Linus, a six-year old male neutered cat was brought to the hospital when his owner noticed him making multiple trips to the litter box. He would posture as if trying to urinate but nothing would come out. As he was trying to urinate he was crying which his owner thought was unusual behavior.
On presentation Linus was moderately dehydrated, slightly depressed and his heart rate was lower than I would have liked. During abdominal palpation I was able to feel a very large, hard bladder and determined that he had a urinary obstruction. After quickly placing an intravenous catheter we collected blood to check his electrolyte status.
The potassium levels in his blood were dangerously high; this can lead to cardiac arrhythmias and rapidly result in death. We started Linus on IV fluids and gave a medication to help lower his potassium. Because he was unable to urinate, the waste products that are normally excreted in urine were building up in his system and making him feel sick.
I performed a cystocentesis which involves sticking a needle into his bladder to remove the urine and relieve some of his discomfort. Linus was also given pain medication as this condition is very painful for kitties. X-rays showed he had stones in his bladder causing the obstruction. The urethra in male cats is very narrow, creating the perfect condition for things to get stuck. Stones do not have to be present for obstructions to occur on cats; mucus plugs, inflammatory cells, and crystals can also cause this.
I sedated Linus so a urinary catheter could be passed to empty and flush out his bladder. He also needed aggressive intravenous fluids to rehydrate him and flush the waste products out of his system. Once he was stable enough for anesthesia he would need surgery to have the stones removed.
Linus went to surgery the next morning and recovered quickly. He was able to go home the following day. Analysis revealed that his stones were struvite, which was great because this type of bladder stone responds very well to diet change and has a low level of recurrence. Linus started his new prescription diet and his owners report he is like a new cat at home.
Urinary obstruction is an important thing for owners of male cats to be aware of since it is incredibly common and can quickly become fatal. If you ever notice your cat making multiple trips to the litter box, straining to urinate and vocalizing please bring him in immediately.
Ashley Gallagher, DVM