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Male or female, purebred or domestic shorthair, any cat can develop one of the urinary conditions that we talked about last week: Feline Idiopathic Cystitis (FIC), stones, or infection. But when the cat in question is a neutered male — BEWARE! They are at the highest risk for developing a much dreaded veterinary emergency — urinary obstruction.

Neutered male cats have incredibly narrow urethras (the tube that drains the bladder to the outside world through the penis). Therefore, a small stone or a plug made of proteinaceous material and/or crystals can easily become lodged inside and completely block the outflow of urine. In fact, a neutered male’s urethra is so narrow that involuntary muscular contractions called urethral spasms can be enough to cause an obstruction.

When a cat is "blocked" he will usually posture to urinate, but nothing, or just the tiniest dribble, will come out. As the condition progresses, he becomes increasingly uncomfortable. Eventually the pain is excruciating, and the bladder may even rupture due to the buildup of pressure. Also, the chemicals that should be exiting his body through urination quickly begin to accumulate in the blood stream, wreaking havoc on the body. Death follows from this self-poisoning unless rapid intervention takes place.

Treating a blocked cat involves emptying his bladder, relieving the urethral blockage, and dealing with the biochemical abnormalities that have developed. This is typically done by placing a catheter through the urethra and leaving it in place to give the bladder a chance to remain empty and recover.

A recent study has shown that in some cases, draining the urine from the bladder via needle and syringe (often repeatedly) can also work. Intravenous or subcutaneous fluid therapy, pain relief, medications that promote normal function of the urinary tract, and providing a quiet, stress-free environment are necessary as well. If a cat never regains the ability to urinate normally, surgery can be performed to create a hole in the urethra above the blockage, through which urine can be expelled.

Unfortunately, cats that have experienced a urethral obstruction are at higher than average risk for developing the problem again. If a definitive cause for the blockage has been found, prevention strategies should be concentrated there. For example, a cat with struvite stones can be fed a diet that is known to dissolve this material and prevent the development of these stones in the future.

When no specific cause has been diagnosed, veterinarians differ in what they recommend. Some prescribe diets like those mentioned above because they generally promote a healthy urine pH and bladder environment. Others focus on water consumption with the thought that dilute urine discourages crystals or other materials from clumping together. Owners can increase water consumption in their cats by feeding canned food, using a kitty "fountain," and/or letting a cat’s favorite faucet drip. Research has shown that decreasing stress in the home plays an important preventative role too.

What constitutes kitty stress, you might ask? In my opinion, boredom and dirty litter boxes are the top two stressors for indoor-only cats.

So, playing with your cat, providing him with lots of toys and perhaps some catnip, placing a comfy perch in front of the window, turning on some music, and keeping the litter boxes clean might just help prevent another panicked rush to the veterinary hospital.

 Next week: Treating Urinary Tract Infections

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Pic of the day: Bun on the Can by Caitlin Burke

Blocked cat on toilet, urinary issue, blocked male cats, blocked urinary in cats, blocked urethra

Comments  3

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  • Blocked!
    06/24/2011 07:07am

    I had a blocked neutered male years ago - back when I knew absolutely nothing about cat maladies. Bless his heart, his bladder was SO full and his abdomen felt completely solid.

    Luckily the problem was found when kitty had a bowel movement that was bloody and extremely "aromatic". The cat subsequently lived many healthy years and never had this problem again.

    Fast forward. Knowing what I know now, I'm on the lookout for kitties spending an inordinate amount of time in the box (or repeated trips) with nothing happening.

    This is such a serious and treatable problem. It's hard to imagine how painful it must be.

  • other questions
    06/25/2011 10:44pm

    Dr. Coates,

    At what point in this process would a radiograph be recommended for a urethral obstruction? In order to place the catheter, how would the obstruction be immediately relieved? Short of cystocentesis or placing a catheter, is there any other way to relieve the distended bladder? If you were unable to dislodge the obstruction by 'washing it' back to the bladder, what and when would be the next step to relieve the obstruction?



  • 06/26/2011 05:09pm

    The specifics of care always depend on an individual patient’s presenting condition. If a cat in is truly critical condition due to urethral obstruction, radiographs have to wait until after the urinary bladder has been decompressed, IV fluids have been started, and any other potentially life-threatening issues have been dealt with. Most veterinarians will recommend radiographs at some point to aid in the diagnosis of the underlying cause of the blockage.

    Usually the catheter can be placed without removing the obstruction first. In fact, the catheter itself can push whatever is blocking the urethra back into the bladder. Also, a large proportion of cats are blocked because of urethral spasms only, so there in not an object, per se, to deal with. There are several other methods of relieving obstructions when catheter placement proves difficult, each of which need to be carefully considered in light of the potential for bladder rupture and other serious complications.

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