Cats tend to be measured, reticent creatures, and when they're suffering from injury or disease they often do their best to mask their discomfort. However, some cat illnesses require urgent medical attention, and it's important to be able to spot the signs of these diseases however reluctant your cat may be to show them. One of the most well-known causes of medical emergencies in cats is the dreaded urinary tract obstruction. This tiny blockage in your cat's urinary system can put your cat in serious danger frighteningly quickly.
What is urinary tract obstruction?
Urinary tract obstruction refers to when a solid blockage in the urinary tract partially or completely prevents the passage of urine through your cat's urinary system. This blockage can have a number of causes, such as the following:
- Urinary stones.
- Urinary crystals.
- Inflammatory material and discharge, such as mucus and solidified pus.
- Narrowing of the urinary tract as a result of inflammation.
- Scar tissue caused by previous urinary tract illnesses.
Whatever the cause of the blockage, the results are the same, and your cat will quickly find it difficult or impossible to urinate. This difficulty urinating is generally accompanied by other symptoms, including the following:
- Signs of pain, such as crying, hunching and skittishness, especially while trying to urinate. Cats may attempt to mask these signs by hiding when you are near or refusing to use the litter tray in your presence.
- Dark or bloody urine, if any urine is present at all.
- Vomiting and/or dry-heaving.
- Frequent, unproductive trips to the litter tray.
- Lethargy and weakness.
- Loss of appetite.
- Noticeable swelling around the cat's lower abdomen.
What should I do if my cat has a blocked urinary tract?
If your cat is having trouble passing urine, and the signs and symptoms of urinary tract obstruction are present, you should take your cat to an emergency veterinary surgery as soon as possible. Without prompt treatment of the blockage, toxins can build up in the cat's kidneys, causing renal failure which can kill a cat in a matter of days.
Once your cat reaches the vet, your veterinarian will conduct a thorough examination of the cat to assess the nature and scale of the problem. A vet can often tell if a cat has a blocked urinary tract from the noticeable bladder swelling that often accompanies blockages, but less obvious cases can be diagnosed using imaging techniques such as X-ray or MRI scanning. Your vet may also seek to take blood tests, both to diagnose a blockage and test for illnesses which may be causing or exacerbating it.
Your vet can use a number of treatments to remove the blockage, depending on the severity of the problem. In most cases, your cat will be placed under sedation before a catheter is inserted into its urinary tract. This catheter releases fluid into the tract which can dislodge and disintegrate blockages such as stones or crystals. However, if this treatment is not successful, your cat may require surgery to manually remove the blockage, and you should talk over the benefits and potential risks of this with your vet before deciding what action to take. Cats who suffer from repeated urinary tract blockages may also be eligible for surgical procedures which can permanently widen the urinary tract.