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Rupture of the Bladder in Cats

By: Dr. David Diamond

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Rupture of the urinary bladder is a serious consequence of major trauma or underlying urinary tract disease and is the most common cause of uro-abdomen, which is the presence of urine within the abdominal cavity, in small animals.


  • Motor vehicle trauma is the most common cause of bladder rupture in small animals. The trauma often occurs when a cat is allowed to roam outdoors. If the bladder is full at the time of the accident, the force of the trauma can increase the pressure inside the bladder high enough to exceed the strength of the bladder muscle and a tear results.

  • Cats with urinary obstruction may strain hard enough to increase bladder pressure above the breaking strength of the bladder wall and cause a rupture. Obstruction can occur secondary to stones that form within the bladder and get lodged in the urethra, or due to masses growing within the pelvic canal that compress the urethra itself.

  • Tumors of the bladder wall can weaken the wall and lead to rupture.

  • Severe inflammation of the bladder wall (cystitis) can also cause weakening of the muscle and result in rupture.

  • Animals with urinary tract symptoms often need to be catheterized or have a needle passed into the bladder (cystocentesis) to get a sample of urine out of the bladder or to try to relieve the urethra of an obstruction. If the bladder wall is severely affected by any underlying condition, these procedures themselves can cause the bladder to develop a tear and leak urine into the abdomen.

  • Male cats are more likely to have obstruction of the urethra due to stones because the urethra is longer and narrower in males than in females. This may result in a higher risk of bladder rupture. Also male cats can have abnormalities of the prostate gland that cause obstruction of the urethra.

  • Other causes do not have any breed or sex predispositions.

    Once the bladder ruptures, urine begins leaking into the abdomen (uro-abdomen). The urine is the body's vehicle for getting rid of certain waste products. Normally, the urine is voided from the body through the urethra. When the bladder has ruptured, the animal is not able to completely rid himself of these waste products and they accumulate in the abdomen.

  • Some of these substances, especially potassium and urea, are reabsorbed through the surfaces of the abdominal organs and can quickly reach excessive levels in the bloodstream. The consequence of the blood levels of these waste products becoming too high is that the animal starts feeling ill.

  • Elevated blood potassium and elevated blood urea can cause depression, anorexia, vomiting and heart rhythm abnormalities.

  • As the bladder continues to leak, the abdomen may become distended with free urine. Some animals may continue to urinate almost normally after rupture of the bladder, while others are unable to urinate at all. Animals that are able to urinate even a small amount can make this a difficult diagnosis to make. Eventually, so much urine accumulates in the abdomen the intra-abdominal pressure increases. This can lead to decreased blood supply to the abdominal organs and loss of their function, difficulty in moving the diaphragm to breathe, and eventually death.

  • Fortunately, except for the cases of traumatic bladder rupture, most animals show symptoms associated with the urinary tract prior to the bladder rupturing. If these early symptoms are addressed and the underlying problem diagnosed and treated, rupture of the bladder can usually be averted. A veterinarian should evaluate any animal showing signs such as difficulty or straining to urinate, bloody urine or inability to urinate.

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