So when the vet gave us the information on his procedure needed along with his aftercare I knew we had to make the best decision for Patch. I could see he was suffering and that was breaking my heart. So as the mother and primary care giver I made the decision to have him put down. The hospital was great working with us after seeing just how devastating this situation our family. They even took care of putting him down free of charge. I was able to be with him assure him that he wouldn’t be in pain any longer. As devastating as it was to say goodbye I definitely didn’t know what type of life he would have after surgery since I was informed that this could have been a recurring situation for him. I know I could’ve kept watching him suffer. I’m just broken hearted at this time and I’m definitely missing him around our home. However we did pay the crematorium fees so that we could bring him home and always have him with us.

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