Urinary Obstruction in Cats


Blocked cat

Urinary obstruction is one of the more common problems seen in the ER. It is a life-threatening situation not only from a medical aspect, but a financial one as well. Cats with this condition present for straining to urinate and are unable to pass urine due to either ‘grit’ or ‘sand’ within the urethra. This is more common in males than females due to the very small opening of the male urethra. These cats require general anesthesia and the passing of a small catheter into the tip of the urethra/penis to flush back any blockage. The catheter is left in place for a few days and then removed. Most cats will then be able to urinate on their own. However, some cats have underlying stones which are causing the blockage and require surgery.

There have been many discoveries during the past 10-15 years with respect to feline nutrition. Although we have always known that cats are carnivores, we have not been feeding them as such. Dry cat food is carbohydrate loaded and not the appropriate diet for a cat. Many cats, however, will not eat canned. For the ‘dry cat food junkies’ it is possible to eventually wean them onto canned food. Dr. Lisa Pierson has a very thorough article outlining the process (warning:it’s a long article!): Rehab for the Dry Cat Food Addict

Cats that are maintained on an appropriate diet do exceptionally well and in my experience, there have been very few failures with respect to urinary obstruction (none that I can actually remember). Feeding canned food is important for a few reasons. One being to increase the moisture content in the diet. The other being to decrease the carbohydrate content.

A question I am often asked is: “do you think my cat got the ‘sand’ from the litterbox”? The answer is no. The ‘sand’ is actually created by your cat. If the environment within your cat’s body is just right (PH, ash content of the food, water content, maybe genetics), sand, or grit is formed and causes the blockage. Stones are simply a more exaggerated form of sand (when you think about rocks and their relationship to sand for instance). Interesting, the ‘sand’ often looks like silica. It is usually white in appearance, almost glass-like and very tiny. It feels ‘gritty’ on your fingers.

Although I love helping people with their pets, it always puts an ache in my heart when I see something I may have been able to help the pet owner prevent. I hope this information will help keep your pet healthy. Pass it on to a fellow cat-lover!


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