Blocked Cats – What Every Cat Owner Needs To Know

It is often said ‘you don’t know what you don’t know’. So, I thought I would share with you a condition I think all cat owners should know, because knowing, might just save your cat’s life!

There is a weird phenomenon in the veterinary world whereby medical emergencies rarely present at convenient times, like the middle of the day when you have a full complement of staff and hours of treatment time left to tend to your patient. Instead, we are frequently presented with what we cheekily call ‘Friday night specials’, where a seriously unwell animal comes into the clinic on a Friday night just before closing time, immediately derailing any social plans you had for the evening. One of the most frequent presentations we see at this time are ‘blocked cats’, a medical emergency which most cat owners don’t know about but absolutely should!

A blocked cat is a painful and life threating condition whereby a cat’s urinary tract is partially or entirely obstructed, preventing them from urinating. Early detection and treatment are critical as, if left untreated, this can have severe toxic effects on the body and be fatal in a matter of days. There are a number of possible causes of the blockage including urinary crystals, stones, mucus and inflammatory by-products. Some cases can even be multifactorial with more than one cause. Whilst technically it can affect both sexes, males are much more likely to become blocked as they have a longer and narrower urethra. So, if your feline friend is a boy, you should always have this condition in the back of your mind if their toileting habits start to change.

Recognising your cat is blocked and seeking immediate veterinary treatment is absolutely critical to a good outcome for your beloved pet. If you are noticing any of the following, a phone call and visit to your vet is necessary.

  • Frequent attempts to urinate – your cat may be going in and out of the litter tray/garden but producing little to no urine
  • Straining whilst urinating – this condition is very painful and may cause your cat to strain and vocalise or howl in the litter tray.
  • Excessive grooming – your cat may be excessively grooming their genital area
  • Blood in the urine – Inflammation in the bladder can cause blood-tinged urine
  • Lethargy, restlessness or vomiting

Importantly, many owners mistake urinary obstruction for constipation, so keep a careful eye on what is going on in that litter tray or in the garden!

Treatment of urinary obstruction involves passing of a catheter to remove the blockage and allow the free passage of urine. The urine is assessed to determine the underlying cause and treatment is administered to correct any metabolic abnormalities, reduce pain and support kidney function. Patients are usually hospitalised for a few days until they are urinating comfortably on their own at which point they can go home. In severe cases or recurrent episodes, surgery may be warranted.

Whilst not all cases of urinary obstruction in cats can be prevented, there are a few things you can do to reduce the risk of it occurring.

  • Hydration – ensuring your cat consumes adequate water to maintain dilute urine. This may mean through their food if they are not good drinkers
  • A good quality diet – poorer quality diets can impact urinary health
  • Clean litter – ensure your cat always has clean litter as some cats won’t go in a dirty box and ‘holding on’ can increase the risk of obstruction
  • Stress free – try and maintain a stress-free environment for your cat as stress can directly impact urinary health in felines. If this can’t be avoided for example you are having visitors to stay, keep a close eye on your cat for the following week
  • History of urinary issues – if your cat has a history of urinary issues, it is important to follow your vet’s guidance to help prevent them becoming blocked
  • Healthy weight – overweight and obese cats are more likely to become blocked

So, now that you know what you need know, rest assured that you are prepared to act quickly if you suspect your cat is blocked. Remember, it is always better to get your vet to check if you are worried, even if that means becoming a ‘Friday night special’!

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