Blocked Bladder in Male Cats

This month we are going to talk about urinary obstruciton (blocked bladder) in male cats. This is quite a common problem and can be life threatening if not treated as an emergency.

What is a blocked bladder?

A blocked bladder is caused when some kind of obstruction occurs in the urethra (the small tube that drains urine from the bladder and out of the penis) making it impossible for urine to be expelled. The bladder fills to capacity and feels like a hard tennis ball in the cat’s abdomen. Huge pressure is put on the kidneys which can be permanently damaged. The bladder can rupture due to the pressure. Complete obstruction can cause the death of a cat within 24 hours.

What causes this condition?

Due to their anatomy male cats are more likely to develop urethral obstruction than female cats. The obstruction is often caused by the formation of crystals, sand or grit, mucus, small stones and inflammatory material that have formed in the kidneys.

Some factors that are thought to influence the formation of the above are:
  • cats eating an unbalanced diet 
  • indoor cats
  • overweight cats 
  • stressed cats nervous/ highly strung cats
  • cats in a multicat household
  • cats that have recurring bladder infections
What are the symptoms?

Depending on how long and how severe the obstruction has become your cat will show the following symptoms:
  • frequent trips to the litter tray
  • no urine in the litter tray when you know they’ve been in there
  • meowing and/or straining while in the litter box (many owners mistake this for a sign of constipation)
  • excessive licking their penis
  • loss of appetite
  • sudden onset excessive drinking
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain – reluctance to be picked up or handled
  • hiding away
  • eventually collapse
  • death
If you notice any of these symptoms you should make an appointment with your vet immediately:

How is this condition treated?

Cats that have a urinary obstruction need immediate emergency treatment.

Once your vet has examined your cat and established that there is an obstruction, your cat will need to be hospitalised, sedated or given a general anaesthetic so that a urinary catheter can be placed into the urethra. The catheter enables the vet to flush out the urethra thus removing any obstruction. This is an extremely delicate procedure. Your vet may need to give your cat intravenous fluids to help support the kidneys.Once the obstruction has been removed the urinary catheter may be left in the cat temporarily until your vet is happy that the cat is able to urinate freely on its own. Daily flushing of the bladder may be needed to remove debris that may cause further obstruction.

A microscopic evaluation of the urine will be done to determine what was causing the obstruction ie if it was inflammatory material, gravely calculi or tiny stones. If it is the latter the vet may wish to take an xray of the bladder to see if there are more stones and may try to determine the type of stone (calculi) .All of this information will enable your vet to treat your cat most effectively.

In some cases the bladder will repeatedly block despite medical treatment, in these instances your vet may recommend a surgical procedure called a perineal urethrostomy, which is a surgical widening of the urethra to allow small crystals, mucus plugs and even small stones to be passed with the urine.

Depending on the initial cause and extent of damage caused by the blockage the long term prognosis for these cats is usually good. Particularly beneficial is the use of prescription diets specially formulated to the reduce the risk of crystal formation. Ask your vet for more information.