Maybe it was the strange overcast weather, or perhaps something in the water, but within 36 hours we had four male cats hospitalized for an extremely serious veterinary emergency—urinary obstruction. This isn’t a disease a cat “catches” from another cat, so having four patients at once was quite the coincidence. But this coincidence helps to highlight what a common and dangerous problem urinary obstruction is among male cats. Without swift intervention and treatment an obstructed male cat will die.
The urethra in a male cat is extremely narrow making it more susceptible to becoming blocked. A build up of stones or crystals plug the urethra, easily obstructing the flow of urine. The issue progresses rapidly. The condition progresses rapidly and causes a great deal of discomfort and pain. A cat will frequent the litter box and attempt to urinate with little or no urine coming out. The buildup of pressure in the bladder is intensely painful and without treatment it can eventually rupture. As time passes chemicals that are not being filtered out through the urine build up to toxic levels in the body; these toxic levels damage major organs such as the heart and kidneys and again, if untreated, the cat will be poisoned to death from within.
Owners may notice pacing, excessive licking of the penis, an inability to get comfortable, howling, and repeated visits to the litter box in a short period of time with no results. As soon as this behavior is observed it is essential to act immediately. The longer treatment is postponed the more dangerous it is for your cat. The condition deteriorates rapidly and it can be difficult to notice symptoms right away, especially in multi-cat households.
On that strange and humid August day, Thaddeus, a 2 year old neutered domestic short hair, was brought into see Dr. Baine by his concerned owners. He was lethargic and weak and not at all acting like himself. They had not noticed any strange litter box behavior and he had seemed fine the night before. During the physical exam, Dr. Baine palpated Thaddeus's abdomen. Right away he could feel the swollen and distended bladder. Dr. Baine knew Thaddeus needed immediate treatment. Normally a cat is anesthetized while a catheter is placed in the penis and the urethra is flushed. Often the excess urine is withdrawn with a syringe. The catheter remains in place for at least 24-48 hours until urine begins to flow freely.
At BRVC, our doctors perform pre-operative blood work to make sure it is safe to put a pet under anesthesia. Thaddeus’s blood levels were already at dangerous levels. His potassium was so high that his heart was at major risk; they could not safely anesthetize him fully. Dr. Baine had to use a local anesthesia on the lower half of Thaddeus in order to flush and empty his bladder. Even with Thaddeus awake the procedure went smoothly and successfully. He was transferred to Patient Care where two other cats were also being treated for urinary obstructions; a fourth cat would join them the next day.
Thaddeus needed aggressive supportive therapy due to his high blood levels. He was on heavy doses of pain medications, antibiotics, and a special drug to promote urination. For two days he had a urinary catheter and round the clock nursing care. On the third day he was finally able to go home with his human mom and dad!
Cats that suffer from a urinary obstruction are much more likely to have a recurrence of the problem. They are usually prescribed a prescription diet food that specifically helps prevent the development of stones and crystals (although for some cats, this is still not enough). We recommend increasing a cat’s water consumption through including wet food in the diet as well as having multiple water bowls throughout the house. Studies have shown that decreasing stress can also help prevent a future onset. Talk to your veterinarian about possible causes of stress for your cat—including litter boxes and boredom.