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Male Cats and Urinary Obstructions

Urinary Obstructions can be detrimental to a male cat's health

How Urinary Issues Can Affect Male Cats

For male cats, urinary obstructions and urinary tract infections are conditions that may develop over time, but, are not to be taken lightly. In fact, urinary obstructions in cats can be extremely dangerous and life threatening.

Urethral obstructions (UO) are often the result of small clumps of inflammatory material including, mucus plugs, crystals, and stones (calculi) that form in the kidneys and are passed into the bladder (these are also known as urinary stones).

It’s not entirely clear as to what causes these inflammations and stone formations, but viral infections and dietary issues may play a major part. Other causes such as cancer, a previous injury that causes scarring, and trauma are also factors. Early neutering of cats will not prevent the reduction of urethral size as it does in other species.

There is an increased risk for UO in cats that regularly consume dry food, are primarily indoors, depict nervous or aggressive behavior, have high levels of stress and are part of a multi-cat home.

Signs and Symptoms for Male Cats with Urinary Obstructions

It’s important to know that feline UO is highly treatable. It has a survival rate to discharge higher than 90%, even though it can be a very life threatening condition. Feline UO treatment may see your cat hospitalized for several days until he’s in the clear. There is a high rate (roughly 11%–43%) of recurrence of this disorder, even if your cat’s been successfully treated for it.

The signs and symptoms of feline UO can range from very mild to extreme. It affects cats within the 1 to 10 year range. Initial symptoms may be a urinary tract inflammation, discomfort while urinating, straining to urinate, frequent and painful urination, bloody urine and urinating outside of the litter box. Keep your ears open for unusual sounds, such as moaning and other noises, that differ from your cat’s usual purring and meowing.

If the urinary tract is obstructed, it can be life threatening, especially if a cat is unable to pass urine. They may try to use the litter box, but may be unsuccessful in their efforts. Continual licking of their urethra and exposure of their penis are also signs that something may be wrong.

Other signals may be restlessness, loss of appetite and lethargy. If you notice these symptoms, you should bring your cat to your Austin vet immediately; if they’re completely obstructed, without treatment, they can die within a 3 to 6 day period. Another sign of urethral obstruction is your cat having a large and painful bladder that can be felt easily in the back portion of their tummy. The bladder may also rupture if not treated right away.

With treatment, feline UO can usually resolve itself within 5–7 days, but, there’s a chance that it can reappear anywhere within 6 to 12 months.

Diagnosing Urinary Obstructions

For male cats with urinary obstructions as well as signs of urinary tract inflammation, blood work is usually performed by a veterinarian to investigate their kidney function and to decide if any infection or other systemic illnesses exist. The cat’s urine is tested for possible crystals and may be forwarded to an external lab to check for culture culture, even though bacterial bladder infections are somewhat rare in cats.

For cats that have recurrent infections, an x-ray of their stomach can be taken to search for calculi (stones) as well as any other items in the kidneys or bladder. Your Austin vet can inject contrast material (a substance that helps to increase the contrast of materials within the body) into the bladder to search for any anatomic causes of straining and bloody urine. This may include a bladder wall defect or a possible narrowing of the urethra.

If a male cat attempts to urinate and can only produce a few drops of urine or none at all, then it’s very likely that he’s blocked.

A physical exam should reveal the presence of a large, firm bladder in a cat’s abdomen. If any type of obstruction is diagnosed, then the next steps may involve emergency hospitalization and stabilization. Further diagnostics and treatments will help identify the causes of the condition and help manage whatever is causing the obstruction.

Your Austin veterinarian may recommend the following:

  • Bloodwork, which will help to evaluate toxin levels and overall hydration status
  • Urinalysis, including a urine culture to determine if there is an infection and/or possible crystals
  • X-rays, to search for bladder or urethral stones


Male cats with urinary obstructions will need emergency treatment. A urinary catheter will usually be inserted to help flush out plugs or stones from the bladder; this will require either sedation or general anesthesia.

During this procedure, the bladder is completely cleaned and drained via the catheter to help remove any lingering obstructions, such as sediment. The catheter will remain for several days until all urethral swelling stops. After removing the catheter, the cat is examined to ensure that he’s is able to urinate without any issues before being given the thumbs up to go home. Pain medication is often prescribed, along with dietary suggestions to help prevent future formation of crystals, as well as other medications to help them recover.

Surgical Options

For cats that have bladder stones that are able to be flushed into the bladder, a procedure known as a cystotomy is performed. Here the bladder is opened surgically to remove any stones remaining in the bladder. This procedure is often performed in cats with vesicourachal diverticuli or a congenital outpouching of the bladder, which, if not treated, can help to increase the risk of bladder infection.

There’s always a chance that these type of obstructions may occur. If so, then a thorough examination should be performed (x-rays, cultures, and imaging contrast studies of the bladder and urethra) before considering surgical options.

If feline UO reappears and the bladder is incapable of being unblocked and if medical treatments are unable to help, a perineal urethrostomy (PU), also known as surgical widening of the urethra, may be one option. This procedure creates a permanent opening to allows objects such as mucus plugs, crystals and stones to exit the urethra, while greatly reducing any future obstructions.

Caring for Your Cat After Treatment

Every cat is different, so they may have a different response to any type of surgery. Once your cat has had surgery, it’s important to prep your home, so that he properly recuperates.

Avoid using traditional clay litter in their litter box; use paper or pelleted litter instead for a few days after their procedure.

If your cat has extreme swelling or leakage, they may be in need of a replacement catheter for several days.

As much as all pets hate the collar of shame, a cat should wear one for roughly two weeks, to prevent any type of scratching that can impact proper healing. There are different types of sutures that veterinarians use: absorbable ones which gradually disappear on their own and the more traditional, non-absorbable sutures that have to be removed anywhere up to two weeks.

Always bring your cats in to your vet for routine checkups after they undergo this type of surgery. It’s not uncommon for cats to show signs of swelling or even bleeding after an operation. Scarring and possible narrowing (aka stricture) of the perineal urethrostomy area can happen if the cat scratches or picks at the site, which is why the collar of shame may be the best option to prevent this. This behavior can lead to a recurrence of feline UO symptoms or possible a full blockage.

Preventing Future Urinary Obstructions in Cats

The prevention of urethral blockage of course depends on what causes the blockage. Proper surgery will help to prevent future urinary obstructions. It’s important to note that perineal urethrostomy does not prevent stone formation or bladder inflammation. In fact, bacterial urinary tract infections can occur in 25% of cats within the first year after having a perineal urethrostomy.

To help encourage urinary tract health, all cats should be provided fresh water at all times. Canned or wet food is a better option for cats as it has more water content. You may even want to add additional water to your cats wet or canned food if they have frequent urinary issues.

If you suspect these aforementioned issues are affecting your cat, please call ATX Animal Clinic right away. We’ll be more than happy to answer any questions you may have, as well as making sure that your cat is okay.