A common health problem in male cats that you may have heard about is a “blocked” cat. What exactly does this mean? This newsletter will hopefully help to explain this medical condition.
Cats, both male and female, can suffer from a condition called FLUTD (Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease). Common things that you may see from your cat with this condition include straining to urinate, frequent trips into and out of the litter box but only producing small amounts of urine, licking the genital area frequently, bloody urine, and urinary accidents around the house. This can be uncomfortable for the cat, and you may notice them not eating as much or acting like they are not feeling well in general. A urine sample examined at our office will help us to decide exactly what is going on with the cat, and how best to treat the problem.
The urinalysis may show signs of a urinary tract infection. Under the microscope we usually see an increased number of white blood cells and bacteria when an infection is present. This condition would be treated with a course of antibiotics, usually for about 7-10 days. After the medication is finished we always like to recheck a urine sample to be sure that the infection has been completely treated by the antibiotic.
The urine sample may not show any evidence of infection but may have a lot of red blood cells present. This condition is known as sterile cystitis, where there is not a true bacterial infection but the bladder is inflamed and often painful. This is usually treated with a glucosamine-chondroitin product called Cosequin, which helps to increase the mucous layer inside the bladder to protect the bladder mucosa from irritation. An anti-inflammatory medication is helpful as well, especially to manage the discomfort that the cat is feeling. There are also prescription diets available for urinary tract disease that may be helpful as well. Sterile cystitis can be a problem that comes back throughout the cat’s lifetime.
Sometimes a urine sample can show microscopic crystals present in the urine. Crystals form in urine when the pH is too high or too low, or can be formed when there is a bladder infection present. Sometimes the way the individual cats body processes a certain food can lead to crystal formation as well. A small amount of crystals in the urine can cause the cat to feel irritation when it urinates, and may lead to the cat urinating around the house and avoiding the litter box. Over time, crystals within the bladder can stick together and over months to years form bladder stones, which may need to be surgically removed to prevent bladder infections and urinary blockages.
Male cats with excessive crystals in the urine, or with bladder stones or excess bladder mucous can actually become obstructed, meaning that no matter how hard they try they cannot urinate. This is a life threatening medical emergency, and can result in the death of the cat of they are not seen quickly! Signs to watch for with any male cat include frequent trips to the litter box and no urine seen, vocalizing while in the litter box, lethargy, vomiting, arched back or acting painful when handled. If you suspect this may be happening with your cat please call us right away. During an examination of a blocked cat, we palpate the abdomen and feel for a very large firm painful bladder. Once diagnosed, we work quickly to relieve the obstruction- the cat is anesthetized, and we attempt to pass a catheter into the urethra. This usually involves flushing saline through the catheter to break down the gritty plug, or push a stone back up into the bladder. Once the catheter is passed, we drain the urine from the bladder, and flush the bladder with saline. The catheter is sutured in place, and stays in for about 2 days to allow the cat to urinate. We treat infection if it is present, and flush the bladder regularly to remove grit and mucous. If a stone was found to be the cause of the obstruction it is surgically removed. Once the cat is feeling better and ready to go home, the catheter is removed to be sure he is able to urinate on his own. We send the cat home with a prescription urinary diet to try and prevent another blockage episode. If the diet works well, we recommend that the cat eat this special food for the rest of his life to prevent future blocking episodes. Some cats continue to block even with special food and continued medical care. These cats require a surgical procedure to make a larger opening for urine to pass through, and usually go on to live a normal life after surgery.