Blocked Cats: Signs, Treatments, and Prevention

Blocked Cats: Signs, Treatments, and Prevention

by Petfolk Care Team

Medically reviewed by Dr. Jessica Taylor

Almost every cat owner has heard of or experienced concerns about urinary problems with cats. The most severe of these concerns is a urinary blockage, which is often preceded by feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD). What exactly is FLUTD, and how does it occur?

In order to fully understand FLUTD, let’s first talk about the urinary system in a cat. The primary role of the urinary system is to filter and remove excessive minerals/waste products that the body no longer needs. Therefore, this filtering system is very critical to regulating the toxin levels in the blood. 

Within this system, one of the most important organs is the urethra, a tube that passes the urine containing waste from the bladder into the litter box. If there is irritation or obstruction in the urethra and urine cannot pass through, the risk of a cat developing FLUTD or a life-threatening condition increases. Therefore, it is crucial to be proactive and watch out for any early signs or symptoms of FLUTD.

What Symptoms of FLUTD Disease Should I Look For?

Symptoms of FLUTD to watch for in your cat are: 

  • Straining to urinate
  • Frequent trips to the litter box with little to no urine production
  • Inappropriate urination outside of the litter box
  • Hematuria (blood in urine)
  • Excessive grooming of the genitall region/base of the tail
  • Increased vocalization
  • Withdrawn or hiding more

As these symptoms progress, it is important to remember that they can lead to lethargy emergency scenarios. Unfortunately, if left untreated for more than 24-48 hours, the build-up of urine in the bladder and toxins in the bloodstream can lead to serious damage to other organs and even death.

How Does the Urethra Get Blocked?

Two critical causes can disrupt the urine flow and form a blockage in the urethra. First are urinary stones which consist of excessive minerals in the urine that crystallize and get lodged into the urethra. The second cause is the formation of a matrix, which is the buildup of inflammatory cell debris that creates a mucous plug. Many risk factors contribute to crystal and matrix formation in the bladder.

One of the main risk factors is from stress and anxiety levels that the cat experiences. To reduce stressors and anxiety levels it is important to observe the cat’s current environment and determine what aspects need to be altered. A cat should be provided an environment that can fulfill its mental health needs and allow them to use their natural instinct. Examples of enrichment are placing a bird feeder outside of a window, food toys, playing classical music, pheromones, and adding high surfaces or a perch for the cat to rest on. 

Another risk factor is feeding a cat a primarily dry food diet. In nature, cats don’t drink much water and get most of their water intake from their diet. Unfortunately, a dry food diet doesn’t provide an excellent source of water for cats. On top of that, a dry food diet promotes obesity in cats due to higher consumption of food and the inability to feel full after meals. Therefore, incorporating wet food options can help maintain an ideal weight and provide another source of water in the diet. Another way to promote water consumption is by placing more water sources around the house and using a water fountain that mimics the natural flow of water. 

How to Prevent FLUTD

Thankfully, there are preventable measures that can be taken to minimize the risks mentioned above. Prescription diets are formulated to increase the acidity of the urine, which inhibits the formation of urinary stones and crystals. There are even anti-anxiety pharmaceuticals that help manage their response to environmental stressors. Most importantly, owners should be cautious about rapid changes to their cat’s environment. Every cat reacts differently to stress and environmental changes but having a good plan will reduce the chances of a cat developing FLUTD.

If you notice any changes to your cat’s urinary habits or notice they are acting unusual, be sure to contact your veterinarian early. With timely intervention, many cases of FLUTD can be managed effectively, preventing the life threatening condition of a urinary blockage. 

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