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Urinary Obstruction in Cats

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Is your cat suddenly making frequent trips to the litter box? Is he straining or meowing when he tries to urinate? He may be affected by lower urinary tract disease, most commonly in the forms of urinary obstruction and feline idiopathic cystitis.

Feline urinary obstruction (UO) is an acute obstruction of the urinary tract, and although this disease can affect any cat, it is most common in males.

It can be caused by stones, but usually the cause is a plug of inflammatory debris and crystals, which is part of the common syndrome called feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC). FIC is an inflammation of unknown cause affecting the lower urinary tract. Factors that may play a role in the development of FIC include viruses, diet (dry food diets with high mineral content), stress, strict confinement, and genetic factors (long-haired cats seem to be more affected).

What To Watch For

Usually cats with urinary tract infection and/or obstruction show typical signs of discomfort. They will strain and make frequent and prolonged attempts to urinate, but the amount of urine passed is quite small. Affected cats will groom their genital area excessively, and sometimes they will urinate outside the litterbox. Occasionally, there will be blood present in the urine. You should take care not to mistake these symptoms for constipation and if you notice any of the following, consult your veterinarian.

  • Blood in the urine
  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Straining to urinate
  • Distressed meowing while urinating
  • Increased grooming of the genital region
  • Urinating in inappropriate locations – often in cool smooth surfaces such as bathtubs and sinks

    Complete urinary obstruction can develop into a life-threatening emergency within a period of 48 hours. The following symptoms constitute a medical emergency and signal that you should call your veterinarian immediately.

  • Frequent unsuccessful attempts to urinate
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Reluctance to move

    Veterinary Care

    Your veterinarian will want to do a thorough physical examination in order to diagnosis your cat's problem. In addition, some diagnostic tests, such as a urinalysis, abdominal X-rays, or an ultrasound, may be necessary.

    Usually treatment for your cat will consist of relieving the obstruction with catheterization (the insertion of a long, flexible tube) and flushing the bladder with sterile fluid. This procedure will most likely require sedation. Your veterinarian may also prescribe medication for pain and spasm.

    Preventative Care

    There are several things you can do to lessen or prevent the occurrence or recurrence of urinary obstruction. Some of these include:

  • Provide your pet with a clean litter box at all times and frequent opportunities to urinate.

  • Provide plenty of fresh clean drinking water. Some manufacturers offer products such as a pet waterfall to encourage water consumption by cats.

  • Help your pet maintain a healthy body weight and prevent obesity by proper feeding and diet.

  • Feed a canned food product if at all possible.

  • Try to minimize stress for your pet by keeping the environment as stable as possible. Provide scratching posts, climbing toys, toys to chase, and don't introduce new animals to his environment.

  • Carefully monitor your cat for signs of recurrence.

  • Complete urinary obstruction can develop into a life-threatening emergency with 48 hours.

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