What is Urinary Tract Obstruction?
Obstructions in the urinary tract can be formed a mixture of mucus, crystals, proteins, bladder stones, and other types of debris. This will form a urethral blockage, which will not go away without veterinary attention. Urinary tract obstruction must be dealt with immediately, as it can be fatal.
Urinary tract obstruction is usually prevalent in adult male cats, though female cats can also experience blockages in rare cases. These obstructions will start off in the kidneys and pass down to the bladder, eventually making their way into the urethra.
Symptoms of Urinary Tract Obstruction in Cats
Total urinary tract obstruction can lead to kidney failure and death in as few as 3-6 days. If your cat is exhibiting any of the following symptoms, it is imperative to consult your vet right away, particularly if your cat is attempting to urinate but passes little or no urine.
- Difficult or strained urination
- Frequent urination
- Blood present in the urine
- Urinating outside of the litter box
- Yowling during urination
- Enlarged or bloated belly
- Vomiting or diarrhea
Causes of Urinary Tract Obstruction in Cats
The causes of urinary tract obstruction are not fully understood by veterinarians. In some cases, the obstruction develops suddenly; in others, it may take several days or even weeks. Some cases of incomplete obstruction can clear up within a week. However, there is a high risk of recurrence within 6-12 months in these cases.
There are some suspected causes of urinary tract obstruction:
- Dry food diet
- Cat is kept primarily indoors
- Anatomical defect in bladder or urethra structure
- Nervous, anxious, or aggressive temperament
- High levels of stress
- Living in a multi-cat household
- Cat is middle-aged or overweight
Diagnosis of Urinary Tract Obstruction in Cats
Be sure to let the vet know all your cat’s symptoms. The vet will likely ask you about the duration of the symptoms, your cat’s diet, and stress factors that may have contributed to obstruction. As urinary tract obstruction is a serious condition; make sure you answer all the vet’s questions as honestly as you can to help them determine the best course of treatment.
Once the diagnosis has been confirmed, your vet will conduct a blood test to determine kidney function. This will help identify whether or not there are any underlying kidney diseases which may be causing the obstruction. Your vet will also take a urine sample and conduct a urinalysis, examining the sample for crystals and stones. If the issue has recurred, an X-ray may also be performed to identify stones in kidneys and bladder.
If the cause is anatomical and there is blood present in the urine, your vet will take a contrast urethrogram. This will involve a contrast injection in the cat’s bladder, solely for the purpose of highlighting the bladder in an X-ray. This will show if there are any defects within the bladder, including a narrow urethra.
Treatment of Urinary Tract Obstruction in Cats
Treatment will begin right away. The first step your vet will take is administering anesthetic and inserting a catheter into the urethra. In some cases, this can be a solution to the problem. The bladder will be flushed through the catheter, which will be left in place for a few days to allow remaining debris to drain.
The insertion of the catheter may push the obstruction back into the bladder with the help of a saline flush and the use of a water-based lubricant. Once the obstruction has been flushed back into the bladder, the vet will perform a cystotomy, a surgical procedure which will open the bladder. The stones will then be removed.
If the obstruction has caused trauma in the urethra, or if the condition is recurring, the vet may have to perform a urethrostomy. This type of surgery will involve creating a new opening in the urethra, allowing for easier urination. Depending on the severity of the blockage, the new opening may be a temporary solution, or a permanent one.
Recovery of Urinary Tract Obstruction in Cats
Your cat will likely be kept in the veterinary hospital for a few days so that your vet or surgeon can ensure that the condition is improving. Cats that undergo surgery will be sutured and have to wear a pet cone, or e-collar, for about two weeks to prevent them from biting at the surgery site.
It is very important that you monitor your cat closely in the two weeks following surgery. If your cat causes any trauma to the sutures or surgery site, this can cause bacterial infection or recurrence of the blockage. However, as long as the surgery is successful and healing goes smoothly, the blockage is unlikely to come back.
Your vet will schedule regular follow-up appointments to monitor your cat’s condition.