Urinary blockages, also called a feline urethral obstruction (FUO) or a urinary obstruction, is one of the most common and life-threatening problems in cats. Veterinary medical staff will often abbreviate the problems to say the cat is “blocked” or write the letters U.O. for Urinary Obstruction.
You may have heard of this serious condition, but did you know that autumn is the most common time of year for male cats to "block?"
What is a Feline Urethral Obstruction?
A feline urethral obstruction happens when small stones and protein-rich material are formed that literally block the flow of urine from the bladder through the urethra, preventing the cat from urinating.
Why Are Urinary Obstructions More Common During the Fall?
The theory is that cats typically drink more water during the hot summer months. As the staggering summer heat eases up and the seasons quickly shift to cooler fall temperatures, cats are likely to consume less water. As the cat drinks less, the urine becomes more concentrated and the likelihood of an accumulation of “debris” occurs which is more likely to cause a plug.
Although some veterinarians believe there is an increased incidence of feline urethral obstruction in the fall, they can occur any time of year.
What Animals Can Experience a Urinary Blockage?
Although any animal is susceptible to a urethral obstruction, male cats are at greater risk for feline urethral obstruction than female cats because their urethras are narrow and long, making them easier to plug. However, female cats can also “block.” If your female cat has symptoms of a urinary blockage, please see your vet immediately.
What are Signs of a Blocked Cat?
Feline urethral obstruction (the “blocked cat”) is a potentially fatal condition, usually seen in male cats, during which urine is prevented from leaving the bladder. The urethra may be plugged with mucus, urinary sediment, inflammatory cells, or small bladder stones.
Signs of a urinary obstruction in cats include:
- Straining to go to the bathroom
- Excessive vocalization
- Pain when his abdomen is touched
As the condition progresses, cats may show evidence of abdominal pain and howl when touched or when trying to urinate. Many cats will vomit. Some cats will have a wide based gait (they walk funny) leading some owners to believe they are having trouble walking or are lame.
Your normally sweet cat may even swat or bite you when you try to touch him. This is because he feels horrible.
If your pet tries multiple times to urinate and produces just a few drops of urine or none at all, chances are good that he is completely or partially blocked. Many owners misinterpret the straining in the litter box for constipation.
If you suspect your cat has feline urethral obstruction, see your veterinarian IMMEDIATELY!
How Serious is a Urinary Blockage in Cats?
Feline urethral obstructions are life threatening!
Within 24 hours, a cat may become lethargic, not wanting to get up, move, or eat. Within 72 hours of a feline urethral obstruction, cats can die.
If urine is prevented from exiting the bladder, pressure within the urinary tract can damage the kidneys. Urine contains metabolic waste products that the body must eliminate; urethral obstruction causes these toxins to build up. In addition, the bladder wall may be stretched to the point where muscle function is lost; in the worst cases, it ruptures.
A urethral obstruction is an emergency situation and you should go to your veterinarian immediately if you suspect that your pet is “blocked.” If not treated quickly, pets with a urinary obstruction can die a painful death from complications.
What Happens When You Take Your Blocked Cat to the Vet
As soon as you arrive at your veterinarian’s office, your cat will be examined to determine if his bladder is enlarged and whether an obstruction is likely. This is a quick and easy diagnosis by the veterinary team gently feeling the size of your cats bladder by feeling the abdomen.
If an obstruction is confirmed, your cat will likely be rushed to the back where emergency treatment and stabilization will be initiated.