« Blocked cat: how to tell it’s happening? » | This article provides an overview of a condition called a urethral obstruction. It explains causes, symptoms and what to do about it. A urethral obstruction is a potentially life-threatening situation for a cat.
Thus, it is important for cat owners, or those who look after them, to be aware of the existence of this condition and understand how to navigate things through.
- Please, if your cat is struggling, don’t read this blog and contact your closest veterinary hospital
- This blog is intended as a source of general information for pet owners. It does not constitute specific veterinary advice towards a particular medical case. If you are concerned with a particular aspect of your pet’s health, please, book a video appointment to talk with a qualified veterinarian
Blocked cat: what are the signs?
« Blocked » cats have difficulties to pass urine and in some instances they cannot pass any urine at all, which becomes life-threatening. Cats suffering from urethral obstruction can show the following signs:
- stranguria: trying to pass urine but not producing any or very little, painful
- anuria/oliguria: passing no urine at all or smaller amount than normal
- hematuria: presence of blood in the urine which can appear pink or red
- dropping small amount of urine
- licking their genitals
- anorexia: refusing to eat, not interested in food
There is an element of predisposition for cats who suffer from urethral obstruction. For example, male cats of any age are more affected than females cats or dogs. In dogs, Dalmatians are predisposed to the formation of certain crystals and might also suffer from urethral obstruction.
The risk of urethral obstruction increases with the simultaneous presence of a urinary tract infection, cancer or crystals and stones. Crystals and stones can form because of a certain composition of the urine or due to certain diseases and/or breed predispositions.
In cats, a substance called matrix can develop into a urethral plug. It is composed of cellular debris, urinary crystals and might host bacteria. Because of the anatomy of the urethra in male cats, it is easier for those elements to block it, leading to the inability to properly pass urine.
When urine cannot pass, the bladder increases in size and makes it gradually uncomfortable and painful for the cat. Besides, it can lead to a series of problems such as listed below, in veterinary medicine literature:
- hyperkalemic cardiac dysrhythmia
- urinary bladder rupture
- urinary tract infection
- post obstructive diuresis
- bladder atonia/hypotonia
What to do about it?
A blocked cat warrants emergency veterinary treatment
A cat who is suspected of urethral obstruction is a veterinary emergency. They must be seen by a veterinarian and treated promptly (i.e.: unblocked) to avoid serious consequences, which could involve the death of the animal.
The initial examination will often reveal an enlarged bladder and likely abdominal pain. The cat might be dribbling urine and in advanced cases, the heart rate might be slower than it should normally be.
Blood tests and urine analysis will be recommended to further understand the health status of the cat. Vets will be interested in understanding the extent to which the renal function could be impacted as well as other vital organs. This will indicate which direction to give to the emergency treatment of the blocked cat, on a case by case basis.
The examination of a urine sample will help to determine whether an infection, crystals/stones or something else could be involved. A urine culture might be required, depending on findings. Additionally, x-rays, ultrasound and electrocardiogram will help to complete the assessment of the situation.
Pet owners should expect their cats to remain in the hospital for the provision of emergency treatment, medical stabilisation, post-operative monitoring and until any underlying cause is resolved and the cat is passing urine normally, on his own. This could amount to a few days to a week, in more complex cases.
Will it happen again?
How to prevent urethral obstruction in cats
Dealing with a blocked cat is a stressful experience for their owner. It is also a life-threatening situation for the cat and has a non negligible probability for happening again.
Hence, it is essential to understand what steps to implement, as a matter of prevention. It is recommended to:
- encourage the cat to drink water
- strictly follow the prescribed diet and/or medical treatment
- closely monitor the cat for further signs of urethral obstruction