Help! My Cat Can't Pee -- Run, Don't Walk, to the Vet

5 years ago

If your cat can't pee or poop, take it seriously. His or her life could be at stake.

My husband, my daughter and I seem to have been put on this earth to be a cat hospice. Since 2007, we've lost Sybil (chronic kidney failure), Bella (acute kidney failure), Petunia (diabetes) and Sir Charles Buttonsworth (diabetes/megacolon). It's made me a bit paranoid, which this week turned out to be a very, very good thing.

Our current cat, Kismet (we call him "Kizzy" despite the fact that makes everyone think he is a girl), is the picture of health. He can leap from the back of a chair to the top of an armoir without a running start. He will eat anything. His black coat is blindingly shiny and soft as a mink's. He's vibrant and playful, sometimes irritatingly so. Thank goodness, he's also an excellent communicator.

Our litter box is downstairs, so I don't monitor it too closely. We scoop every day, maybe at most every other day, but I don't analyze anything in there. I would not have known anything was wrong with Kizzy this week if he hadn't told me himself. On Wednesday over lunch, I was squeezing in an aerobics DVD (I work from home) when he sat right in front of me, licking his plumbing. I moved out of the way. He moved, too, sitting right in front of me and making meaningful eye contact, and licking. Licking licking licking. And while he's a good groomer, he's not usually a mad bottom-licker. I picked him up to move him, and he howled.

Not. Good.

I immediately stopped what I was doing, texted my co-workers and took him to the vet. By the time we got there, he was making terrible sounds. In the exam room, he immediately climbed into the sink and acted like he was trying to either pee or poop. By this point, I was crying because our last cat that we adopted with Kizzy, Sir Charles Buttonsworth, looked just like that when he was constipated, and then obstructed, and then diagnosed with megacolon, which was basically fatal for him. Here was my super healthy little black cat acting just like the aged and overweight Buttonsworth.

Read on for tips and for signs to watch for -->

Kizzy had a different problem -- urethral obstruction. He had crystals in his urine that got jammed in his urethra and prevented urine from coming out. So it was ballooning his bladder. And -- unbelievably -- the obstruction could have killed him within 24-48 hours if left untreated, according to Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine:

Male and neutered male cats are at greater risk for obstruction than females, because their urethra is longer and narrower. Urethral obstruction is a true medical emergency, and any cat suspected of suffering from this condition must receive immediate veterinary attention. When the urethra is completely blocked, the kidneys are no longer able to remove toxins from the blood and maintain a proper balance of fluids and electrolytes in the body. If the obstruction is not relieved, the cat will eventually lose consciousness and die. Death most frequently occurs as a result of electrolyte imbalances, which ultimately cause heart failure. The time from complete obstruction until death may be less than twenty-four to forty-eight hours, so immediate treatment is essential.

The vet sedated him and inserted a catheter to remove the obstructions and drain his bladder. She gave him an antibiotic shot for the secondary bladder infection that had developed and subcutaneous fluids for dehydration. She asked me if I wanted him to be X-rayed to see if he had stones or just crystals, and after doing some research, I asked for the X-ray. Stones can require surgery, and after the thousands of dollars and months of treatment we went through with Buttonsworth only to have him die anyway, I wanted to go into whatever came next with open eyes.

Thankfully, the X-ray revealed no stones. Kizzy spent two nights in the cat hospital until his urine had less blood in it (inserting a catheter into a cat's tiny parts is, well, not easy) and the catheter could be removed. They also had to make sure he could pee on his own before they sent him home.

I just brought him home a few hours ago. The vet tech commented on the 180-degree change in his personality between Wednesday and today. Today he was acting like his normal, charming self, prancing around and begging people to pet him. He is now on prescription C/D urinary tract control food, and he has to use shredded newspaper for litter for about a week so we can see that he is peeing and make sure it's not too bloody. I'm of course, completely paranoid this will just recur and recur like the constipation did with Buttonsworth, but the only thing we can do preventatively is to give him the special food and watch him closely.

For now, there is a happy ending to this story (other than the $450 vet bill), but it all happened so fast and was so dangerous, I wanted to share this information. If your cat can't pee, he or she could die ... fast. Please don't wait until tomorrow to have your cat checked out if any of these warning signs present:

  1. Straining to urinate

  2. Frequent and/or prolonged attempts to urinate

  3. Crying out while urinating

  4. Excessive licking of the genital area

  5. Urinating outside the litter box

  6. Blood in the urine

  7. ***Cats with a urethral obstruction will show the above signs but will pass little or no urine and will become increasingly distressed. A urethral obstruction is an absolute emergency, requiring immediate veterinary treatment.***

After my experiences with our last four cats that either died suddenly or developed a very serious diagnosis very quickly, my biggest piece of advice is this: Get peeing outside the box or crying out in distress checked out immediately. Cats aren't like dogs -- cats tend to hide illness very well, and they don't roar like a lion unless they're in a LOT of pain. I doubt I would've acted so quickly on Kizzy's behavior had I not been told several times when we were treating Buttonsworth's constipation over the weekend that if we'd waited until Monday, he would've died. Any sort of obstruction is serious business and can't be ignored.

Take care, cat lovers! Here's hoping you never need this advice.

Rita Arens is the author of the young adult novel The Obvious Game & the deputy editor of Find more at

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