My Cat Can't Pee! Difficulty Urinating in Cats

By PetMD Editorial on Nov. 5, 2010

Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD)

When you see that your cat can't pee or is straining to urinate, you know he or she must be uncomfortable. This straining is usually due to cystitis, also known as inflammation of the bladder. If you have ever been diagnosed with cystitis, you can sympathize with your cat.

While simple cystitis is bad enough, it can lead to more severe and emergency type of situations like the formation of stones in the bladder or the formation of a urethral plug, which is a life-threatening condition that causes the cat (almost always male) to become "blocked" (i.e., unable to urinate). Therefore it is important that you seek verterinary assistance once you notice that your cat can't pee or is having trouble urinating.

What to Watch For

The cat will exhibit frequent attempts at urination, producing little or no urine, which is usually blood tinged. More severe signs can develop in the blocked cat. Due to anatomical differences, a blocked cat is almost always male. The cat will often cry out in pain and become progressively more lethargic. This is because the urine cannot be emptied from the bladder, which not only makes the cat very sick but can become fatal.

Primary Cause

Cystitis, or a bladder infection, is usually due to a bacterial infection, a mineral imbalance, and/or an abnormality in the cat's pH levels. This contributes to the formation of microscopic mineral crystals in the urine, which may grow in size to form stones or the grit that causes the urethral plug.

Immediate Care

There is little that can be done at home once the symptoms are noticed. A male cat should always be seen IMMEDIATELY by a veterinarian because of the risk of a urethral plug forming. A female cat should be seen within 24 hours, or sooner if she is showing other symptoms (vomiting, lethargy, etc.)

Veterinary Care


The initial physical exam and discussion of the signs you are seeing will allow your veterinarian to quickly determine if you cat is blocked. Once this is determined, the following tests may be used:

  1. Urinalysis (urine test) to confirm cystitis

  2. Urine culture to identify the infectious agent

  3. X-rays to check for stones or grit in the bladder

  4. Analysis of the stone or urethral plug to determine its composition


If your cat has simple cystitis, it will probably be sent home on antibiotics. If there are stones in the bladder, on the other hand, surgery will be necessary. Several days of hospitalization is required if your pet is blocked. She will be sedated and equipped with a urinary catheter so that the bladder can be emptied. The catheter is then left in place for 1 to 3 days, in conjunction with IV fluid therapy, in order to flush out all the grit from the urinary system. Then, when your cat can urinate normally, she is sent home, typically with antibiotic and antispasmodic prescriptions to help relax the urethra.

There are also some cases in which antibiotics and a special prescription food can be used to dissolve the stones.

Other Causes

  • Kidney Disease

  • Idiopathic Cystitis (bladder inflammation of unknown cause)

  • Cancer

Living and Management

Immediately following treatment, observe your cat for 4 to 8 weeks for recurrence of symptoms. Often, a follow-up urinalysis and culture are requested. If a cat repeatedly blocks, surgery to enlarge the urethral opening is usually recommended.


Good quality food, drinking plenty of fresh water, and a clean litter box are the best steps to prevent cystitis. If your cat has had stones, has been “blocked,” or has repeated bouts of cystitis, she will be put on a prescription food that will modify the urine content and minimize the risk of recurrence. There are several brands of this type of food, but if your cat refuses all of them, there is medication that can modify the pH of the urine, which may also help prevent recurrence. However, both methods typically require life-long treatment.

See Also

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