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Urinary Problems in Cats

Incontinence

Inability to urinate (this is an emergency)

Repeated licking of genital area

Painful when touched in the abdominal area

Restlessness

Irritability

Odor of ammonia on the cat’s breath

Ability to only void small amounts of urine

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black cat on perch

Photo: Pam Johnson-Bennett

The Role of Stress

A study was conducted in 2011 at the Ohio State University, led by Dr. Tony Buffington. The research revealed that when it comes to feline urinary issues, it was more than just being about the bladder. Urinary recurrences and stress were connected. Dr. Buffington coined the term for these urinary issues, Pandora Syndrome, after the Greek myth. The research connects the cat’s big enemy, stress, to frequent recurrences of Feline Idiopathic Cystitis. For more information on this disorder, refer to the following article:

Pandora Syndrome in Cats

Urethral Plugs

Male cats are at risk of urethral plugs. The soft, sandy material, which is made up of crystal fragments and mucous, builds up in the cat’s urethra. Because the male’s urethra is long and narrow, the risk of blockage is greater. If left untreated, this material will build up enough to actually form a plug that blocks the opening of the penis. If this happens, urine is unable to flow out. If the cat is unable to urinate this is an emergency. Male cats die very quickly if they don’t receive immediate emergency veterinary care.

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In addition to not seeing any urine in the litter box, you may notice your cat repeatedly licking at his penis. If you feel his body you may detect a distended abdomen. Without emergency veterinary care, the cat will appear lethargic and become dehydrated. Don’t make the mistake of seeing your cat going back and forth to the litter box and just assume he’s constipated. Urethral plugs can cause death in a matter of hours.

Treatment for a urethral plug starts with first relieving the bladder. The veterinarian may insert a needle into the bladder to draw off the urine into a syringe. Sometimes a urethral plug can be removed with the cat under mild sedation. A catheter is then inserted into the penis to keep the urethra open and free of further obstruction. This is done temporarily. The cat will be given antibiotics and put on IV fluids.

If urethral plugs are an ongoing problem and prescription diet isn’t helping, then your veterinarian may recommend a surgery for your cat known as perineal urethrostomy. In this surgery, the narrow part of the urethra located at the penis is removed and a wider opening is created. In many cases though, keeping the cat on the appropriate prescription diet prevents the need for this last resort surgery.

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Treatment for problems not involving blockages or crystals involves antibiotic therapy and in many cases, putting the cat on a therapeutic diet to maintain correct urine pH.

If there are crystals in the bladder then a catheter will be inserted (under sedation), IV fluids started and the bladder will be flushed out. The cat will be put on a course of antibiotics. When kitty is ready to go home you will be instructed as to whether to feed a prescription formula diet.

Specific prescription formula food is used for long-term treatment of cats with urinary tract issues. It’s important to keep the cat strictly on this diet and not supplement with other formulas for table food. You will also need to make sure there is a clean water supply available for your cat at all times. Monitor your cat’s water intake to ensure he’s drinking enough.

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