If you have a cat, you need to make his litter box business your business. Urethral obstructions are not uncommon in cats, and once a cat cannot urinate, death will occur if prompt emergency veterinary treatment is not sought. Knowing the risk factors and taking steps to minimize some of these factors can give you the power in helping to prevent an obstruction in your feline friend.
Causes and Risk Factors
Feline urethral obstructions usually occur as the result of crystals or mineral calculi, which are also called uroliths, that become lodged in the urethra and block the flow of urine. Some other culprits that can cause a blockage include the following:
- A mucous plug that results from inflammation of the bladder or urethral wall
- An accumulation of urinary sediment
- A growth that either forms within the urethra or compresses the urethra from its outer surface
- A urethral stricture, which occurs when scar tissue forms within the muscle tissues that surround the urethra
Feline lower urinary tract disease, which is now also known as feline idiopathic cystitis and can result in urethral obstruction, is seen in both genders. Due to shorter and wider urethras, female cats are unlikely to experience obstruction. In addition to being male, the following other factors increase a cat's risk for a urethral obstruction:
- Being overweight
- Consuming a predominantly dry kibble diet
- Being stressed
- Experiencing recurrent flareups of cystitis
- Having a prior history of urethral obstruction
Concerns arose in recent years about early neutering procedures that are performed in most animal shelter clinics and whether or not these procedures would increase the incidence of urethral obstructions. According to feline specialist Dr. Arnold Plotnick, DVM, early neutering in male cats does not alter the urethral diameter and therefore does not increase the cat's risk for a urethral obstruction in his future.
One of the most important proactive measures for reducing your cat's risk for an obstruction is to increase his water intake. As the adage of "what goes in must come out" dictates, increased water consumption helps to keep urine flowing. It also helps to dilute the urine so that there is a lower concentration of sediment and inflammatory material in the urine. Increase your cat's water intake in the following ways:
- Provide fresh drinking water in multiple locations in your home. Place one bowl alongside your cat's food dish, place another bowl in his favorite hangout area of your home, and place a water bowl on each level of your home.
- Switch your cat's menu to either exclusively or predominantly canned food. In addition to providing moisture in your cat's diet, canned foods do not need to be broken down as extensively as dry kibble, making them easier on his digestive system and kidneys.
- If your cat competes with you for the water stream when you turn on a faucet, consider using a recirculating drinking fountain for cats. The flowing water attracts cats, and most cats enjoy drinking from the streams in these fountains.
- Consider flavoring your cat's drinking water with a little water from a can of tuna fish. You can also use a low-sodium chicken broth as long as it does not contain onions or garlic.
If your cat has already been diagnosed with feline idiopathic cystitis, your veterinarian likely prescribed a specific diet that is formulated to reduce the formation of oxylate or struvite crystals that can cause obstruction. It is crucial to feed your cat only this diet to maximize the benefit of reducing his risk for a urethral obstruction.
One place that your cat does not need added stress is at his litter box. Make sure that his litter box is always clean and keep it in a quiet area that sees limited foot traffic and where he is the least likely to be ambushed by other pets or children. Supply one litter box for each cat in your household. Other ways to reduce stress in your kitty's life include the following:
- Provide your cat with a quiet place to retreat from situations that he finds stressful, such as a holiday party, a crying newborn, an active new pet, a renovation project or flaring human tensions.
- If there has been a big change in your lives, such as a recent move, the arrival of a new baby, the addition of a new pet or the departure of a beloved family member, take the extra time to provide your cat with reassurance, affection and interactive playtime.
- Consider the use of feline pheromone products in your home to create a calming environment for your cat.
Once a cat experiences repeated urethral obstructions, a perineal urethrostomy, which is a surgical procedure that widens the urethra, may be recommended to prevent further recurrences. By implementing the aforementioned preventative tips, you can be proactive in lowering the chances that your furry friend will require this operation.
Remember that these tips are preventative, not curative. If you observe your cat repeatedly going in and out of the litter box, spending more time in the litter box, passing little to no urine, licking excessively at his genital area or crying at the litter box, bring him to an emergency veterinary clinic, like Animal Emergency Clinic, immediately for lifesaving intervention and treatment.