If your cat has a urinary blockage that keeping them from peeing, you need to seek treatment right away.

By Kristi Valentini
August 24, 2020
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A cat that can’t urinate is in big trouble. If your cat is straining to go with little to nothing coming out, it’s an emergency. Your cat could have a urinary blockage, which can be fatal if not treated right away. Learn how to tell if your cat has a urinary blockage, what causes it, and how you can prevent it from happening to your kitty.

What Is a Urinary Blockage in Cats? 

A urinary blockage happens when something blocks the flow of urine through the urethra (the tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body). It primarily affects male adult cats because their urethra is longer and narrower than in female cats. 

What Causes Urinary Blockages? 

A number of things can cut off the flow of urine through the urethra, including:

  • Stones or crystals formed in the urinary tract system
  • Clumps of mucus, white blood cells, or other matter
  • Swelling and spasms from irritation of the urethra
  • Tumors

How Long Can a Cat Live With a Urinary Blockage?

When the urethra is obstructed, urine backs up in the bladder and toxins build in the blood. Without treatment to remove the blockage, cats can die in three to six days.

How Do I Know If My Cat Has a Urinary Blockage?

If your cat hasn’t released urine in over 24 hours, it’s an emergency, Kelly Williams, DVM, medical director of VCA Carrollwood Cat Hospital, says. You have a better chance of noticing this if you’re scooping your cat’s litter box frequently. Other signs your cat is struggling to pass urine include:

  • Going in and out the litter box with increased frequency
  • Straining in the litter box
  • Crying
  • Licking the genital area
  • Passing some urine outside the litter box
  • Vomiting or lack of appetite

“Call your veterinarian as soon as you notice anything wrong,” Williams advises. “If your cat is obstructed, it’s a life-threatening emergency that needs immediate treatment.”

How is a Urinary Blockage Diagnosed and Treated? 

Once you arrive at the vet, the doctor will do an exam on your cat. In addition to an exam, your vet may also need to take X-rays, get a urine sample, and do a blood test to make a diagnosis. 

If there is an obstruction to the urinary tract, the vet will sedate your cat and insert a catheter (small tube) in the urethra to flush out the blockage and the bladder. In some cases, stones have to be pushed back into the bladder. Your vet will then perform surgery to remove the bladder stones.

How to Prevent Urinary Blockages in Cats

If your cat has had a blockage or other urinary tract problems, it’s important to take steps to prevent a recurrence. Williams says to focus on three ways to help your cat avoid a urinary blockage: hydration, nutrition, and stress reduction.

Hydration

“It’s important to make sure cats have adequate water consumption,” Williams says. There are many ways to entice cats to drink more water. But because cats can be picky, you’ll have to test out what your cat likes best. Williams offers some suggestions for getting your cat to stay hydrated:

  • Use a wider bowl so your cat’s whiskers don’t touch the sides
  • Switch to a deeper bowl
  • Change the location of the water bowl
  • Or conversely, be consistent about where you place the water (for example: which side of the food bowl)
  • Give your cat ice cubes in the water bowl for them to play with
  • Provide running water, such as from a faucet or a pet fountain

Food

“Some cats are prone to urinary problems and require more management than the average cat,” Williams says. “If your cat has had urinary problems in the past, prescription diets can keep crystals and stones from forming.”

If your vet recommends a prescription diet, make sure that’s the only food your kitty is getting. And always contact your vet if your cat isn’t eating well. You can change to another type of prescription food with a flavor your cat may like better. 

For cats that are less at risk, a simple switch to canned food can help. It has more water than dry kibble and helps increase the amount of water in your cat’s diet. 

Stress

“Stress is a big factor in cats that suffer with bladder inflammation,” Williams says. “This inflammation can lead to blood and inflammatory cells in the urine, which can clump together and create plugs that block the urethra.”

To keep Kitty in a low-stress environment, remember that cats crave consistency. Changes to their routines or environments can be upsetting. Also, indoor cats may be more likely to become stressed out from boredom. Try introducing new toys and other enriching activities—like a window perch to look at wildlife—to minimize stress from boredom.

When is Surgery Necessary? 

If those adjustments aren’t enough to keep urinary trouble at bay, it’s possible that cats who continue to get urinary blockages may need preventative surgery to help their condition. A perineal urethrostomy is a surgery that widens the urethra so that stones and other substances can readily pass through rather than getting stuck. 

Urinary blockages in cats are scary. But the good news is that treatment offers immediate relief. Just be sure to contact your vet right away if you notice your cat is having trouble using the litter box.