Urinary Blockage in Male Cats
Urinary Blockage in Male Cats
Cats will and always be somewhat of a mystery to us. The veterinary field has the majority of their health issues figured out, but as any cat owner knows, their behavior can still mystify us. The veterinary field deals with a lot of health issues with cats. Among them include, anorexia, constipation, fevers of unknown origin (FUO), upper respiratory infections (URI), urinary tract infections and urinary blockage.
The one health problem that cats are the most vocal about is urinary blockage. This is known as a blocked cat. This problem affects male cats and is very dangerous when not caught in time. When a male cat becomes blocked, you will find him in the litterbox very frequently and he may cry. At this point you might be confused because there is nothing in the litterbox after he has been in it. This is when the cat owner calls the vet. We tell them to please bring the cat in immediately.
When the cat comes to us the first thing we do is feel the bladder. If the cat is blocked the bladder will feel very large and very firm and can be very painful. A normal bladder should feel like a water balloon half full. We then immediately tell the owner what's going on and get permission to "unblock" the cat. This involves some anesthesia.
Before I go into detail about how we unblock a cat I will tell you how it gets blocked in the first place. Male cats obviously have a longer urethra , the tube that goes from bladder to the exit point, and is the reason for the blockage. Some male cats are prone to bladder stones. This can be from the diet or just a genetic phenomenon. When stones start to develop, they make what's called "grit". This is like dirt. This grit is what accumulates in the male cat's urethra. If enough grit builds up it will literally plug up the bladder so no urine can escape. This can be compared to a clogged toilet after your kid flushes too much paper. When the cat is blocked, the bladder will continue to fill with urine. This becomes painful for the cat. If enough time goes by the cat will suffer some major metabolic problems. Their blood electrolytes can be dangerously off and if the bladder gets too full, it can break and leak urine into the abdomen. This will kill your cat.
So how do we get those urethras unblocked? We first have to anesthetize the cat. No cat, no matter how good he is will let us do what I'm about to describe. We then have to extrude his penis an put a very small tube in to find the blockage. This can take a long time since a cat's penis is very small. Once we find the blockage with the tube we try to push saline through to push the grit back into the bladder. This can take some time as well since some blockages are stubborn. When we finally push the grit back in, we immediately empty the bladder. The urine at this point can be very bloody. The doctor then puts an indwelling urinary catheter in place and hooks the end onto a bag. This allows the bladder to continuously empty and allow the urethra to heal. We keep the cat in hospital on IV fluids. The IV fluids are very important in normalizing the electrolytes and flushing the bladder. The cat usually stays in the hospital until the urine is clear. This can take up to 3-4 days. We then remove the urinary catheter and watch to see if the cat can urinate on it's own without any trouble. If the cat is problem free, he can go home. If not, we replace the catheter and do it all over again.
When the cat goes home, we give the owner advice and a prescription for a new diet for the cat. Diet plays a huge role in urine problems. Most urinary stone develop because the cats urine pH is either too high or too low. This can be corrected by diet. A few lab tests can determine the pH of the urine and we decide which food would be best.
Some male cats have frequent urinary blockages throughout their adult life. If a cat has more that 3-4 in a year we recommend what's called a PU. This is when the surgeon turns the male cat into a female. We basically take the urethra out of the equation and make a new exit for the urine. This is a very messy surgery but will help in the long run.
So for those of you with male cats, watch out for frequent trips to the litterbox and listen for any crying. If these symptoms appear get your cat to the vets office immediately.