Urinary obstruction ~By Elizabeth

Elizabeth and Sebastian

Elizabeth and Sebastian

On January 19, 2015 I faced every veterinary technician’s worst nightmare – the moment you touch your cat’s abdomen and realize he might have a urinary obstruction.  I noticed that Sebastian had been acting strangely.  He was sitting next to the litter box in a hunched position and then jumped into the litter box and attempted to urinate with no production.  When I felt his belly with my hand I felt a small, very firm (almost rock hard) bladder.  I rushed him to AMC when they opened for drop offs at 7:30 am and Dr. Fay confirmed my fear.  Sebastian had a urinary obstruction.  He was hospitalized and a urinary catheter was placed to clear the obstruction.  Through diagnostic testing it was determined that Sebastian had a mucus plug that made him unable to urinate.  By January 22nd after being hospitalized for several days with a urinary catheter in place,Sebastian’s urethra was not able to stay unobstructed.  That afternoon a  surgical procedure called a Perineal Urethrostomy was performed.  Dr. Fay removed Sebastian’s penis and a portion of his urethra to make it easier for him to urinate. 

Urinary obstruction is common in neutered male cats between 2-5 years of age due to anatomy; male cats have a longer and narrower urethra.  The most common causes of urinary obstruction are crystals and mucus plugs.  Crystals form in the bladder due to the pH of the urine.   Mucus plugs are a mixture of red and white blood cells and protein.  Together they create a matrix that is the consistency of toothpaste, and it will form a plug in the urethra.  If a urinary obstruction is left untreated for more than 24 hours, the retained toxins in the body will cause vomiting and lethargy.  Internally the kidneys will start to shut down, and the increase in potassium can affect the heart.    

The first thing done when treating a urinary obstruction is to clear the obstruction.  The cat is placed under anesthesia and a urinary catheter is placed.  An intravenous catheter is also placed to administer fluids.  The cat is then hospitalized with both catheters staying in place for 2-3 days.  The cat is allowed to go home once he can urinate normally once the urinary catheter is removed.   

Once the cat is home diet changes are necessary to prevent another urinary obstruction.  Most of these cats will need to be fed a prescription diet for the rest of their lives.  These diets change the pH of the cat’s urine so the crystals and mucus won’t form.  Cats with urinary issues also need to have increased water intake to dilute the urine further.  This is best achieved by offering canned food at least once, if not twice a day.      

When a urinary obstruction occurs, your cat will spend extra time in the litter box straining with little to no urine production.  You may also notice lethargy, vomiting, and loss of appetite.  Sometimes the cat may vigorously lick his penis or cry out in pain.  If you are able, gently place your hand on your cat’s abdomen; thumb on one side and four fingers on the other.  Move your hand back and forth very gently.  If your cat is painful or you feel anything hard in the abdomen you need to take your cat to a veterinarian right away; urinary obstruction is considered a medical emergency.