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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.

5 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.
    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.

  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 .

  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!!!

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