If an obstruction blocks the outflow of urine in our feline friend, an emergency ensues. The inability to pass urine is a life-threatening situation and veterinary care should be sought as soon as possible.  The urethra is the tube that connects the urinary bladder to the external genitalia. The majority of obstructed cats (or “blocked Toms”, as they are often referred to) are male cats, inherently because their urethra is longer and narrower in nature when compared to their female friends, making it more prone to obstruction.  When urine cannot be passed appropriately, waste products build up in the body and can lead to irreversible kidney damage and even death. Feline urethral obstruction danger can be a serious risk for our feline friends, make sure to see your vet, before it’s too late!

The actual blockage can be from a number of things: bladder stones, a mucus “plug”, crystals, or even a tumor.  Multiple factors play a role in the predisposition for blockage. These include infections, decreased access to water, and stress.  Sometimes, we never find the real answer as to why a blockage occurred.

Worrisome signs that owners should be aware of leading up to and including blocking, are straining to urinate, going into and out of the litterbox constantly, urinating in unusual places, bloody urine, a firm, painful belly, licking at the genital area and hiding. If your cat has been blocked for more than 24 hours, more systemic signs such as vomiting, loss of appetite and lethargy can be seen. Life-threatening heart arrhythmias can also develop. If the blockage lasts 3-6 days, this build-up of toxins will result in death.

Treatment for a urethral blockage at the veterinary clinic starts with stabilizing the patient based on bloodwork and physical exam findings and removing the blockage. Anesthesia is usually needed to place a urinary catheter, which is often kept in place for several days. Electrolyte abnormalities, kidney damage and dehydration are addressed over the next few days while being hospitalized.  When kidney values improve, electrolyte abnormalities and dehydration are corrected and our feline friend is able to urinate on their own, they will be discharged from the hospital for home care. This often involves a change in diet, medications, and follow-up visits.  It is important to note that there is a risk for re-blockage in the weeks following discharge.

Many cats recover uneventfully and do not need to continue medications although some, especially if they have blocked in the past, will require life-long treatment. If the blockages begin to become a repetitive event, a perineal urethrostomy (PU surgery) can be considered. This involves reconstruction of the male genitalia to create a larger urethral opening, making it less likely to obstruct. This is a serious surgery and one to be discussed in detail with your veterinarian should the need arise. 

The big take home: if there’s no flow, off to the vet you go! Feline urethral obstruction danger can be a serious risk for our feline friends, make sure to see your vet before it’s too late!

 By Dr. Elizabeth Free, Medical Director, Kingsland Blvd. Animal Clinic