Urinary Blockage In Cats: Signs, Treatment Costs & Prevention

by Richard Walther, DVM
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Urinary Blockage In Cats: Signs, Treatment Costs & Prevention
Urinary blockages are common problems in cats, especially males. Learn about the causes, symptoms, treatment options, and more.

A urinary blockage, AKA urethral obstruction in cats, occurs due to obstruction of urine flow through the urethra, the tube through which urine is discharged from the bladder and out the body. The condition is painful and can quickly become life-threatening since it can lead to acute kidney failure and even death if not treated properly.

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For this reason, cat owners must be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of urinary blockage and be prepared to provide proper treatment for a blocked cat as soon as possible.

What is a urinary blockage in cats?

A blockage in the urethra causes urinary obstruction in cats. When the urethra is obstructed, urine can back up into the bladder causing uremic toxins to build up in the bloodstream. If the obstruction persists for an extended period, the kidneys may expand and get damaged, causing the bladder to rupture or rip.

What causes urinary blockage in cats?

Feline urinary blockages can be caused by several underlying conditions, including:

  • A small stone or an accumulation of tiny stones that become lodged within the urethra
  • A ‘plug’ in the urethra, usually an accumulation of crystals, cells, proteins, or debris in the urethra
  • Swelling and spasm of the urethra, which typically occurs during inflammation of the urethra or bladder
  • Urinary obstruction can also result from feeding magnesium-rich foods
  • Less frequently, it can be caused by trauma, infections, or tumors.

Can stress cause urinary blockage in cats?

Research has shown that stress is another significant component in the development of urinary blockage.1 Stress-related lower urinary diseases, such as urethral spasms and cystitis, are common in cats and can lead to obstruction.

Your feline friend can be stressed if they compete with other cats in the house for food or time at the litter box, if they are bored, if other cats bother them, or if their litter box is dirty. Lowering your cat’s stress levels can decrease their risk of developing urinary tract ailments like urinary obstruction.

What are the signs of urinary blockage in cats?

The most common cat urinary blockage symptoms include repeated unsuccessful urination attempts, discomfort or crying when straining to urinate, and increasing agitation. You might notice other changes in your cat’s urinating behavior, such as increased urination frequency or even blood in the urine, depending on the underlying cause.

Furthermore, harmful waste materials that are supposed to leave the body through the urine will begin to build up in the bloodstream, causing symptoms such as vomiting, disorientation, and lethargy.

If you suspect your cat has a urinary blockage, be sure to contact your veterinarian right away because this is a medical emergency.

How to treat urinary blockage in cats

If your cat has a urinary obstruction, they should be taken to the pet emergency hospital at once to prevent a life-threatening situation. Typically, the attending vet team will treat your cat's blockage with the following protocols:

  • An intravenous catheter may be used to administer fluids and drugs.
  • After that, the pet will be anesthetized, allowing them to insert a urinary catheter to clear the blockage and empty the bladder.
  • The catheter will be left in place for a few days to allow the urethra to heal and your four-legged friend to recover. Most cats with urinary obstruction remain hospitalized for several days.
  • Pain relievers, urethral relaxants, and antibiotics will most likely be prescribed, as well as a specially formulated therapeutic diet.

How much does it cost to treat blocked cats?

In general, non-surgical treatment for urinary blockage in a cat that does not re-obstruct when the catheter is removed will cost between $750 and $1,500. However, in the case of a cat that obstructs multiple times or requires surgery as part of its therapy, the cost can exceed more than $3,000.

The final costs for treating a blocked cat will depend on several factors, such as how long the animal was blocked, whether they require surgery to correct the obstruction, the duration of the hospitalization, the type of hospital in which they received care, your location, etc.

How to prevent urinary blockage in cats

If your cat has already had a urinary blockage, they’re at significant risk of having it again. These tips can help you prevent another obstruction in your pet to minimize their pain and discomfort, as well as the financial strain to your bank account:

  • Nutrition is very important when it comes to preventing feline urinary obstruction. If your pet already has urinary-related health issues, a therapeutic cat food might help dissolve existing crystals or reduce the likelihood of new ones forming. It can also help maintain a good urine pH, which is important for general urinary health. Prescription food can be obtained from your vet and should only be given under their direction.

  • Water consumption is crucial for eliminating debris from your cat's system and preventing urinary blockages. If your cat eats dry food, try giving them water from a drinking fountain instead of a bowl, flavoring a second water bowl with tuna juice, or switching to canned food to boost hydration.

  • Keep your cat’s litterbox clean. Make your cat's bathroom time comfortable if you want them to maintain an empty bladder as much as possible. Always keep at least one extra litter box than the number of cats in your household, and place them in easy-to-access locations. Determine the type of litter and tray your cat prefers. The most popular are large, uncovered trays with unscented, clumping litter.

  • Reduce stress. Stress relief is extremely important for a cat's urinary health. You may need to change your cat's living surroundings to reduce their stress levels (for instance, if they’re constantly fighting with other cats in your home). In addition, cats want a predictable pattern, so make sure to maintain their routine as consistently as possible. Allow your cat plenty of activity for both their body and mind. Play with them, get cat toys and scratchers, and put up perches near the windows.

How common is a urinary blockage in cats?

Feline urinary obstructions are extremely common, accounting for as many as 10% of all feline cases in emergency clinics. Males are more prone to blockages than females because their urethra is significantly longer and narrower, so neutered males are at increased risk. In addition, urinary blockages are more common in indoor cats.

Illnesses and injuries can come out of the blue, even for indoor cats, so be sure your pet is protected. Pet insurance is valuable because it allows you to provide your feline friend with the care they need without worrying about financial hardship.

Use Pawlicy Advisor as a pet insurance comparison tool to view plans from top pet insurance providers side-by-side, so you can find the one and choose the one that best suits your needs.

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Key Takeaways

  • Urinary obstruction is a painful, life-threatening condition that typically affects male cats, especially if they are neutered. It’s usually caused by plugs of small stones, crystals, or proteins that become lodged within a cat’s urethra.
  • When a cat is blocked, they will attempt to urinate frequently but without success. You might also notice discomfort or crying when straining to urinate, increasing agitation, vomiting, lethargy, etc.
  • Proper nutrition and hydration, as well as environmental enrichment, are among the most common steps when it comes to preventing feline urinary blockages.

Referemces

  1. Stella, J., Croney, C., & Buffington, T. (2013). Effects of stressors on the behavior and physiology of domestic cats. Applied animal behaviour science, 143(2-4), 157–163. Retrieved August, 23, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4157662/
  2. Beiter, C. (2016, April 8). Urethral Obstruction in Male Cats. Today’s Veterinary Nurse. Retrieved August 23, 2022, from https://todaysveterinarynurse.com/urologyrenal-medicine/urethral-obstruction-in-male-cats/
Ricky Walther, DVM

About the author

Richard Walther, DVM

Associate Veterinarian - Petco

Ricky Walther, DVM, is a small animal general practitioner in the greater Sacramento, California area. Realizing the positive financial and medical impact that pet insurance can provide for pet parents and the profession, he lends support and advice to companies like Pawlicy Advisor that simplify the process of connecting with veterinary financing resources.

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